Perhaps, we’re facing a crisis – a nation-wide crisis. I don’t think any sane, politically observant and a concerned citizen would disagree here. For a democracy to function, even our constitution observes this, an impartial and law-abiding judiciary is of paramount importance. Then what made four senior-most judges of the apex court of India come out in the open and call for a press conference and make the matter public which could’ve been handled indoors? What could’ve been the urgent observation of these four judges which was overlooked by the Chief Justice of India that the only option which they’re left with was to let this matter slip into our conference tables in office, to trend on social media and to be grapevine about, and all that by risking their lives? Yes, nothing comes without a cost in contemporary India and least of all, dissent.
In what is hailed as an ‘unprecedented move’, four of the senior-most judges of the apex court after CJI Justice Dipak Misra – Jasti Chelameswar, Rajan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph and Madan Bhimrao Lokur, held a press conference on Friday (Jan 12) and declared before an array of journalists that something with the operation and functioning of the apex court isn’t right. They withheld the particular reference to the matters which concerned them (and hence I’ve purposefully avoided any mention of those – no hit-and-trial here) in order to not ’embarrass the institution’ and damage its image.
In a breach of the traditions of the Supreme Court of India (with certitude I say this that not necessarily against how a democracy should function), for the very first time, fours SC judges publicly condemned the practices adopted by the CJI which are questioning the ideals on which the court functions and all this is extremely dangerous for the justice delivery system of the Indian State.
In a letter which they [four judges collectively] addressed to the CJI and produced before the press reads, “It is too well settled in the jurisprudence of this country that the Chief Justice is only the first amongst the equals — nothing more or nothing less.” By all means, this is nothing new but it needed an emphasis, for of late, our judiciary seems to be deciding ‘benches on preferences’. The letter further progressed by detailing, “There have been instances where a case has far-reaching consequences for the nation and the institution had been assigned by the Chief Justice of this court selectively to the benches ‘of their presence’ with any rationale basis for such assignment.”
One may ask why such basic points of observations were raised in the first place and secondly why such a fiasco over it. Then here’s a quick guide to ruining a democracy: pretend like an ultimate ‘Messiah’, take a U-turn when it comes to addressing the pressing issue, beat about the bush, handle matters which obviously will go berserk and finally when your mates are under the radar, appoint your folks in the judiciary because, ‘yahaan sab chalta hai‘ (any and everything can be handled here). I cannot discern the fact that whether we have a ‘Rule of Law’ or not. I consider today’s scenario to be the ‘Rule of Brute’ or maybe ‘Rule of Man-Ki-Baat’. Isn’t it?
The point I’m making is that the Honourable CJI must be as much bound by the ‘Rule of Law’ as much as any other individual. It is highly unlikely that individuals as learned, informed and as practical as these four judges might have taken the matters in their hands without further exploiting other ways to address the issue. It is the brute and the absolute mishandling and misuse of the powers in hand of the CJI that we had to witness this on Friday morning.
In nutshell, things aren’t alright.
The word spread like fire and in no time, this was ‘trending’. And it attracted the views from every important and unimportant politician. Twitter became like always a space for every laypersons’ very own media trial against these judges. And here are a few handpicked reactions to this event which in particular are interesting and very contrasting:
1. Writing for The Quint, Shashi Tharoor notes that, “The judiciary is arguably, along with the army, the most respected of India’s institutions, but its credibility relies strongly on its transparent and harmonious manner of functioning.” Exactly, and the same is under scrutiny. And if some probing into the internal matters may require must be done and when these matters are not addressed, someone must take a bold move like this one.
2. Standing in solidarity with the move, Yashwant Sinha tweeted:
Seen some of the comments. Stand firmly with the four judges. Instead of criticising them let us concentrate on the issues raised by them. If the highest court is compromised then democracy is in peril.
— Yashwant Sinha (@YashwantSinha) January 12, 2018
Every ideal of democracy is compromised these days.
3. “Unfortunate and dangerous for democracy. It’ll create more problems than solve. Since the judges have spoken they’ve done disservice to country because if judiciary is weakened, questions arise in people’s minds, it already has,” said former LS speaker Somnath Chatterjee. I wonder which ‘disservice’ he is referring to. Is Mr Chatterjee encouraging the ‘never question’ notion again? And if anything arises question in people’s minds then let it be sir. Why shouldn’t a layperson think? We have every right to think once, twice and umpteen number of times and the right to question of what is happening with us and for us in the country.
4. And as clueless and unnecessarily making it Congress vs. BJP, the BJP’s spokesperson Sambit Patra said, “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.” He further added, “This is an internal matter of the Supreme Court. No politics should be played.”
Mr Patra, they [the judges] have already noted that the matter is internal but besides being ‘internal’ it is ‘serious’, ‘urgent’ and of ‘utmost’ importance that it should be addressed, which it was not. Every chance of overlooking the ‘matters’ was exercised which compelled the judges to become the curtain raisers to the maligned practices which have now seeped into every public institution since 2014. And to this remark, ‘No politics should be played’, is it a thought-through comment being a spokesperson? Well, think again!
The most important key takeaway of this move and of the reactions it [the event] garnered is this: DISSENT is the most powerful tool of the democracy and we should be mindful of it.
We should not become merely an answer to a G.K. question, ‘Which is the world’s largest democracy?’ Rather we should be an example of how a country where – ‘Rule of Law’ exists, where public institutions work for the development of its people, where judiciary is impartial and where every argument in favour or against of the topic in question is entertained- functions.
It is very important for us to realize that our history textbooks are being re-written, we’re told that every discovery which is of extreme relevance to the humankind is done by an Indian and in particular a Hindu, we’re told that any word against the PM is against development & against the spirit of democracy, anything which we, as an informed citizen, disagrees to is branded as anti-Indian, anti-national or pro-whatever.
I just wish to say this that we should not be bogged down with the burden to remain calm and composed during the matters which are at the heart of any functioning democracy; the need of the hour is a ‘resistance movement’ against anything which is unconstitutional, unethical and against the very ideals of democracy and it is in this regard that I say that Friday was a ‘White Friday’ for the Indian justice delivery system.