SC judges vs CJI Dipak Misra: Congress, allies seek mileage from crisis as govt keeps its distance

On Friday, when four senior most judges of the Supreme Court (SC) wrote a sensational chapter in India's judicial history by holding a press conference and publicly raising a banner of revolt against the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, it looked as though there was a full-blown crisis in administration of highest judiciary and political parties would not try and politicise such a serious issue.

SC judges vs CJI Dipak Misra: Congress, allies seek mileage from crisis as govt keeps its distance

File image of Rahul Gandhi. PTI

But by late evening, the whole controversy took a political twist with Congress president Rahul Gandhi holding a press conference and demanding an investigation into the death of judge BH Loya by senior most judges and also to “look into” the contention by the four judges that Indian democracy was under threat.

It should be noted here that judge Loya, who'd been hearing Amit Shah’s alleged involvement in Sohrabuddin Sheikh case, died of a heart attack. Though it was declared that his death was due to cardiac arrest, the Congress is taking a cue from four judges and demanding that the case be investigated by senior apex court judges. By saying that the matter should be investigated by senior most Supreme Court judges, the Congress is effectively saying that the matter should be investigated by these four judges — who, apart from the CJI, are the senior most — and who raised a banner of revolt against Misra.

The fact that Rahul chose to hold briefing after a a prolonged meeting with party elders  P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid, Manish Tewari, (all lawyer turned politicians) and Ahmed Patel is indicative of the importance he and his party want to attach to the judges' public outburst. The Congress does not mind turning the issue — which should have been left to the judiciary to sort out — political.

Events preceding Rahul’s press conference suggest that the Congress and some of its political allies are gearing up to extract political mileage out of this crisis in our higher judiciary. Consider what happened before the Congress jumped into the arena with whatever strength it had under its command: Rahul at the podium for briefing and P Chidambaram, Ahmed Patel, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid, Manish Tewari, and others in the audience at All India Congress Committee headquarters.

The indications that the issue had turned political were already in. Hours after Justice Chelameswar led three fellow judges to speak out and go public with their grievances, he invited Communist Party of India Rajya Sabha MP D Raja to his residence and to tell him what was  distressing him. The fact that Raja’s landing at Justice Chelameswar's official residence and seeing him off with a handshake at the doors was recorded by some television news channels gave a political twist to the entire incident.

In his numerous media briefings D Raja said, “I saw the press conference. I called Justice Chelameswar to know what was distressing him. He told me if you are around then please drop in.” Raja went on at length to suggest why this needed to be discussed and debated in Parliament. The onus was on Parliament to find solution to the crisis of confidence in higher judiciary, he said. “Do you think as a political person we should keep quiet? Being a political person, representing political party in country interest and future of democracy?”

The question is: Should the second senior most judge in Supreme Court have met a left-wing politician from the ranks of the Opposition, who is also an ally of Congress, and discussed with him the discord he and some fellow judges had with CJI?  Political intervention in matters of judiciary and judicial administration is a strict no-no, be it higher judiciary or lower judiciary. Raja and Justice Chelameswar meeting on such a critical issue broke that golden rule.

The meeting gave an impression that the sections of Opposition parties were on the side of four senior judges in their fight against CJI. That’s not a very healthy situation. It raises too many questions for the judges and parties concerned. Remember, the Supreme Court is not only custodian of Constitution and law, but an institution in which the people of India have invested their faith and trust. All those disturbing questions which arise now, after the press conference and after Raja met with a senior judge dents the people's faith in higher judiciary.

Explaining why he went to meet the judges, Raja told Republic TV he went to "find out the reasons for the judges' agony" because "I represent Parliament." Raja representing Parliament in his meeting with Justice Chelameswar is too big a statement to ignore. He was acting on his own. He was not chosen by the two Houses of Parliament, by the Lok Sabha Speaker or the Rajya Sabha Chairman. Raja is the only representative of the CPI in the Rajya Sabha (he was elected with the support of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa). CPI does not have strength on its own in state Assemblies to elect a Rajya Sabha member. In the Lok Sabha, CPI has only one MP.

But then, Raja is a seasoned senior leader and thus his influence in politics, particularly in the Opposition ranks, is disproportional to his party’s strength in Parliament or outside. In contrast to the CPI leader’s activism on the subject, Modi government decided to stay away from the whole issue and let the judiciary sort it out. Only Sambit Patra of the BJP, speaking to ANI, said: "This is an internal matter of the Supreme Court. Attorney-General has given statement. No politics should be played. Surprised and pained that Congress which has been rejected number of times by people in elections is trying to gain political mileage, it has exposed itself."

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Updated Date: Jan 12, 2018 22:20:01 IST

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