Narrative around VIP-ism

Published: October 11, 2014
The writer is a senior sub editor at The Express Tribune and tweets 

The writer is a senior sub editor at The Express Tribune and tweets @FarahnazZahidi

It was long before Rehman Malik was offloaded from flight PK-370. I was driving in a one-way lane of Khadda market, Karachi. I was on the correct side. From the wrong side came an entourage of cars. Two police vans in the front, one at the back and an SUV in the middle. A security guard hopped over to me and said, “Madam back karain. Aap ko pata naheen gaari mein kon hai.” I was tired and wanted to get home. This was too much hassle. So I backed off, let them pass, the sirens and flags et all. Who knows, if I would have dared to push my way in, I may have been shot at, even though I was not a threat.

The recent incident of the young man, Malik Tahir, being shot dead by the guards of ex-PM Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son has once again made the debate over what is being termed ‘VIP culture’, a burning issue. This is shortly after Arjumand Hussain and other passengers offloaded Senator Malik and MPA Ramesh Kumar for making them wait aboard the PIA flight. Without taking away any due credit from Hussain, who possibly lost his job due to this show of bravery, the fact remains that this nation has had enough. These incidences are now being seen as a metaphor for the ideal of equality. Ironically, the very champions of democracy have harmed this ideal the most in the past.

Such is the norm in Pakistan: queues are broken, traffic signals are disregarded, palatial mansions of absentee politicians are guarded by blocking off entire areas with containers, and we all stay quiet with resigned acceptance, seething with anger inside.

As a bureaucrat’s daughter, I grew up travelling in a flag-bearing car of the government of Pakistan. I never stood in lines at the airport and my luggage was whisked off by the ‘protocol’ hours before I casually reached the airport’s VIP lounge 30 minutes prior to the flight. Over time, I grew an aversion to this. It was all too unfair, too senseless and also too fleeting. The same people, who would go out of their way for you, couldn’t care less once you were out of service.

Societies evolve, inevitably. Muffled voices of an anti-VIP culture began with political parties promoting the welcome trend of middle class leadership questioning these practices. With Imran Khan’s slogan of ‘tabdeeli’, which essentially means questioning the status quo at all levels, the May 11, 2013 elections saw irate voters pushing back VIPs who tried to break the queue. “All this is not acceptable in Naya Pakistan.”

However, a problematic and confused narrative is building up around the term ‘VIP culture’. Questions need to be raised about what is exactly meant by the term. Affluence is being misconstrued as VIP-ism.

It is important to differentiate between the two because everyone with an SUV does not disregard traffic signals or overtake others on basis of having a bigger car, which has become a symbol of arrogance. Gilani’s family cannot be without security guards, and that is a fact. Everyone hiring security guards on personal expense or owning licenced weapons for safety concerns cannot be viewed as oppressors. De-weaponisation and getting rid of the dependence on security personnel still remains an unrealised dream in Pakistan, which will take time and systemic efforts to be realised. It would not be prudent for any political leader or a person in a position of power to take unnecessary risks. They owe it to their followers and people who look up to them to stay safe.

The problem arises when public property is infringed upon, when money the public pays as taxes is used to protect VIPs, when arrogance becomes the order of the day and when someone goes one-up on the common man using unjust means. The issue is when respect for human life becomes subjective, and when the life and honour of a senator or an MNA becomes more important than mine. And the anger is justified when Abdul Qadir Gilani’s life or Rehman Malik’s time is considered more precious than mine.

Sadly, we live in a society where value of human life depends on your financial and social status. We are used to a system where people in power literally get away with murder. This lack of accountability is where the problem lies. This is precisely what makes security guards armed with weapons so reckless.

But this pent-up anger is both dangerous and blinding. If economic and social disparity starts being viewed as VIP-ism and each one of us becomes a hero wanting to fight it, there will be chaos without order. When narratives become jumbled, activism becomes anarchy, and that, too, not anarcho-pacifism, but the full-blown kind. In these dangerous and angry times, it’s important we understand the difference.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Ranjha
    Oct 11, 2014 - 3:08AM

    Sadly, we live in a society where value of human life depends on your financial and social status. We are used to a system where people in power literally get away with murder.

    Unfortunately, I also live in a society where human life depends on social status. And, come to think of it, so does every other human being on this planet. However, here no one gets used to a system where people in power GET AWAY WITH MURDER!

    Money is the mother of class distinction. But VIPism is not driven by money–it is driven by a savage sense of entitlement to power, handed down by generation of corrupt parents to their equally corrupt off springs.

    Not everyone sees the light as you apparently did when you grew up, rejecting the abuse of state coffers belonging to a poor nation. We salute you and hope many more follow your path and reject the corruption soaked ways of of their fathers.


  • a_writer
    Oct 11, 2014 - 6:09AM

    The only thing that amazes me is MPA Ramehs Kumar, obviously a hindu is considered a VIP in the land of Pakistan! I can’t believe it.


  • epicfixer
    Oct 11, 2014 - 9:56AM

    Discrimination on class and creed is a visible alternative to the stingy behaviour of the VVIP’s that engulfs Pakistan. We are in a flux always,fearful of the fact that anyone of us challenging the status quo would end up being on the losing side. Equality and justice is one thing, but an end to VVIP culture is an absolute must. The killing in broad daylight of an innocent young man is one of many incidents that have taken place in the last few years.

    Interesting, was to read Manzoor Watoo’s statement yesterday stating that why was a murder case charge pressed against Gillani’s son in light of the elder one already being kidnapped. Not even a mention of the plight of the family, that lost its young son without any valid reason! Has the nation lost light of the fact, that it could have been anyone of us or one of our loved ones.

    The author always tends to highlight human plight and has an uncanny ability to cover some amazing issues. Thank you for bringing this issue up.


  • Parvez
    Oct 11, 2014 - 11:57AM

    Nicely written…… but why did you not say what needed to be said ?
    In any civilized society rules apply and criteria is established for stuff such as public behavior and like in most societies infringements happen…….and a system, known as the law enforcement and judicial system is there to address this. In our case ‘ this system ‘ that should address such issues does not exist……..because it’s politicised to do exactly the opposite of what it’s supposed to do.
    ET : I know you are uncomfortable with comments that target the judiciary but I feel it’s necessary to say what one thinks is right…… kindly allow this comment to stand.


  • Ishrat salim
    Oct 11, 2014 - 1:43PM

    We have mixed ” colonial system” with VVIP culture in Vogue topped with unaccounted flow of money….such a situation over time has bred sense of in security amongst the so called the ELITE class….full.of arrogance, egoistic social status….


  • Oct 11, 2014 - 5:08PM

    Farahnaz: your first is a presumption that the Security Guard of Quader Gilani shot the unfortunate youngster! Mine is that Quader did!!
    All what you and I get fed with, is Police as Media ‘karamaat’……

    Second, every family cannot/should not employ security guards, as used to be the norm when we were young boys; only governance must ensure their security. That’s what Naya Pakistan is all about and it cannot be without SYSTEM CHANGE; the System that has allowed these “Chors, Oochukkas and Lutaerias” to garner wealth and develop the fear of the ‘thief’! His elder son is still with some ‘Goons’ who want their share of the ‘Loot-Khassot’ of the ex-PM!

    With Transparent Accountability in place, “Chori-Chakri” checked, and Participatory Governance promulgated and established, nobody would dare threaten other citizens wealth or honor.

    My dear Lady, you have perhaps not seen the British Raj, being younger; a ‘Gora’ DC, Judge of Lahore High Court and Governor Punjab did not have Security Guard when visiting Public Functions and were never late!

    Father of a friend/class-fellow (latter is himself a retired federal secretary, today) resigned and left his Chair (District Session Judge) when the LHC acquitted a murderer on his appeal and returned to his village! Two days later, the CJ of LHC drove to Judge Sahib’s village travelling almost a 100 miles to request him to rejoin his post as the acquittal was on matters of law not facts. Judge Sahib refused and lived a simple, dignified and purposeful retired life, tend to his sons’ education and “dhehaat-sudhar”. His sons grew up to be some of the noblest, ablest, honest and patriotic sons of our land. Farahnaz: when that retired Judge Sahib used to pass through our Town on his cycle wearing a Fez, any and every citizen of that Town who saw him cycling by, would stop and reverently pay respect to him!!!

    Allah (swt) keep him in his peaceful, heavenly
    Abode, ameen.

    System Change to Empower People to operate Participatiry Governance, Transparent Accountability and Justice for All regardless of
    color, creed or gender, from Community Level- upwards, is the spirit and purpose of Pakistan and it is Peoples’ God-given RIGHT.

    Curses of Clergy, Ashraffia (Crutches if the Latter) and Royalty (of all forms) will have to be made accountsble of all their crimes and banished. ……. Whenever that is possible!!! Yehi Ma’raaj e Insani hae.


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