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Friday, April 12, 2024

SC plays with a straight bat on issues of national interest

The Supreme Court’s decision to throw out the malicious PILs seeking a review of the Rafale defense deal with Dassault, and refer the Sabarimala tangle to a seven-judge bench marks a studied refusal to play into the hand of agent provocateurs out to disturb the peace of the realm in matters involving the country’s national security and Dharmic interests. The landmark Ayodhya verdict on November 9 had firmly driven home the point despite some inherent incongruities.

Few will quibble that the sea change in political mood in the last six years has much to do with the tempered views of their Lordships. Which, of course, is entirely natural. Judges too are humans. They are expected to change with the times rather than live in ivory towers.

What is also apparent is that the cookie may not have crumbled in quite the same manner had a Centre-Left coalition been in place. Vestiges of the old thought process placing a premium on individual interests above the national was evident from Justice K M Joseph’s additional note on Rafale. He observed that the dismissal of the PILs does not preclude filing an FIR in case substantial material of an irregularity was chanced upon in the future.

Come to think of it, did such a Note need to be appended at all? Because even if Justice Joseph had avoided plugging it, any future revelation betraying the likelihood of kickbacks would have generated enough noise to have compelled a probe. Perhaps, his honour glossed over that Rafale was a government to government deal in which two heads of state (PM Modi and French President Macron) were all along in the loop. Hence, the possibility of any jiggery-pokery was zero.

Yet, to understand why Justice Joseph opted to record his thoughts is not difficult to gauge. You only have to recall the undue delay in his elevation to the SC after he quashed Central rule imposed by the Modi government in Uttarakhand. This was in 2017 when he was the state’s chief justice. An affront which must still rankle him. Predictably enough, the observation gave the arch leader behind the fake fuss (no prizes for guessing who) enough elbow room to claim that a “huge door” had been pried opened for a JPC probe.

The counterfeit narrative in the Rafale review was drummed up solely to corner and embarrass the government. There was no other purpose. Though covered to saturation in the national media, none of the assertions had sturdy legs to stand on, be it on pricing norms or the technical specifications of the aircraft, much less the numeric strength and spread of Dassault’s offset partners.

The real motive of the complainants went largely undiscussed though it obviously stemmed from a deep seated hostility towards the Modi regime. Behind it was cold personal ambition. That neither Arun Shourie nor Yashwant Sinha would have fallen into the trap laid by the tendentious activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan had they been accommodated in the power circuit, is something not even the BJP’s enemies would deny.

Many now feel there ought to be some sort of mechanism to screen the flurry of time-wasting PILs before they are taken up. One way to discourage such petitions would be to impose a strong penalty on complainants should they fail to provide compelling documentary evidence of corruption. All the more if gathered in a fraudulent manner as in Rafale where a tampered cut-paste report in a Leftist mouthpiece ‘The Hindu’ became the basis for a fishing inquiry.

It is unfortunate that the one man behind the vicious campaign, a certain shehzada, was let off the hook. His patently insincere apology tendered for imputing that the court endorsed his “chowkidar chor hai” gibe was accepted with a tame warning to keep his tongue in check.

The shehzada ran a sustained campaign of calumny against the prime minister. As the leader of the country’s principal Opposition party, he anchored an entire election campaign on a series of fabricated charges relating to an issue which found not the slightest traction with the janata-janardan. He sulked and simmered even after the electorate handed out a drubbing. Rather than take the hit on his chin, he accused his party colleagues for having failed to prop up the cause, and made it a self-righteous ground to resign from his post.

The slant of the verdict makes clear the SC’s desire to tread with caution. And understandably so. While the court avoided passing a pointed stricture against Bhushan, Shourie, and Sinha, it also bypassed poking its nose in matters which could invite the charge of overstepping its judicial limits. Implicit was the recognition that expecting to access classified information on the intricacies of pricing was well beyond its ken. That it drew a laxman rekha on its own deserves a slow clap in the least.

Much the same was the court’s attitude on Sabrimala. Here a 3-2 split compelled CJI Ranjan Gogoi to refer the matter to a wider bench. Nagging it may have been doubts whether justice was rendered by the earlier order denying different denominations within the Hindu fold the right to follow their custom. This was gain enough.

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Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha.


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