Judges and politics can strike a right mix, sometimes

Justice and politics may seem implacable foes until retired judges join politics to deliver justice to the people which they may have failed to deliver while sitting as judges. This is because the Code of Judicial Conduct which came into effect from July 1, 2014 declares that potential judges or sitting judges should eschew politics or campaigning which is inconsistent with the independence of the judiciary.

But the life of the law is its exceptions and not nebulous morality. This is why there have been judges who not only contested elections after either resigning or retiring from the judiciary but have also accepted gubernatorial posts which in effect meant they were hobnobbing with
the government.

Topping the list of those who will contest the 2019 elections is rambunctious Justice Chinnaswamy Swaminathan Karnan from Tamil Nadu who had the dubious distinction of being the first high court judge in Indian judicial history to serve the maximum punishment of six months in jail for contempt. His ire against alleged discrimination for belonging to a poor Dalit family brought the entire Indian judiciary into the international spotlight.

Justice Karnan also had the dubious distinction of being called a “lunatic” by senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, who wrote to the irascible judge in March 2017 just before the judge went underground after he was convicted for contempt. The judge also refused to allow a team of psychiatrists who were sent by the Supreme Court to evaluate him.

Justice Karnan launched the Anti-Corruption Dynamic Party after emerging from jail. He promised to field only women candidates in all 543 Lok Sabha seats but has fielded 35 candidates throughout India. The controversial judge also announced himself as a prime ministerial candidate and questioned why the two regional parties of Tamil Nadu, AIADMK and DMK did not contest outside their home state or announce a prime ministerial candidate.

That the judge who is well-versed with the technicalities of law will succeed Narendra Modi as prime minister is a parody. But as the leader of his new political party, Justice Karnan has done what the chief of the AIADMK and DMK wisely refrained from doing. The retired judge has declared an income of Rs 19, 77, 610 for 2018-19 which has fallen by Rs 7,31,870 from Rs 27,09, 480 in 2017-18 after he was sent to jail. This shows he has the funds to float a political party and contest elections.

After all if former Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam canvassed for the gubernatorial post in Kerala from BJP chief Amit Shah, there is no reason why judges like Justice Karnan cannot contest elections. To add to the controversy, his advocate Mathews Nedumpara who did not charge the irascible judge a paisa, has been banned from appearing in the Supreme Court for one year simply because he had the temerity to repeat the name of a distinguished jurist like Fali S. Nariman before a Supreme Court bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and Vineet Saran.

Justice Nariman who is the fifth senior most judge in the Supreme Court, will narrowly miss becoming the CJI. He is the son of 90-year-old Fali Nariman whose granddaughter is also a Supreme Court lawyer but has been banned from entering the court room because of her eminent father. On his part, Nedumpara has fought pro bono cases for the slum-dwellers and launched the National Lawyers Campaign for Legal Transparency and Reforms to fight the cause of first-generation lawyers. He was arguing a case seeking abolition of the “senior advocate” tag which was decided in an earlier petition filed by senior advocate Indira Jaisingh.

Next on the list to contest elections is Justice Zora Singh who retired from the Punjab and Haryana high court to join the Aam Admi Party and contest the reserved Jalandhar seat in Punjab. He headed a commission of inquiry to probe the desecration of the holy book of the Sikh community, the Guru Granth Sahib in 2015. Unfortunately, the report which he submitted was rejected by Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh as “inconclusive,” which in effect meant that he did not pinpoint who desecrated the holy book.

The third judge is Justice Nirmal Singh who was also being considered by the Shiromani Akali Dal for a ticket for the Jalandhar constituency. He retired as a judge of the Punjab and Haryana high court in 2009 and entered the Punjab assembly in 2012. From available data, there are no known controversies involving him. From Maharashtra, we have a retired high court judge like Justice B G Kolse-Patil who resigned from the Bombay high court at the young age of 47 in 1990 to do social service.

When contacted over the phone, Justice Kolse-Patil whose name was declared as a potential contestant from the Aurangabad constituency in Maharashtra, clarified that his name was fed to the media without his consent and he had no intention of contesting any elections. Justice Kolse-Patil has fought against communalism and the so-called Hindutva ideology which he asserts has divided Indian society.

What is more interesting is the fact that Justices Kolse-Patil and P B Sawant said they had funded and organised the controversial Elgar Parishad on December 31, 2017 before violence broke out and the Pune police claimed the Communist Party of India (Maoist) were behind the violence. But after retiring or resigning, there is nothing wrong with judges using their contacts on the bench to further their ambitions in life which is precisely what Palanisamy Sathasivam, who was the 40th Chief Justice of India from 2013 to 2014, did.

He reportedly attended the wedding of BJP chief Amit Shah’s son at Delhi and has been the Kerala governor from 2014, triggering criticism that by accepting a public office from the executive as largesse, he devalued the office of the CJI which is several notches higher. This is why a relatively unknown district judge from Tamil Nadu like K Guruviah will contest the Nagapattinam seat because if CJIs can become governors, there is no reason why retired district judges cannot aspire to become MPs.

Film-actor-turned politician has selected Guruviah to contest the Nagipattinam seat on the Makal Needhi Maiam ticket which is perfectly in consonance with democracy because if film actors and policemen can become MPs, there is no reason why retired district judges cannot aspire to become MPs.

Olav Albuquerque holds a PhD in Media Law. He is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay High Court.

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