One of my close relatives used to be a top Government official. During last decade of his distinguished career, he was honoured with very high Government posts in Mumbai. During his tenure as a high official, he was entitled to the use of a Government car with a red beacon fitted on the top. Couple of times, when I was visiting Mumbai, I had an occasion to travel along with him in his official car. It was a totally new experience for me. The way in which everyone on the street looked at the car and the occupants, the way the chauffeur would get down, when the car is stopped, and open the door, the pomp and the show of reception at the place where the car was stopped, were all new experiences for me. I must honestly admit that I was deeply impressed then with the trappings of power, associated with that car with a read beacon.
In New Delhi, India’s capital, about 800 parliamentarians, consisting members of the lower house or Loksabha and Upper house or Rajyasabha, assemble few times a year when the parliament is in session. These members have now put forward a demand that their status in the VIP list should be enhanced. For Government protocol, the Government strictly follows a warrant of precedence. In this list, these members of parliament, are placed at place no 21, which is behind envoys, chairpersons of state legislatures, administrators of Union Territories, chief executive councilors of Delhi and deputy ministers. These parliamentarians now demand that they should be placed at no 17 at par with high court judges.
Each of the house here has a speaker, a post similar to that of a chairperson. In the warrant of precedence, former speakers have no place at all. As per this new demand, former speakers should be placed at rank no. 7 along with Cabinet ministers, chief ministers, former PMs and leaders of opposition in the two Houses of Parliament. The members feel that present warrant of precedence is too ad-hoc and does not truly reflect the importance and status of the elected representative of the people.
India’s first prime minister, Late Jawaharlal Nehru had made a noting on a file, which is very relevant here. He had said in his noting that “There are a large number of people outside the warrant who in effect are more important than those who are included… they may be given seats much higher than those in the list.” Nehru clearly understood that the importance of a person does not necessarily reflect in the government warrant of precedence and number of really important persons outside this Government list, is far bigger than the number in the lists.
The parliamentarians however do not seem to agree with the late prime minister and have their own ideas about their status and importance. One simple fact that comes to my mind is that if the Government agrees with demand of the parliamentarians and allows them to have red beacons for their cars, 800 cars would be added to already large number of cars with red beacons in New Delhi. If there are so many cars with red beacons, I wonder, what kind of importance would these cars carry? This simple fact perhaps is missed by the parliamentarians.
Truly speaking, the parliamentarians are the representatives of the common people, who have elected them to this high post. Their job really is to understand and help to solve the hardships and difficulties of people from their constituencies, where from they have been elected. I would like to mention here the example of late Kakasaheb Gadgil, a parliamentarian elected from my city of Pune in 1950s and 1960’s. No other person, who got elected from my city for parliament in later years, has been able to do anything comparable to what Late kakasaheb Gadgil did for the city in his years. Because of his honest and noble work, he has a special place in the heart of the people from my city. No other parliamentarian has managed to get as much respect as this man.
A common man like me is easily impressed with trappings of power that come along with a red beacon car. However, the representatives, elected by the people should try and elevate their status by their honest and hard work for the people, instead of demanding red beacons for their cars. I feel that such earned respect shall stay with the parliamentarians for many years to come. The respect gained by sitting in a car with a red beacon is at best only transitional.
2 December 2011