I have lost count of the number of times I have been stuck in traffic waiting for this or that VIP to pass by in their motorcade. At the end of the day when all you want to do is get home and rest your weary soul, there is nothing more annoying than waiting for our newly minted royals and their entourages. I thought we had done away with all this pomp and pageantry, what with us now being a republic and all that. But one look at the President’s entourage and all that accompanying ceremony last week was not only enough to confuse most ordinary people but also make any self-respecting royal cringe.
As infuriating as the whole custom is, it is – arguably – necessary for the head of state to travel and arrive with some level of grandeur. The same goes for the Prime Minister. These are exceptions I think most ordinary Nepalis can be expected to understand, if not necessarily be comfortable with. But even that understanding is challenged periodically by our obsequious cops who think nothing of stopping ambulances to let these parades pass.
But it’s when this ‘VIP culture’ is milked shamelessly by politicians of all ranks that it begins to fester resentment among the commuting public. And when you add the fact that these entourages come at a huge cost to the taxpayer (you and me) on top of the inconvenience, then it really starts to rankle. We are quite literally paying to be inconvenienced! And let’s not even get started on the disruption caused by stopping traffic for the amount of time that cops tend to do. Such are our roads that if a car breaks down, traffic piles up for miles on end so the less said about forcibly stopping or diverting traffic for a ‘procession’, the better.
This need for these escorts has historically been the result of a threat perception – or at least that is what it is justified as, officially. In reality, it has now morphed into this unnecessary display of power and a symbol of the privilege of office. It’s a microcosm of everything that is wrong with Nepalis politicians – an inflated sense of entitlement, waste of state resources and utter disregard for the plight of the public. A politician’s profile – not the work they do, mind you – is directly related to the respect they get and one way to up that profile is an exaggerated motorcade, or at least they seem to think so. Hey, what really is the point in becoming a minister if you don’t create a din for all to see?
And the way they drive to their destination is something to behold. It has all the urgency of a fire truck on call – sirens blazing, red flags, warning lights and officials gesticulating from the windows. Look at me! What I do is important, so get out of my way. Truth be told, it’s not only our leaders in a hurry because everyone in this country is blessed with a sense of urgency, that usually lies dormant when they are working or doing any other activity but miraculously comes alive when they are in traffic. But still, there is no small amount of irony in the fact that the ones who work the least are the people most in a hurry. Let’s face it, when have you known time to be of the essence for any politician?
A part of the reason why this culture proliferates is because, in our case, it is built into the system as a sort of minimum standard regardless of the threat perception, ministerial portfolio, importance or immediacy of work. A minister might not need a six-vehicle escort but, if the state is offering it to you, then why not? I suppose we are being a bit preachy because this ‘if you are entitled to it, take it’ theme is reflective not only of our political culture but of the broader society we live in. Most of us aren’t exactly averse to a bit of VIP culture ourselves and while we may not ask for it we won’t exactly complain about it. It is sort of ingrained into us and VIP treatment is something to be proud of – a back door entry to a school, a walkover to a coveted job, access to people, places, and events.
Anyway, one can only hope that this motorcade culture is minimized by the new government but it’s easier said than done. In the new federal set up, with three tiers of government and lots of official positions, it will probably get worse. And as the number of cars and bikes continues to go up, and our roads remain the same, it is safe to say that our commutes will also get more infuriating. You know what they say about journeys – it’s not where you end up but how you get there. We couldn’t agree more.
The writer loves traveling, writing, and good food when he is afforded an escape from the rat race. He can be contacted at email@example.com