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  Z security for Ambani  
  Zero security for people  
  MY first impulse was to question the Central government's decision to provide Z-category security to Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani. Why should the Indian state provide such security to the richest man in the country, who can afford to raise a whole battalion of private security guards to protect him, his family and his property?

However, he is a tax-paying Indian citizen and the state has a duty to protect him. While he can have any number of private security guards, the law does not allow them to keep any firearms. As the story goes, Ambani had received a letter from the Indian Mujahideen that he would be killed. Now, the question is why should they send such a letter?

Let's not go into that question for the present as the Indian security and intelligence agencies had found that the letter was not a prank and a serious threat to Ambani's life existed. The government has decided to provide him Z-category security only after assessing the whole situation. Let's, therefore, believe the government.

If Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Gandhi and her husband Robert Vadra are precious and need to be protected at state cost, surely Ambani is a national asset, which cannot be left to the mercy of the Mujahideen, Pakistani or Indian. Unlike the couple I mentioned, the industrialist has to pay for the cost of security, quoted at Rs 20 lakh per month.

As I write this, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has already taken over his security. Nearly three dozen jawans, including officers, will provide him security at his obnoxious home Antilia in south Mumbai. I will explain why it is obnoxious in an instant. A security officer wielding AK-47 will always travel with Ambani in his car, while two vehicles carrying security men will accompany him. A similar arrangement will be made for him when he visits Delhi. It is not clear how he would be protected when he travels to other places in India.

A friend who was equally agitated about the government decision asked whether it was the job of the CRPF to protect private individuals. That forced me to read the history of the CRPF, the world's largest paramilitary organization. It was set up in 1939 to protect British citizens from diehard Indian nationalists.

Its name was Crown Representative's Police (CRP) with Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh as its headquarters. After Independence, following the enactment of a law, it became CRPF. So providing security to a private individual is not something alien to the Force. Some Leftist leaders have questioned the decision, as if it was something new. Let me tell you about my own experience.

The Tribune Editor-in-Chief Hari Jaisingh was given security because he faced a threat from the 'Khalistanis'. He had a gun-wielding security officer from the Punjab Police accompanying him wherever he went. When the editor was at office, he would spend time with his secretariat staff.

When Hari Jaisingh left and I joined as Officiating Editor, the security officer offered his services to me. I told him that nobody would waste his time and energy to kill me and I did not need his service. He was disappointed, as he had begun to like the posting at 'The Tribune' where he was provided endless cups of tea and mutter, a snack. A few hours later, the editor's secretary approached me with a request that I keep him till H.K. Dua joined as Editor-in-Chief three months later. I told him that he would be a nuisance, to which the secretary responded: "If he is in the car, parking will be easier and free. He can also fetch you vegetables". I just laughed.

He returned to the Punjab Police when Dua also refused to have his services. Most people see security as a status symbol but they do not realise that it can also be a torture. In 1999, cartoonist Irfan Hussein of the 'Outlook' magazine was killed, with his killers still at large. Suddenly, the Delhi Police decided to provide security to all prominent cartoonists, including my friend Sudhir Tailang.

A gun-wielding policeman would accompany Sudhir wherever he went. He would sit in front of his cabin at the Hindustan Times office. Soon, realisation dawned on Sudhir that he had lost his privacy. He finally approached the Delhi Police to have the security removed. The experience of the National Herald cartoonist was worse.

He did not have a car those days and travelled by bus. The security man insisted that he travel by taxi. How could he provide him security if he travelled by bus? He and his family lived in a low income group (LIG) flat. The cartoonist had to provide him food and snacks. All this created problems for him. His entreaties to have the security guard removed were turned down initially as the police said he faced a real threat.

I do not know what finally happened except that the poor cartoonist's life was turned upside down by the constant presence of the constable. Sooner than later, Ambani would also realize that security -- Z or A -- is a bother. It is a different matter if, as some say, the so-called threat from the Mujahideen is a pretext to get security.

In that case, more and more billionaires like him would begin asking for security. Will the government be able to deny them having set a precedent? In any case, security is provided on political considerations. The government has recently increased the number of people enjoying Z-plus security. Two such beneficiaries are Union steel minister Beni Prasad Verma and BSP MP Brajesh Pathak.

This shows that the government treats security as a political patronage to be extended to its favorites. The decision has negated whatever little progress the government had achieved when P. Chidambaram as Home Minister had reviewed the cases of VIP security and pruned the list of people eligible for it. As a result, many of them had lost their security cover.

The Supreme Court has been hearing a case related to VIP security and had asked the Central and state governments to provide details of policemen deployed for such duties. The public perception is clear that the government is obsessed with providing security to the VIPs at the cost of the common man.

According to the Bureau of Police Research and Development, there is only one policeman to protect 253 citizens in Delhi, against 5183 policemen to protect 427 high-profile persons. If the policemen deployed for traffic duty to facilitate movement of VIPs in the city are included, the manpower wasted for such duties will be astounding.

About two decades ago, Latika Padgaonkar, then with UNESCO, and I were guests of the Mongolian government. On the penultimate day of our visit, the minister in charge of privatization hosted a lunch in our honour at a restaurant, close to his office.

We reached there a few minutes early and the minister came on time. He did not have any security and he came walking from his office when the day temperature was -10 degree centigrade. I asked him whether the people on the streets recognized him or not. "Yes, some of them do recognise me", he said in a matter of fact manner. What's more, he allowed my guide and driver also to sit at the same table.

Latika, who knew Mongolia better than me, said decades of Communism had helped remove some of the class distinctions in the Mongolian society. Last year, I attended a conference at Lima in Peru. The then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stayed for a day at the same hotel where the conference took place. The security, I found, was minimal.

Now, to come back to Ambani, I mentioned that his house is obnoxious. First of all, it is situated on a land which was originally meant for a Muslim orphanage. There was alleged corruption in the purchase of the plot from the Wakf. The house is called Antilia and it has 27 floors. Since the building has extra-high ceilings, other buildings of corresponding height will have 50-60 floors. It was designed by the Chicago-based architects, Perkins and Will, and constructed by the Australia-based company, Leighton Holdings.

There are 600 people employed there with the kitchen located on three floors. No one in the world has a comparable house. Of course, Ambani has a large family consisting of his mother, wife and two
children to live in a house now worth $I-2 billion!

Is it not criminal to waste millions of gallons of water and thousands of megawatts of power every year for the sake of five persons, though they have the capacity to pay their water and electricity bills at the prevailing rates? Are these how rich men live? I do not know but once as a guest of Air India I visited the Boeing factory at Seattle in the US.

One of the memorable highlights of the visit was a cruise on Lake Washington Boeing had organized for us. From the boat we were shown Microsoft founder Bill Gates' house. Since the house was surrounded by trees, all that we could see was an American flag fluttering on a flagpole there. Unlike in India, everybody in America can fly the flag at any time of the day and night. It is not uncommon to find bras and panties with flag-like designs.

The point to be noted is that the world's richest man felt at home in a single-storied house, designed and built by fellow countrymen, whereas Ambani needed a house that can withstand an earthquake measuring 8.5 on the Richter scale, built by American and Australian firms.

Now, take the case of another rich man. He is Warren Buffett, who topped the Forbes' list of the world's richest persons for several years. I recently read "The Snowball: Warren Buffett And The Business of Life" by Alice Schroeder. It is one of the most inspiring books I have read. The book got the title The Snowball from an episode in Buffett's early life. As a child he was fond of making a snowball, which he would roll in the snow. As it rolls, it becomes bigger and bigger with the snowflakes sticking to it. That is how he made his money. All he needed to do was make that small snowball first and then roll it.

In the book "Basant Kumar and Sarala Birla: Life Has No Full Stops", author Rashme Sehgal, narrates an incident. When BK Birla turned 13, his uncle gave him "20, crisp, ten-rupee notes" on the condition that he would return it. He invested it in a company called Indian Iron and earned Rs 40 as profit.

Later, he invested in a company called Howrah Jute. "By the end of the year, Basant had earned a profit of Rs 4000". Luck was not that favourable to Buffett, though his father was a four-term member of the US Congress. But he had a way with money. He predicted that by 35, he would become a billionaire.

Buffett did not have an uncle to give him 20 crisp ten dollar notes. He started making money at age 11, though he regrets he did not start earlier. He bought a small farm at age 14 from the money he earned distributing newspapers. He lives in the same old 3-bedroom house in Omaha he bought five decades ago. It does not have a compound wall or a fence. He says he has everything in that house that he needs.

Buffett drives his own car and has no security. He seldom travels by private jet, although he owns the world's largest private jet company. He never interferes in the working of nearly 63 companies which he owns, though he ensures that his goals are always met. He does not socialize. He returns home in the evening to watch television and munch popcorn.

Buffett's motto in life is: "The happiest people do not necessarily have the "best" things. They simply appreciate the things they have". Incidentally, he does not use a mobile phone, nor does he have a computer on his table. As I read this, I remembered a young colleague who fought with his family because they did not buy for him the latest Samsung phone, though he has been employed for over five years.

Buffett created history when he donated $31 billion to charity. Last time he visited India to encourage India's rich to pledge some of their wealth to charity, he met a select group of people in New Delhi. NDTV showed the meeting in progress. Suddenly, a young man stood up to ask a pointed question. I did not have any difficulty in recognising him as a student of NISCORT, where I teach, who was doing an internship with NDTV.

Had Mukesh Ambani lived like Warren Buffett, surely there would have been no need for him to seek security, which would only spoil the quality of his life, unless he considers gun-toting security men around him as a symbol of his wealth and prestige like his monstrous Antilia.

The writer can be reached at
Courtesy: Indian Currents
  By  A.J. Philip  
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