Judges did their duty, they alerted us to danger

Judges did their duty, they alerted us to danger

Nobody needs to tell us that what happened on January 12, 2018, was unprecedented. We would also like to be spared of lectures on whether the four deeply anxious judges should, or should not, have come out in the open in order, as they say, to alert the nation regarding the grave peril that Indian democracy is facing. What we would like to be told is, why it has come to this sorry, extremely worrisome, pass.

As lay persons, we are at a handicap in understanding issues, procedures and proprieties pertaining to courts. Yet, we do know that judges, especially of high courts and the Supreme Court, shun publicity. I happen to know three of the judges involved in the present instance and know them to be extreme sticklers to propriety. I was shell-shocked when I saw them addressing a press conference.

What are the concerns that we, as citizens, have in respect of this development? First, the state of justice. The message that came out clearly from this development was that in the considered opinion of these senior judges, justice is not being done, not only to them, but also to Indian democracy. It is no small matter for senior apex court judges to say that democracy itself is imperilled through the present judicial disarray.

The question uppermost in the minds of every Indian, in the wake of this earth-shattering disclosure, is: If, in the opinion of some of the hon'ble judges of the Supreme Court, Indian democracy is in peril, how can we rest in peace, overlooking this clear warning, and assume that everything is hunky-dory with the India of our dreams?

We are also given more than oblique hints that professional fair-play has not been available to these judges. The grievance here - if it can indeed be so termed - is not of a personal kind, but of a systemic, institutional nature. They have put the nation on notice that the inviolability of the justice system is being undermined. Nothing concerns - no, nothing frightens - the common man more than this.

Second, have these judges done a disservice to the apex court by speaking up in public? No one who knows these four judges in light of their track-record would suspect, even by malice, that they have undertaken this exercise for the sake of publicity. Even BJP MP Subramanian Swamy is emphatic that they have done the right thing. Then, what could be their compulsion? To get clear on this count, consider for a moment the alternatives available to them.

It seems that the judges did whatever they could to settle the issues in-house. They didn't get anywhere with it. So they say. What is the other option? To seek the intervention of the Executive? Not at all! I am glad that the government is taking the view that this is an internal ailment - a sort of institutional haemorrhage - of the Supreme Court. That is the only sensible stand the government can take in this matter.

The Executive playing schoolmaster to the Chief Justice of India and senior judges of the apex court will necessarily undermine the independence of the judiciary. This has to be avoided at all cost. All the more so, once the concerned judges have - going by media reports - listed the posting of the judge Loya matter, which concerns the president of the BJP, as one of the triggers for the present crisis.

Executive, stay away

Justice is not an issue concerning, primarily, the Executive. On the contrary, it is against the Executive that citizens, all over the world, seek justice when their rights and entitlements are imperilled. The Executive playing godfather to the Judiciary infringes the doctrine of the separation of powers. The aggrieved judges have given ample indications that at the root of the present crisis is a comingling, in some form or the other, of the judicial and the extra-judicial.

As ordinary citizens, we find it hard to believe that the judges bringing the brewing crisis in the Supreme Court to the zone of public awareness is in any way improper. Justice is our supreme issue. It need not be so for the Executive.

The health, or otherwise, of Indian democracy is a matter of extreme concern for the whole country. If this unprecedented situation is viewed from the perspective of democracy - the sovereignty of the will of the people - the conclusion is inevitable that the judges have acted in good faith. They have, in so doing, reinforced our faith in democracy. They have done justice to the stature of the Supreme Court itself.

That is the silver-lining on the clouds over the Court. The proof of the robustness of an institution is not that it never gets into any crisis. It is that it throws up, at critical moments, men and women of stature and courage of conviction who rise to the occasion. Keeping an unhealthy situation under wraps, allowing it to fester and grow gangrenous, would have done greater harm to the institution.

The four judges are not judicial Don Quixotes, anarchic rebels or Jacobean desperados. They are judicious, sober and responsible officers, committed to the integrity of the system. Else, they would have resigned in disgust and repaired to the bliss of solitude. Their effort, clearly, is to remedy the situation.

Anyone who takes a dispassionate view of this development will come to the inevitable conclusion that they are discharging, as they say, their duties to the nation. That assurance, more than anything else, gives us reason to hope and to rest in comparative peace. We hope, further, that the beneficial scope of this crisis is not muddied through unwarranted interference and partisan interpretations.

(The writer is former principal, St Stephen's College, Delhi)

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