Justice and politics are implacable foes, so when a high court judge joins politics, it creates a sensation. Two judges have done exactly this with the lead being taken by “eccentric” judge Chinnaswamy Swaminathan Karnan who launched a political party soon after he walked out of prison. He changed his name from S Karunanithi to Karnan because of his ardent belief in numerology.
His “Anti-Corruption Dynamic Party” will field only women in all 543 Lok Sabha constituencies during the 2019 elections to get rid of corruption in the judiciary and all government departments. The judge had gone underground to evade being arrested and was nabbed by a special team in Coimbatore in June 2017 after rumours he had fled to Sri Lanka. He has a sizable fan following with thousands of litres of milk being poured on his effigy by Dalit youth.
When contacted for his version, he reaffirmed each woman would become a prime minister for a year if his party got a majority. However, he summoned this writer from Mumbai to Chennai for an interview. When told this was difficult, he replied: “Do not disturb me.” Karnan seems not to have lost his ebullience despite being in jail for six months.
Karnan has the dubious distinction of being the first sitting Indian high court judge to have gone to jail, to have had his sanity questioned by the Supreme Court and to have sentenced a chief justice of India, Jagdish Singh Khehar, to jail for violating the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. His antics prove he is an entertainer par excellence.
The judges who recommended Karnan for judgeship were not above board. A woman law intern accused Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly of molesting her – a charge upheld by a Supreme Court panel – and wrote a blog about it. As chief justice of the Madras high court, Ganguly initiated the proposal for Karnan’s elevation which was okayed by the then CJI K G Balakrishnan who was himself a Dalit and probed by the income-tax department for disproportionate assets.
But Karnan apart, what has raised eyebrows is the decision of Justice Abhay Kumar Thipsay who retired from the Allahabad high court to join the Congress party on June 12 — Karnan’s birthday. This judge granted bail to actor Salman Khan in record time when he was a judge of the Bombay high court. He rose from a magistrate to a high court judge and granted bail to prime accused D G Vanzara in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case fuelling speculation as to why he was shunted to the Allahabad high court 10 months before retirement.
The preamble to the Constitution promises all Indian citizens justice which is social, economic and political. But the courts have to ensure justice according to law while social and political justice is granted by a presidential pardon. Thipsay declared he would stand up to fascist forces and communalism under the garb of aggressive nationalism. As a judge, he claimed he got lots of letters urging him to “act like a Hindu.”
Thipsay will not get into electoral politics. He will join several other judges like former P Sathasivam who was in a controversy when he attended the wedding of BJP strongman Amit Shah in Delhi and was rewarded with a gubernatorial post in Kerala, his home state. He famously declared it was not a quid pro quo for discharging Amit Shah.
Before Sathasivam, Justice Fateema Beevi, who retired from the Supreme Court as the first woman judge, was also made a governor of Tamil Nadu on 25 January 1997 with Justice Sukhdev Singh Kang, former chief justice of the Jammu and Kashmir high court as governor of Kerala.
As Tamil Nadu governor, Fateema Beevi rejected the mercy petitions filed by the four condemned prisoners in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. She was embroiled in a controversy when she gave a clean chit to the law and order situation in Tamil Nadu that prompted Union law minister Arun Jaitley to demand her resignation.
She demitted the office of governor under controversial circumstances of her accepting of Jayalalithaa’s majority in the assembly after the elections and over the arrest of Karunanidhi, who pitched for her appointment four years ago, proving she wanted to repay favours done to her.
Much later, former CJI Ranganath Misra, who is the uncle of the present CJI Dipak Misra, was nominated as a Rajya Sabha MP by the Congress in 1998 after he demitted office in 1991. After that, Justice Vijay Bahuguna was transferred from the Allahabad high court to the Bombay high court on corruption charges in the 1990s and resigned his judgeship amid a slew of corruption allegations. He became the chief minister of Uttarakhand where, too, he had to resign because of mismanagement of flood relief funds, proving that a corrupt judge remains a corrupt politician.
So, Karnan and Thipsay have joined the illustrious ranks of judges-turned-politicians, proving that in a democracy, anything is possible. After all, what better way to ensure that those denied justice in courts can secure justice from judges-turned-politicians who join politics?
Olav Albuquerqrque holds a PhD in law and is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay high court.