CJI impeachment: Rift within Congress, lack of Opposition unity means motion is a political gimmick doomed-to-fail

Despite a clear rift within the Congress party and lack of unanimity outside – among the members of the Opposition parties – in signing a motion for the removal of Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, the Congress and other Opposition parties are hell-bent on embarrassing themselves by going on an overdrive on the issue.

After the fallout of the Justice Loya case, the Opposition parties have sharpened their claws and teeth to pounce upon the CJI, in order to impeach him.

Before casting aspersions on the government and the Supreme Court by initiating a doomed-to-fail process in a bid to grab headlines to achieve its objective of undermining any judgment that the CJI may give — as happened in the Justice Loya case or might happen in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case – the Congress should have first put its own house in order.

Internal rift

File image of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. PTI

File image of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. PTI

While the Congress along with the Opposition parties has managed to get the signatures of 71 Rajya Sabha members to move a motion on the removal of the CJI, there has been an apparent rift within the party.

A section of the Congress party, that includes former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, senior Congress leaders and former Cabinet ministers P Chidambaram and Salman Khurshid, is clearly not in favour of the move. The dissenting voice within the party is loud and clear.

According to sources, the issue of removal of the CJI was delayed as Singh, along with a section of Congress MPs – who are also lawyers – was not in favour of the 'impeachment of the CJI', as they believed that it would adversely affect the honour of the Supreme Court.

"It is the decision of the party to move an impeachment motion against the CJI. So, I won't comment on this decision. However, Dr Singh and a couple of MPs who are also in the legal profession were not in favour of this move. The issue had been discussed within the party. Singh is not a signatory to this motion," a former Congress Rajya Sabha MP told Firstpost, on condition of anonymity.

Another senior Congress leader, Khurshid, who's strongly against the move, reportedly said: "The honour of the judiciary can’t be compromised. The judiciary is well equipped to handle everything. Everyone may not agree with the judiciary."

He also added that the opinion was his personal and he was not a party to CJI's impeachment decision. "The irony is that I'm an officer (lawyer) of the court and I respect it. It (impeachment move) is the party's decision."

Meeting of the Opposition

Congress and other Opposition parties met on Friday morning to decide on the strategy of CJI's impeachment. The meeting was attended by the MPs belonging to Congress, NCP, Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Left. It was decided to meet the chairman of Rajya Sabha M Venkaiah Naidu and submit a notice of impeachment motion, as the opposition has the requisite numbers to do so.

For an impeachment motion or a motion to remove the CJI, it should have the signature of at least 50 members in Rajya Sabha. In this case, the opposition, in fact, has 71 signatures (including seven members who have retired).

Lack of unanimity

The move has divided not just the Congress but also the ranks of the Opposition. Last month, the Rajya Sabha members of the Opposition parties discreetly initiated a signature campaign to a move a motion for the removal of the CJI. The backdrop was a presser called by four senior judges of the SC.

In an unprecedented move in January this year, Justice J Chelameswar, the second senior-most judge in the Supreme Court, along with Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph held a press conference, and wrote to the CJI that some important cases were "assigned by the Chief Justice of this court selectively to benches of their preference without rational basis".

The allegation against the CJI is that he compromised with the independence of the SC. However, despite meeting on Friday, the TMC — a major force in the Opposition block — stayed away from signing the notice. According to sources, DMK also didn't sign the motion.

"I'm not an official spokesperson to comment. But what I can say is that we were a part of Friday morning's meeting. Our MPs didn't sign," a TMC office-bearer told Firstpost.

This also raises a question – on which side is TMC after all? Though the TMC supremo and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee had met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi during her recent visit to Delhi, the TMC MPs stayed away from signing the motion related to impeachment – which is crucial for the Congress.

A source in the Parliament claimed, "It's at the behest of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) that the TMC stayed away from signing. The BJD is not backing this move against the CJI."

Congress' stand

After Friday's meeting, senior Congress leaders Kapil Sibal and Ghulam Nabi Azad held a press conference in the national capital to tell their side of the story, more so to justify why the former prime minister had stayed away from signing the notice.

While denying that Singh wasn't against the motion and justifying why a few other leaders didn't sign the notice, Sibal said, "It's absolutely false that Dr Singh refused to sign the impeachment motion. We didn't involve him intentionally as he's an ex-prime minister."

They justified the absence of Chidambaram and others by saying, "They aren't included as they are having cases in SC and high court."

"We're one on this issue. It's the official stand of the Congress. We have got 71 signatures. He's (Singh) a former prime minister so we won't bring him in this issue," added Azad.

Now what?

The seven Opposition parties led by the Congress have submitted a notice for the removal of the CJI. But, whether it'll materialise or not is highly debatable.

Constitutional expert SK Sharma said, "It's a tedious and long-drawn procedure, and may take more than a year. The Opposition needs to secure a two-thirds majority to get the motion passed, which is not possible in their case. They simply don't have the numbers. It's more a political gimmick and aimed at creating noise. No matter how hard they try, they won't be able to do it."

We have had instances in the past when a motion for removal of judges didn't succeed. The motion for removal of SC justice V Ramaswami, Calcutta High Court justice Soumitra Sen, Chief Justice of Sikkim High Court PD Dinakaran, Justice JB Pardiwala of Gujarat High Court and Justice Nagarjuna Reddy of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana – all failed to materialise.

Right now, the Opposition has submitted the notice and the ball is in the court of the Rajya Sabha chairperson, who has to take the decision on whether to accept it or not.

The Rajya Sabha chairperson is a quasi-judicial officer. He has the power either to accept or reject it. Only time will tell whether he accepts it or not, and even if he does so, this motion will be just another example – as in the court of law, where the process of fighting most cases itself becomes a punishment.

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Updated Date: Apr 20, 2018 18:57:29 IST

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