If on a blistering hot day in some remote village, there’s only one charpoy in the shade, who do you think will get to sit down and get himself fanned by the sarpanch’s daughter-in-law while gulping down the only glass of cool shikanji? A member of Parliament or a puisne judge? As much as this may come as a shock to you, it’ll be the puisne judge.
According to a precious document called the Warrant of Precedence, which charts the hierarchy of members in public service and their status, an MP is No. 21 on the list, while the puisne judge sits happily at No. 17. So, without doubt, with only one charpoy to spare, the puisne judge will get preferred VIP treatment over your honourable MP.
As you may have guessed, I just like saying ‘puisne’ a lot — even if it’s actually pronounced ‘piyoone’ — without having any idea until just now what a puisne judge is. It turns out that a puisne judge isn’t a hen-pecked lawyer but a regular junior member of a Supreme or high court. But the puisne judge isn’t alone in being higher up in the status rung than the MP. In the case of what the Warrant of Precedence says, the MP would have been made to stand in the sun even if he was competing for that lone charpoy with a chief justice of a high court, or the chairpersons of the Central Administrative Tribunal, the National Committee for Minorities, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.
But what has really piqued our MPs is the puisne judge being treated better than them. A puisne judge! Can you imagine a puisne judge being shown more respect than, say, Rajiv Pratap Rudy or Rahul Gandhi? This downright travesty of puisne justice has understandably resulted in the Parliamentary Privileges Committee finally recommending the enhancement of the status of MPs last week. The recommendation tabled in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday not only demanded that MPs be put No. 17 on the Warrant of Precedence list (at par with the puisne judge) but also insisted that the cars of every MP be allowed to have a red light beacon, so as to cock a snook at the upstart puisne judges.
PC Chacko, a Congress MP from Thrissur in Kerala, happens to be the Parliamentary Privileges Committee chairperson. I can feel his pain when, as the representative of all slighted and hu-miliated MPs, he pointed out that being No. 21 in the VIP list is “much below their status and lower to persons not holding constitutional offices and even bureaucrats”. Yes, even bureaucrats.
If the puisne judges looking down on our MPs from No. 17 isn’t bad enough, it’s the sanctimonious babus who make our MPs so small and so not-precious. So with the justification invested in them by the people of the Republic of India, our MPs also want the bureaucrats to know their place in, well, society. “[The Department of Personnel and Training] may also incorporate civil services training curriculum to include protocol and courteous behaviour to be displayed by officials towards public representatives and the need for its strict compliance,” says the committee note tabled in Parliament.
Among the things that the noxious bureaucrats should learn, according to our upset MPs, include the need to “listen patiently and consider carefully but act according to your judgment and rules”; “Be meticulously courteous and rise to receive and see off [an MP]”; “Invite MPs and state legislators to public events. Make them comfortable seating arrangements” etc. Which is the right way of correcting those arrogant enough these days to sit in a chair facing Parliamentarians, rather than squat as they used to when everything was in their right place.
As for why anyone would think that the MPs aren’t serious about bringing about a strong anti-corruption law, especially to weed out the rotten apples among them, I have no idea. Frankly, our honourable Parliamentarians need to be honoured and trusted more. I would suggest that they be given the first-borns of every puisne judge in the country. It’s also time for you and me to try and get an MP-ship.