There is a mood in this country of deep frustration with the political class.
You overhear it in tea stalls and on trains, you read it in editorials. Inflation is rising and investors are fleeing. The rupee is at an all-time low. Not a week goes by without another epic scam revealed, with politicians profiting from the rigged sales of national goods from coal stocks to water sources. Dissatisfaction cuts across party and regional lines.
Yet one group of people would appear not to have sensed this national anger: the 790 sitting members of India’s parliament.
While the country seethes, a committee of MPs has been preoccupied with the pressing issue of who will fetch their suitcases at airports, and whether they can have a separate line when they buy subway tickets.
The Indian Express reports that a standing committee of parliament has drafted a “high quality handling protocol” on how MPs should be treated at airports. They want some obvious perks – priority baggage handling, lounge access, pre-reserved seats and their choice of meals. But in addition, the airport manager or someone she or he “deputizes” must meet the MP at the airport door and oversee handling until the MP is seated on the plane – and the whole process in reverse on landing. The airport station manager is to ensure the flight operates on time.
And in case the parliamentarian was not feeling sufficiently appreciated by the people, cabin crew members are personally to convey “the compliments of the captain.” (That captain will be required to file a report on the “handling” of the MP after the flight lands.)
The protocol, it should be noted, applies only on the national carrier, Air India, which in any case is barely operational after a months-long pilots’ strike and various financial mismanagement incidents.
The Express said the airport protocol was developed after MPs complained to a House Committee about the savage way they are made to travel at present, with no business class seats allotted them, and long lines to check in.
Flying can of course be unpleasant these days, but MPs are apparently also dissatisfied with their experience on the Delhi Metro – which most citizens of the capital see as a glorious island of efficiency and comfort in a sea of grim transportation options.
“Delhi Metro has been asked to devise a protocol for MPs wherein staff would be appointed to receive them at stations, facilitate their movement, and assist them in boarding the trains,” the Express quoted a “government source in the know” as saying. Also on the wish-list: a separate MP ticket counter.
The Metro plan seems to have emerged when Mangu Singh, who heads the service, appeared before a Lok Sabha (the lower house) committee in May.
The Express scoop prompted predictable outrage. One bellicose TV anchor assembled a panel of MPs, then brandished the protocol at them and bellowed, “Are you children, that you can’t board an airplane without someone to escort you?” The parliamentarians denied receiving any special treatment.
Committee chairman J. P. Agarwal also played down the protocol, saying no formal orders were ever given to Air India and that MPs don’t want special treatment on the Metro – they just wanted to understand how the train-taking process works.
But the Express quotes sources who attended the Metro meeting as insisting that MPS cited the Air India protocol as a fine example for the Metro to follow.
Ajit Singh, the Civil Aviation Minister, did not return calls to the Globe, but has said that the protocol won’t cost taxpayers anything, and is simply intended to give hard-working MPs “due respect.”