At a seemingly innocuous conference with judges and chief ministers on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the opportunity to take on the judiciary, warning it to beware of 'perception-driven' verdicts. He then went on to take a direct shot, claiming that its decisions were often driven by 'five star activists'.
"It is not difficult to deliver judgements within the limits of the Constitution and laws, since it is two minutes work for you to tell milk from water thanks to a third eye that you have and a god-given power. You are able to see things because you developed in that manner, but it is very difficult to find truth between perception and reality.
"At some point we will have to consider whether five star activists are driving our judiciary today or not. Isn't there an attempt to spread a fear in order to attempt to drive the judiciary?" the Prime Minister said at a joint conference of Chief Justices of the 24 High Courts and Chief Ministers..
"Isn't it difficult to give justice within the Constitution? But in this environment of perception, it has become a very difficult task to deliver justice and that is why the freedom that the judiciary enjoyed 15 to 20 years ago isn't there today," Modi said.
The Prime Minister said that even judges now worried over given the environment outside courts and what will happen given their verdict in a case.
"This is the environment that prevails presently and everyone will have to work to ensure that the judiciary is as courageous as possible. Whether it is the people sitting in the government, people in the media or the community of five star activists. If we don't strengthen this organisation then we will be striking the axe on our own feet," he said.
The Prime Minister also spoke of the need for the judiciary to have a mechanism for self assessment.
"We (the political class) are lucky that people watch us, assess us and rip us apart. You (Judiciary) are not as lucky.
"If you order a person to death, he also comes out and says that he believes in the judiciary...When there is little scope for criticism, the need of the hour is to develop an internal mechanism for self-assessment where the government and the politicians have no role," the Prime Minister said.
The Prime Minister's statements, coming after some not so favourable verdicts in the case of the offloading of environmental activist Priya Pillai and the transfer of the anticipatory bail plea of long-time Modi critic Teesta Setalvad, were bound to raise eyebrows.
The Prime Minister received his first rebuttal at the event itself with the Chief Justice of India HL Dattu saying that judges were "as fearless as they ever were."
And as this Times of India report points out, the activists accused of being 'five star' ones aren't very pleased about being referred to in that manner.
"It is a bit rich for a PM who gets Rs 6,000 crore loans for his crony Adani to call us five-star activists," Prashant Bhushan told the newspaper.
Former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi also said that the PM"s statement automatically presumed activists weren't a legitimate voice and he pointed out that they have played a vital role in bringing up issues that have been ignored.
It isn't the first time that PM's used a speech to take on critics in recent times. During his Mann ki Baat radio show, he defended the government's contentious land bill and had referred to "those who in air-conditioned rooms" who make laws but didn't know the reality that farmers faced.
The Prime Minister heavily relied on the 'us versus them' narrative during his election campaign to take on critics and rivals, and continues to do so in office. But these off-hand jibes play better on the campaign trail than at events where he is acting as the leader of the nation. As for effectiveness, other than making headlines, it is unlikely this potshot will be taken kindly by the very judges whom he is addressing.
Moreover, it helps no one's cause to vilify those who do genuinely good work to bring relevant issues to the fore. Hopefully in future, the prime minister and the government will judge activists as 'five star' or otherwise based on the quality of work they do, and not the size of their bank balance.
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Updated Date: Apr 07, 2015 07:14:38 IST