The Colonial Holdover of India Lingers On

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

The lethargic attitude of Indian bureaucrats is legendary. Here is a fine example, which also doubles as a metaphor for Indian upper crust’s mindset.

Readers of this magazine have seen in airports planes from different countries — Lufthansa (Germany), Air France (France), British Airways (England), Delta (US), Gulf Air and Emirates (UAE), Nippon Airlines (Japan), Jet Airways (India); and of course, Air India.

The curious among you also would have noticed that somewhere below the tail of planes on either side are inscribed alpha-numeric characters. The first or the first two letter-number combinations near the tail of the plane identify the country in which the plane is registered.

For example, all commercial and private planes’ ID numbers registered in Canada would start with C, for Canada. For planes from Germany, it is D for Deutschland. Planes registered in France starts with F. United Kingdom starts with G, probably G for Great Britain, even though it is not great anymore in several measures. For planes registered in the US, the plane’s ID number starts with N, probably standing for North America since aviation started here.

For India, it is VT. Why VT? Well, it is a holdover from India’s colonial past. VT, assigned to India in the 1920s, stands for Viceroy’s Territories — viceroy of the not-so-great Britain, of course! Most of the ex-British colonies have the names starting with V. Australia is VH; Hong Kong, VR; Falklands, VP-F; Bermuda, VP-B… …

India became independent naamke-vaaste in 1947, and it became a nominal republic in 1950. It wants to be a regional superpower and a perĀ­manent member in the UN Security Council. But the colonial mindset of India’s babudom (bureaucracy) and its middle class is still very much intact. For, even after 60 years after becoming a republic, they haven’t found a reason to change the identification numbers for planes registered in India to, say, Bharat, or India, or Hindustan, or anything other than VT — Viceroy’s (or Viceregal) Territories.


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