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Friday, July 19, 2024

Congress Chronicles – Why Rahul Gandhi Talking About ‘Judicial Independence’ is a Bitter Irony

Congress party appears to be still cocooned in Indira Gandhi’s ideology and approach towards judiciary, especially the Supreme Court. The skullduggery behind the removal motion against CJI Dipak Misra has an uncanny resemblance to then minister S Mohan Kumaramangalam’s statement in Parliament on May 2, 1973, justifying the appointment of Justice A N Ray as Chief Justice of India, superseding three stalwart judges — J M Shelat, K S Hegde and A N Grover.

Kumaramangalam had said, “Certainly, we as a government have a duty to take the philosophy and outlook of the judge in coming to the conclusion whether he should or should not lead the Supreme Court (that is whether he should or not become the CJI).”

It reflected Congress’s genetic desire to appoint those as judges who would always stay obliged, if not committed, to the party for the ‘favour’.

Reward of CJI’s post made Ray team up with M H Beg, Y V Chandrachud and P N Bhagwati and deliver a draconian verdict in A D M Jabalpur case murdering fundamental rights, including right to life, during Emergency.

The lone dissenter, Justice H R Khanna, was stoned by the Congress government for failing in Kumaramangalam’s test of “philosophy and outlook” required of a judge to become CJI. Khanna was superseded. Justice Beg was made CJI to make him stay obliged to Congress.

Beg was Indira Gandhi’s favourite. When TOI criticised the A D M Jabalpur judgment and blamed Beg, he initiated suo motu contempt against then editor Sham Lal in January 1978, a month before his retirement as CJI.

Beg strived to explain that he did not actually rule in favour of Emergency and gave a 28-paragraph judgment [AIR 1978 SC 489] castigating TOI for motivated criticism. Beg failed to shed his pro-Emergency image. Two others on the bench, Justices N Untwalia and P Kailasam, in a short crisp paragraph said, “We are of the view that it is not a fit case where formal proceedings for contempt should be drawn up.”

Beg retired on February 22, 1978, to soon become a director on the board of National Herald group of newspapers. On returning to power in 1980, Congress rained post-retirement assignments on him.

In 1988, the Rajiv Gandhi government awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award after Bharat Ratna, to Beg for his contribution to law, a sterling example of which he gave in Jabalpur case.

This is how Congress has always treated judges. It always wanted judges like Baharul Islam, who joined Congress in 1956 and held several party posts till 1972. In April 1962, Congress elected him to Rajya Sabha.

After unsuccessfully contesting Assam assembly elections in 1967, he was re-elected to Rajya Sabha in 1968 and aligned with Indira after the split in the party.

In January 1972, he resigned from the upper House and was made a judge of Gauhati HC. He retired on March 1, 1980, when Indira was back in power. She could not bear to see a Congress foot soldier, useful as a judge, go into retirement. Nine months after retiring as an HC judge, Islam was made an SC judge in December 1980.

Six weeks before his retirement and a month after giving a clean chit to then Congress chief minister of Bihar Jagannath Mishra in a forgery case, he resigned as SC judge and filed nomination as Congress candidate for Barpeta Lok Sabha seat.

As Assam turmoil prevented the election, Congress elected Islam for a third RS term in June 1983. Islam’s variation can be found in Ranganath Misra, who was tasked by the Rajiv Gandhi government to inquire into the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi after Indira’s assassination.

It was public knowledge that thousands of Sikhs were killed by mobs allegedly led by Congressmen. Yet, Misra could not find any Congressman guilty. He vaguely blamed the police for lapses.

As an apt reward, the Congress government made him the first chairman of National Human Rights Commission in October 1993.

In 1998, the party elected him to Rajya Sabha. In 2004, the Congress gave him successive chairmanship of National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities and National Commission for SCs and STs.

Wish Misra had, for the purpose of anti-Sikh riots inquiry, adopted the approach of CJI V N Khare, who privately took pride in claiming to be the blue-eyed boy of Indira.

Khare, who was awarded Padma Vibhushan by UPA-1, sternly dealt with the 2002 post-Godhra communal riots cases and admonished then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi to discharge “raj dharma’ — protecting the weak and punishing the oppressor.

In the 1990s, Congress law minister H R Bharadwaj fine-tuned the Kumaramangalam test for judges’ appointment and made sure most of the appointees remained loyal, first to him personally and secondly to the party. That is how Bharadwaj effectively controlled political puzzles through the judiciary.

In between the contrasting efforts of Misra and Khare, there was the removal motion filed in Lok Sabha against SC judge Veeraswami Ramaswami on corruption charges. The Congress machinery revved up to defend Ramaswami.

Pressure was exerted on Speaker Rabi Ray not to admit the motion on the ground that Ramaswami had agreed to become chief justice of Punjab and Haryana HC to deal with terrorism related cases when none was agreeing.

The Speaker admitted the motion. Inquiry committee found him guilty of 11 out of 14 charges. The motion was debated. Kapil Sibal defended Ramaswami through an eloquent six-hour presentation, succinctly extracted by advocate Prashant Bhushan in his June 4, 1993, article in ‘Frontline’ magazine. Bhushan wrote, “Sibal took the House for a ride” by ridiculing the “motion for the removal of a judge for purchases of a few pieces of carpets or a few suitcases”.

What weighed with Congress, which defeated the motion by abstaining from voting, was that Rajiv Gandhi government had appointed Ramaswami, and his removal would besmirch the departed leader.

Congress is uncomfortable with any judge who does not meet the standards it has set over decades, be it appointment of judges or their removal.

Now, on finding CJI Dipak Misra unbending to their unacceptable requests, be it Loya case or Ayodhya case, the party took shelter behind allegations made in a press conference by senior SC judges led by a disgruntled, ambitious and politician-friendly judge to move a motion for CJI’s removal based on ‘may be’ charges.

This article first appeared on Times of India –

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