It is not a secret what made the Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju to question the functioning of the collegium of the Supreme Court and malign the face of the judiciary in public. For a fortnight he has been targeting the judges and judiciary and accusing them of transgressing into the domain of the executive. Never before in the history of Independent India ,any law minister had launched a tirade against the judiciary in the manner Rijiju has been doing.
A look at the functioning of the Narendra Modi government makes it explicit that he has not been resorting to this nature of allusion without the overt support of the top executive, in his case naturally the prime minister. For some time Modi has been targeting the democratic institutions of the country and trying his best to make them compliant. Rijiju’s invectives are in fact part of the chain and should be seen in continuity to the PM’s design.
For Rijiju who strongly advocates that judiciary must take order from the executive, the observation of the Supreme Court judges Justices K M Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy that corrupt officials were bigger threat to the country’s security must have unnerved him. He must be feeling depressed and angry at the judges who dared the government to take action against corrupt officials. Through their observations, the judges had sent the strong message that the executive was the biggest threat to the country.
The approach and attitude of the judiciary towards the executive got manifest on Wednesday while hearing the case of Gautam Navlakha, a journalist who is in jail for pretty long years in the Bhima Koregaon case. The NIA has been adopting murky please to let him continue in the jail. On every hearing it came out with the simple excuse that he is connected to Maoist group and the case is still under investigation. The NIA desired that he should die in jail, like the father Stan.
But overruling their plea the Supreme Court on Wednesday said it would place civil liberties defender GautamNavlakha under “house arrest”, rejecting the NIA’s plea that the 70-year-old accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case is a threat to national security. Justice Joseph was more candid; “I don’t think they (the rights activists) want to destroy the country. People who destroy the country, do you want me to tell who they are? The people who are corrupt”. He also observed; “You know what happens when you go to government offices? Who is taking action against the corrupt? Crores of rupees are collected but they get away”.
With additional solicitor-general S.V. Raju opposing court’s suggestion to keep Navlakha under house arrest and arguing that the activist had links with Maoists, Kashmiri terrorists and the Islamic State, Justice Joseph said: “We are aware of the case. We are conscious that we have to tread carefully. We agree that house arrest as a form of arrest has to be used carefully by courts. Put whatever restrictions you want. It is not that he is going to destroy the country. He is not in the best of health. Let him remain under house arrest for some days. Let’s try to work it out.” The bench noted that the chargesheet was filed way back in 2020 and the trial was yet to commence. Referring to the records, the court pointed out that the activist is accused of having links with terrorists and the IS. “How do you connect the dots? ISIS and Gautam. What is the link?”
Rijiju has often been accusing the judiciary of not working in a transparent manner. Rijiju before blaming the judiciary should have made it clear what he actually meant by saying that judiciary was not working in transparent manner. Only a fortnight back Rijiju had said that the collegium system of appointing Supreme Court and high court judges is “opaque” and involves “intense politics” on a scale higher than anything that politicians indulge in. His observation makes interesting reading. It obliquely implies that collegium must not apply his wisdom in choosing best judges and should allow the executive to nominate judges who suit it and are willing to carry out its orders.
Interestingly reacting to Rijiju’s statement on non-transparency in appointment of judges, the senior BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy twitted to Rijiju; “Union Law Minister Rijiju says SC Collegium System is “opaque”. I as a former Union Law Cabinet Minister and one who has argued in Courts hundreds of times, can state Modi Cabinet System is far more opaque. So Rijiju fix that first. Don’t blame me if you are sacked.”
A judiciary committed to the Constitutional tenets and asserting itself keeping its head high and not succumbing to the dirty machinations of the executive is a major threat to the political hegemony of the government. The most effective mechanism to keep the judiciary under the control of executive is the appointment of the judges by the executive, in other words by the government. Obviously this implies that Modi government intends to make judiciary subservient to it. It perceives an assertive judiciary a potential threat to its existence.
Unprecedented in the administrative or judicial history of India, a law minister openly tried to goad the judiciary, “I was very upset by it. These are the matters that really upset me. If we are adamant on any subject and not listening to the judiciary, the judiciary can come down heavily”. This certainly does not augur well. Rijiju also dared to caution judiciary of not venturing to cross the Lakshman Rekha in the interest of the nation. It would have been better if had taken pains to put before the country the instances which really inflicted damage to the nation. Simply a hyperbole is not enough. A person holding such high position must come out with clinching and concrete evidences.
Fundamentally the executive and judiciary are two pillars of democracy. There should not be any kind of overlapping. If the executive believes that judiciary is not working properly in the constitutionally defined manner, it could raise the matter with the President of India. But why should it be given independent say in interfere in the internal matters of judiciary. Any system is not full proof and correct. Every system has some kind lacuna. There is imperative need to rectify it. But on the plea od correcting it the government should not be given the opportunity to impose its design on the name of creation of “a better system”. Judiciary is one of the pillars of democracy and obviously it has its own independence. Obviously the people of the country would like to know why BJP intends to dominate and dictate the judiciary?
Committed to Constitution the prime task of the Supreme Court is to ensure that the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution are not trampled or denied by the administration and government. We have seen the government has the tendency to cross the Lakshman Rekha and implicate the voice of protest in false and fabricated cases. The Modi government during its rule has been ruthlessly using the CBI, ED and sedition to terrorise its political opponents and also to those
During these 8 years of Modi rule not less than 5000 cases have been filed and 350 persons arrested. Of the arrests the maximum number is of the Congress leaders and supporters. Only yesterday a PMLA court granted bail to the Sena MP Sanjay Raut who has spent around 100 days in jail. The court observed that the arrest was illegal, without reason and a prima facie indication of a witch hunt. Raut was arrested by ED in a Rs 1,034-crore money laundering case linked to alleged irregularities in the redevelopment of Patra Chawl in Goregaon West. The court also sought to know why ED had not arrested the main accused, ex-HDIL promoters Rakesh and Sarang Wadhawan. It said Rout’s arrest was outcome of ‘pick and choose strategy’, The ED has falsely implicated him in money laundering. The judge said labelling pure civil disputes as “money laundering” or “an Economic Offence” cannot automatically give it such status.
This simple case exposes the reprehensible machination of the ED. Rijiju’s fierceness towards Judiciary should be viewed as a portion of the chain. Rijiju’s aggressiveness raises the obvious question; from where he could manage so much of guts to speak and belittle the judiciary and judges? How he could dare to insinuate the judiciary. Obviously he was doing it at the behest and instruction of the most powerful person of the country and he is none else but Narendra Modi.
Rijiju is not correct in his observation; “When there is a system which is not transparent, which is opaque, then if the concerned minister does not speak out, who else? So basically I am stating a fact which is a thinking and reflection of the lawyers’ community and judges also”. Since four/five judges take the collective decision, it could not at all be described as opaque. The CJI alone is not taking the decision sitting in his chamber. This is simply a case of insinuation against the judiciary and the collegium.
Rijiju feels aggrieved that the court had struck down the NJAC without providing an alternative mechanism, and persisted with the collegium system. Why should it not? Appointment of judges has been exclusive domain of the collegium. What made Modi government to interfere in its functioning? It only strengthens the credence that Modi desired to appoint gullible judges who will too eager to listen to his diktat and too willing to implement. No denying the fact that collegium has frustrated the attempt of the Modi government to make the judiciary subservient. In fact NJAC as proposed by Modi government unswervingly diminished the stature of judiciary of being an independent pillar of the democracy.
Certainly the NJAC could not have been a better system and better practice. It is astonishing why the Modi government is creating pressure on the Supreme Court to suggest the alternative. It is irony that instead of waiting for the Supreme Court’s suggestion Rijiju has come out with the observation; “They did not tell the better option, but they felt the old collegium system should continue. I am not convinced with the present system. I spoke it out. Judges agree with me because what I am saying is fact and not contrary to their belief and understanding.” The hurry exhibited by Rijiju points to some portentous design. It is absolutely incorrect on the part of Rijiju to say that judges lack the information and expertise required to select judges, compared with the government which has more resources
An insight into his criticism of the functioning of the Supreme Court would unravel that two developments drove him to this point; first, appointment of D Y Chandrachud as the CJI and second, the unwillingness of the apex court to the lift the freeze on all the proceedings under the sedition law. With justice Chandrachud taking over as the new Chief Justice of India, Kiren Rijiju has started inflicting jibes on the judiciary. There is no denying the fact that it was a shrewd strategy to create pressure on Justice Chandrachud who has the credibility of being an upright judge It is worth taking note that Narendra Modi skipped his swearing on the pretext that he had to participate at the election campaign in Himachal. Long before the campaign was launched, Chandrachud’s swearing date was announced. Modi abstaining the swearing has not been received in good spirit in the legal, political and social circles. (IPA Service)