By Arun Srivastava
The compulsion to protect the image and personal interest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is so domineering that his ministerial colleagues can go to the extent of retreating from their avowed ideological line and embrace their sworn enemies. The Law minister Kiren Rijiju who till a couple of days back left no occasion to decry and debase the Supreme Court, only on Sunday eulogized its illustrious status by asserting that Supreme Court was above any organisation.
Rijiju for last six months has been acting like the vanguard of Modi government and RSS to demolish and shred the prestige and image of the Supreme Court made this remark only for the simple reason that that last year it had upheld the clearance given to Modi by a special investigation team in Gujarat riot conspiracy case. Three days back the BBC released a documentary in UK which referred to Modi’s role as chief minister in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 in which around 2000 Muslims were killed by the rioters.
Just after release of the clip, Modi government denounced it, but the assertion of the former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in an interview with a web portal that the British government conducted an investigation of its own because many citizens of Gujarati Muslim origin were worried about their loved ones in India and “were making representations” to that effect to the then Tony Blair government, put Modi literally in a vulnerable situation and had to block clips of the documentary.
No doubt a big number of people were reluctant to believe the government explanation and even shared the information contained in the documentary. This has in fact enraged Rijiju and he was forced to tweet; “Some people in India have still not moved away from the colonial influence. They consider BBC to be above India’s highest court and pull down the country’s prestige and image to any extent to please their ideological masters ”.Rijiju had to take the help of clean chit by the apex court to get rid of the BBC documentary allegations.
Quite surprisingly just a day ahead of this development, Rijiju had quoted a retired judge of the Delhi High Court, Justice R S Sodhi saying that the apex court cannot frame laws as it does not have the right to do so. The right to frame laws belongs to Parliament. He even said “only Parliament will amend Constitution. But here I feel the Supreme Court for the first time ‘hijacked’ the Constitution. After ‘hijacking’ they (SC) said that we will appoint (judges) ourselves and the government will have no role in it”.
Before using the statement of Justice Sodhi, the government had also mentioned the observation of the retired former Supreme Court Justice Ruma Pal. She had some reservation about the functioning of Supreme Court. Even on Sunday, the day Rijiju eulogised Supreme Court, he had said “the majority of the people had ‘sane views’ similar to the one expressed by a retired High Court judge, who said the Supreme Court had ‘hijacked ‘ the Constitution by deciding to appoint judges by itself”.
Rijiju is reluctant to accept the views of the collegium, having at least three judges, but he is too eager to use the statement of the retired judge. Through his tirade against judiciary he has succeeded in giving the impression to the “common people” of the country that he is a well versed person. Naturally one expects that he would agree to the fact that Sodhi is one of the judges amongst thousands of retired judges. If Rijiju can accept the suggestion of a lone ‘sane’ then why is not willing to agree to the suggestions of other judges. Are they according to him are not ‘sane”?
In the consistent manner Rijiju has been keeping alive the issue of the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the high courts makes it explicit that Modi government has its own agenda and it is turn the judiciary dysfunctional and incapacitated. Only a fortnight back Rijiju has described the collegium system to appoint judges as something “alien” to the Indian Constitution and the Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar has questioned the top court for striking down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act (NJAC). Both of them talked about the “will of the people” and said it was “undone” by the Supreme Court and “the world does not know of any such instance”.
The way the Modi government has been refusing to approve the names forwarded to it for being appointed as judges either at the Supreme Court or High Courts makes it clear that it intends to enter into confrontation with it just ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha election. Consistent harping on the issue by Rijiju underlines that they are going to make it a big issue just ahead of the election.
Last week, the Supreme Court collegium had for the second time reiterated the names of two advocates for appointment as judges of the Calcutta High Court “expeditiously”, saying it was not open for the government to repeatedly send back the same proposal. It deserves appreciation for refusing to bow down. The three-member collegium, which makes recommendations for High Court appointments, has reiterated its decision to elevate lawyers Saurabh Kirpal to the Delhi High Court, R. John Sathyan to the Madras High Court and Somasekhar Sundaresan to the Bombay High Court.
Government’s argument has been most ridiculous. While it has objected to one of the candidate’s sexual orientation, about another his political loyalty has been questioned. In fact the collegium has pointed out, neither the sexual orientation of Mr. Kirpal nor the airing of political views by the other advocate will impinge on their suitability or integrity. The other candidate had made some comments on Modi. The Modi government has taken it seriously and does not intend to appoint a person as judge who is opposed to him.
A question is making round the legal circle; what does the law minister’s suggestion mean? Rijiju simply desires for s subservient judiciary too willing to prostrate before the office of the prime minister. But Rijiju ought to not forget that Modi government one day eventually has to bow out of office making space for the new incumbent. The new government may use the subservient judiciary against the BJP leaders who are in power now. It is not that these leaders are pure and pious. Almost all, from top to bottom, have cases against them. In case the new government decided to take revenge, then that backdrop the country will not have an independent judiciary to deliver the right and correct judgement.
Instead of curtailing the rights of the judiciary and forcing it to follow Modi government’s diktat, Rijiju must adopt a democratic and pragmatic approach keeping an eye on the future. He must also keep in mind that saffronisation of the judiciary is only possible in the situation when the nation becomes a Hindu Rashtra, which does not appear to be a possibility in near future. (IPA Service)