The Congress-led motion signed by 71 members of Parliament from seven political parties to impeach Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on grounds which included sensitive cases being assigned by him to preferred benches of the Supreme Court, is a condemnable act by an opposition that has lost its way. It is a mischievous attempt to divide the country’s judiciary which is arguably the strongest pillar of Indian democracy. Indeed, it is an act of monumental irresponsibility and poor sense. While the organisers of the move have a lot to answer for, it is a matter of some relief that there is not a ghost of a chance for the impeachment to go through even in the unlikely event of the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu, allowing the motion to be tabled. That the move of the Opposition has come a day after the Supreme Court bench headed by the Chief Justice by a momentous judgement ruled out foul play in the death of Special Court judge Brijmohan Harikishan Loya, who had been hearing the case of a controversial alleged gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh’s killing in an encounter in which BJP president Amit Shah was sought to be impleaded, is significant indeed. The judgement is a huge loss of face for the Opposition which has been going to town over Judge Loya’s death claiming foul play.
While the impeachment move is, to say the least, ill-advised, it could well boomerang on the Congress and the supporting opposition parties, which were seeing hopeful signs in the fact that by common perception, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sheen was wearing off after a long honeymoon with the electorate. That the impeachment move has come days after the anointment of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president reflects the level of his muddle-headedness and immaturity especially because he has been vociferously supporting the move. That there are rumblings even in a party like the Congress fed on total subservience and that the DMK and the Trinamool Congress have reportedly stayed away from the exercise speaks for itself. This could well be a godsend for the BJP, which has been feeling besieged on issues like demonetisation and poor implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). People at large are not expected to take kindly to such ill-thought-out criticism of the CJI which brings disrepute to such a respected institution.
Now, that the highest court in the land has ruled that there was no foul play in the Judge Loya case, the Congress and supporting parties like the NCP, the Left, Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the RJD should have accepted the court’s verdict with due grace. It is so obvious that while the Opposition parties are piqued over the apex court’s order in the Loya case and are taking out their ire on that because they saw a rare opportunity to put the BJP on the mat had the apex court cast a shadow of doubt on the BJP chief, they are not attributing their impeachment move to the verdict. By so doing, they are compromising their credibility.
The whole chain of events began with the media conference called by the four senior judges — Justices Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Kurien Joseph, and Madan Lokur — taking on Chief Justice Dipak Misra on the composition of benches in important cases. The Chief Justice was armed with a five-judge bench recent order which gave the CJI the sole discretion to constitute benches. CJI Misra can hardly be faulted for not succumbing to the unusual and publicly-aired pressure from the four senior judges which was neither in good form nor in good taste. By supporting the four aggrieved judges wholesale, the opposition parties are fanning indiscipline and encouraging a revolt in the highest court in the land. Never has an opposition conglomerate served such a ridiculous cause in such a crass manner. Leaders of the opposition are confused what to cite as the credible reasons for seeking an impeachment motion.
It would indeed be foolhardy for the opposition to persist with an impeachment motion which would only bring them negative publicity and public ridicule. Instead, they should support the cause of reforms in the criminal justice system which are sorely needed and for long. The public perception of the judiciary is doubtlessly suffering from the inordinate delays in the administering of justice. The backlog of cases has assumed endemic proportions and the cliché ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is being echoed by people at large. It is unfortunate that undertrials languish in jails for years together and many of them are found to be innocent after years of unwarranted incarceration. Even in the Sohrabuddin case, there are pointers to grave inconsistencies with high profile accused being discharged selectively, abrupt transfer of judicial officers and of a sizeable number of witnesses turning hostile. While the Amit Shah matter is now settled, it is time we look at ills in the system and seek to rectify the wrongs.