It began with photos of Chief Justice Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad Bobde perched on a Harley Davidson Limited edition CVO 2020 that soon went viral. The bike belonged to the son of a BJP leader -- an affiliation that the CJI was reportedly unaware of.
The post prompted many to comment with Public Interest Lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan commenting on the lack of a mask and implying that the Supreme Court was in "lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice". In another tweet he had drawn a parallel with the Emergency period and suggested that the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice was responsible at least in part for the same.
All this recently prompted a bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari to write a 108-page judgement that essentially holds Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt, with the quantum of punishment to be determined on August 20.
And while a part of the social denizens are rejoicing, others have now written to the CJI. The signatories include retired judges and bureaucrats, including two former High Court Chief Justices as well as former petroleum secretary Saurabh Chandra and former Punjab DGP P C Dogra.
"We the undersigned lawyers want to register our concerns with regard to the trend that has emerged in recent times to browbeat and intimidate the judiciary. India has witnessed a series of attacks by institutional disruptors against judges who are unwilling to agree with them and toe the line drawn by them," the letter begins.
It is unfortunate, the letter states, when political ends of lawyers aren't served by court decision, they vilify it with scandalizing remarks. "We urge you to uphold the edifice of the judicial system and protect the third pillar of our democracy from those who peddle falsehood to destroy the institution," it adds.
This is not the only letter or statement of support that Bhushan has received in the days following the SC verdict. On Monday, as many as 1,600 lawyers from across the country had released a statement addressed to the Supreme Court and the public expressing ‘dismay’.
Another group of 772 lawyers have written a letter to Chief Justice S.A. Bobde to raise concerns on an emerging trend to browbeat and intimidate the judiciary on Wednesday. And in Hyderabad, advocates have staged a silent protest.
Earlier, many political leaders had also voiced their support. In a statement that was shared by the lawyer on Twitter, they had said that it was "sad" that the apex court had not "found it necessary to distinguish between constructive criticism and malicious statement".
The common consensus, as echoed by many on social media platforms seem to be that one did not have to endorse what Bhushan said in order to protest the Supreme Court's actions. In the words of Evelyn Beatrice Hall and the ideology of Voltaire, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"
"Through this act, the Supreme Court has let itself down, and has let the Republic down too. A dark day for Indian democracy," tweeted Ramachandra Guha recently. "I stand with Prashant and support his tweet," wrote AAP leader Dr Ajoy Kumar.
Swaraj India chief Yogendra Yadav has repeatedly tweeted his support, and on Wednesday announced that even as the quantum of punishment is announced on Thursday, "people from every corner of the country will unite" via social media for "nationwide coordinated action programs" in solidarity with the lawyer.
Bhushan for his part wants the hearing on sentence to be deferred. He has moved the Supreme Court for the same, pending consideration of the review application, which he intends to file within the limitation period, in the "interests of justice".
In an application filed through advocate Kamini Jaiswal, he submitted that human judgement is not infallible, and despite all the provisions ensuring a fair trial and a just decision, mistakes are possible, and errors cannot be ruled out.
(with inputs from agencies)