NEW DELHI – In India, the ratio of police in relation to population is very low. Given the shortage, who should the government protect? The ordinary, teeming millions? Or India’s richest man?
On Monday, a newspaper reported that businessman Mukesh Ambani, India's wealthiest citizen with a net worth of more than $21 billion, will be provided security by the government’s elite commando team. Ambani will now have bullet-proof escort vehicles with armed commandos from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) wherever he goes in India.
The news comes at a politically inopportune moment. In the past few months, Indians have been incensed over the lack of safety for the nation's women and over what they view as police apathy. Over the weekend, activists protested the brutal rape of a five-year old girl in New Delhi, and demanded the resignation of the city's police commissioner.
At any given moment, according to a recent report by the Brookings Institute, only about one-third of New Delhi’s 83,762 police officers are doing actual police work. The rest, the report found, are busy providing protection to senior politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats or other VIPs. The Supreme Court has called VIP security an “abuse of power.” A typical VIP under police protection might receive three guards. On average, there is one policeman for every 761 Indians, according to government statistics.
Social media was abuzz with criticism.
Popular novelist Chetan Bhagat, writing on Twitter, lamented the apparent police priorities: "Billionaires get A to Z-class security. Little girls learning A to Z however, continue to get kicked out of police stations. What priorities."
Ambani’s biggest critic and inveterate anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal tweeted, "Z security to Mukesh Ambani? Such a rich man can't hire his own security guards. And no media had the courage to question this?"
Journalist and blogger T. S. Sudhir wrote on Twitter, "I pay my society maintenance that takes care of my security. I also pay my taxes that pays the crpf to protect mukesh ambani. #goodindian"
In February, Ambani’s office received a hand-written letter from a radical militant group that calls itself the Indian Mujahideen. In the letter, the group allegedly threatened to attack him for supporting Narendra Modi, a controversial Hindu nationalist politician. The group has been charged with carrying out several bomb explosions in Indian cities in recent years.
Soon after the letter, security was tightened around his extravagant billion-dollar, 27-floor home.
On Monday, the government defended its decision. A senior government official told reporters that Ambani will, indeed, pay for his security.
Arvind Kejriwal tweeted in response, "So can any person now hire CRPF jawans by paying money? R our security forces meant to act as pvt security of rich n powerful?"