CJI Dipak Misra impeachment case: Kapil Sibal's lack of political and legal acumen is costing Congress dear

With a lawyer like Kapil Sibal in its ranks, why does the Congress need enemies? Sibal is single-handedly capable of putting his foot in mouth, then stomping the same foot on an axe.

Consider his latest misadventure to impeach the Chief Justice of India, an act so amateurish that it embodied phrases like "when pigs could fly", and "if wishes were horses". If Navjot Singh Sidhu were not a Congress legislator, even he might have laughed at it with his famous riff: "Agar meri chaachi ke moochen hoti toh main unko chacha ne kehta? (If my aunt had a moustache, wouldn't I have called her uncle?)"

Kapil Sibal addresses a press conference in New Delhi on Tuesday. PTI

Kapil Sibal addresses a press conference in New Delhi on Tuesday. PTI

Yes, the idea was an absurdity from the very beginning. It was his flight of fancy masquerading as legalese. Sibal's move was neither smart politics nor mature jurisprudence. It was just hara-kiri.

To begin with, the Congress never had the numbers to get the CJI impeached. Though it had the support of a faction of the Opposition, the Congress knew it would never be able to take the case to a logical conclusion. A removal motion needs to be signed by 100 members of the Lok Sabha or 50 members of Rajya Sabha. And since Congress wasn't sure of the numbers in Lok Sabha, it tried to get the motion routed through Rajya Sabha.

For a moment, let's assume that the Rajya Sabha chairperson allowed the move. Let us also fancy for a moment that the motion was scrutinised by a three-member committee and put to vote in both Houses of Parliament. Did the Congress and the Opposition have the numbers to get a special majority? No. Yet, it went ahead and persisted with the idea like a petulant child adamant on cracking open a wall with his forehead, even when former prime minister Manmohan Singh acted as its moral and legal compass by not signing the petition.

If the Congress was intent on making a statement about the judiciary after the revolt by four senior-most judges, it should have sat quietly after the motion was rejected by the Rajya Sabha chairperson, who was well within his rights to accept or reject it. But for reasons that could best be compared with a death-wish, Sibal persisted and challenged the order in the Supreme Court, only to later chicken out and take the exit with his tail tucked between the legs.

Why did Sibal have to withdraw the petition after making so much noise? He could have argued the case, as the five-member Constitution Bench said, on its merits. But instead, like a team denied its own ground, referees, spectators and rules, he refused to argue the case on a mere technicality. Obviously, he was looking for an egress.

Sibal was adamant about knowing how the bench hearing the petition was constituted. He may have had a point about the Chief Justice of India deciding the bench in a case challenging the latter's very rights as master of the roster. But instead of walking out in a huff because he didn't get the bench of his choice, he could have at least presented his case. After all, the bench hearing the case comprised the next five senior-most judges of India's apex court. But he preferred to withdraw the petition, showing utter disregard for one of India's finest institutions.

This flip-flop by Sibal and the Congress gives rise to the suspicion that there was some ulterior motive behind the move. It wasn't just about the independence and integrity of the Supreme Court, as argued by the Congress. Perhaps the only motive was to embarrass the CJI and get him benched till his retirement. Unfortunately, the Congress has only ended up embarrassing itself. It needs to not only bench Sibal now, but also compulsorily retire him from politics.

This is not the first time Sibal has proven his lack of political and legal acumen. During the Gujarat elections, he handed the BJP a weapon to slay the Congress by arguing that the hearing on the Ayodhya dispute be deferred till the next elections, implying that the judiciary set its timetable to the political clock. Before that, he mishandled the 2G spectrum narrative by coming up with the absurd zero-loss theory. And somewhere around the same time, he even made the UPA government look silly by genuflecting to Baba Ramdev, dashing to the airport to dissuade him from starting a fast against the government. Sibal, as his track record shows, is the master of blowing his bombs up on the Congress.

The Congress, too, should learn its lessons from the misadventure. Because of its machinations during the Emergency, it is hardly seen as a crusader for independence of the judiciary. Even those who have no memory of its history of manipulation and subversion would have noticed how it mounted an attack on the Supreme Court without the necessary arsenal and strategy. The damage to its own image and integrity is, obviously, self-inflicted.

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Updated Date: May 08, 2018 15:48 PM

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