Ideally, judges should not be given, and, if offered, should not accept, post-retirement sinecures. But we live in a world which is far from ideal. It is tough for most to walk the straight and narrow of self-abnegation and self-denial. The nomination on Monday of former Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, who retired last November, to the Rajya Sabha is, no doubt, controversial. Unfortunately, those shouting the loudest are exactly the ones who in their time in power had grossly misused patronage to blatantly co-opt judges into the ruling establishment. The Congress outrage sounds hollow considering it had gone out of the way to bestow such favours on a large number of friendly judges, both before and after retirement. A party MP was made a High Court judge and later elevated to the Supreme Court. A retired chief justice of India was rewarded with nomination to the Rajya Sabha. A former High Court judge was sent as ambassador to the UK. Why, a former chief justice of India was appointed the vice-president of India, etc. Such examples are numerous, suffice to say one of the worst is when a junior magistrate in Delhi who had granted bail to Indira Gandhi in a criminal matter when the Janata Party was in power was straightaway appointed a High Court judge upon her return to power. Yet, having said that, we have no hesitation in saying that Gogoi’s RS nomination does not enhance the prestige and dignity of the higher judiciary. It should have been avoided. Both the Government and Gogoi do not seem to be in consonance with the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution. Upon retirement, top judges should pursue their interests, hobbies, tend their kitchen gardens and play with their grandchildren or try and contribute to the society through apolitical organisations. But in no case should they hanker after and seek favours from any government, central or State. Unfortunately, the Congress set such a rotten example that others who replaced it in power feel tempted to follow its lead. Therefore, our quarrel with the Modi regime is that it continues to tread the same rotten path in some ways that the Congress had traversed for decades. Modi’s decision to send Gogoi to the Upper House of Parliament neither enhances his nor Gogoi’s image. It is a self-goal, a PR disaster. It would needlessly drag the higher judiciary into the morass of partisan politics. Rulings in key cases such the Rafale deal, the Ayodhya dispute, the Assam NRC, etc., will now be seen by critics in the light of Gogoi’s nomination to Parliament.
Meanwhile, for a wider perspective on the Gogoi nomination, it is important to recall that he is the son of a former Congress Chief Minister of Assam. More pertinently, it was Gogoi who had famously intoned that ‘we are here to save the country’s future’ when he and three other serving SC judges held an unprecedented press conference in court hours at the residence of Justice J Chelameswar in January 2018. Critics now frothing at the mouths with an uncontrollable rage were gaga at Judge Gogoi’s supposed courage unmindful of the unprecedented breach of protocol and institutional dignity in openly questioning the authority of the then serving Chief Justice Dipak Mishra in such a blatant manner. How the same Judge Gogoi has now become an ogre for the people who had commended him then shows their own fickleness in assessing men and matters. An objective observer while criticising the decision to send Gogoi to the RS will not be oblivious of the long history of such abuse of the constitutional processes to bestow patronage on judicial authorities, serving or retired. Meanwhile, even in the normal course there are post-retirement sinecures galore for former High Court and Supreme Court judges as heads and members of various commissions, tribunals, dispute resolution authorities, etc., which are usually granted not without the consent of the authorities. Admittedly, nomination to the Rajya Sabha stands out because only a handful of retired judges have been fortunate to benefit from this high honour.