It has taken just over two months from the time Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju took to blogging again for him to trigger a controversy. And it seems he is still only warming up.
Between May 2014, when he posted his first blog since October 2013, and Tuesday, Katju had written 74 blogs. In all of 2013 and 2012, by contrast, when he expressed an opinion on everything from the state of the Indian mind to the mind of the Indian State, he had posted a little over 70 blogs each.
While his blog on ‘How a corrupt judge continued in the Madras High Court’ has brought Parliament to a standstill, the system of selecting judges is just one of the many things that seem to be bothering the former Supreme Court judge. On January 3, 2013, he blogged about having put in place a system in the Madras High Court, while he was Chief Justice there, that could be the template for appointments to the apex court, and rued, “I was the sixth in seniority in the Supreme Court. But I regret that I was never consulted by the Chief Justice. The five senior most judges met in a highly secretive manner for deciding whom to recommend as a judge.”
In a previous, August 30, 2012, blog, he talked about a girl called Alice who tumbled down a hole to “the oath taking ceremony of the Chief Justice of Wonderland”, where the Chief Justice crowned himself. “This Chief Justice surrounded himself with worthies who were called Judges and lawyers but were really spoons (chamchas),” he wrote.
When that Chief Justice was overthrown, Katju said, the spoons faced trials “somewhat like that held at Nuremberg after the Second World War”.
Katju shows a preference for Lewis Carroll when drawing up other disaster scenarios — including rising prices and growing cases of rape — although Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland isn’t on a reading list he draws up for “young people who have asked me what they should read”. He has many suggestions (June 13, 2014), that he lists under ‘British, American, French, German, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Norwegian, Czech, Hungarian, Chinese, Colombian, South African, Persian, Turkish, Sanskrit, Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, Urdu’ categories.
The books don’t all fall into Katju’s definition of good art, that which serves “social purpose”, or “that helps (people) in their struggle for a better life by highlighting the socio-economic problems in society (‘Only Sound and Fury in Jaipur’, February 1, 2013)”. Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons is on his reading list.
Nuremberg or not, the Nazis are often in Katju’s thoughts — when he is talking, for example, about media freedom, or about Narendra Modi “being projected by a large section of Indians as the modern Moses (February 15, 2013)”.
Discussing India’s past, and its current problems, Katju frequently falls back on ancient history: He talks about the Mimansa Rules of Interpretation regarding statutes, “which appear to have been totally suppressed by the British (July 17, 2014)”, advises the government to look at Alauddin Khilji’s regime to check prices (July 7, 2014), wishes there was greater research to understand Aurangzeb (July 8, 2014), and notes that “our ancestors were men of great vision, who could see two thousand years into the future” talking about Kaliyuga (January 24, 2013).
The retired judge often refers to “the power of Urdu poetry (June 9, 2014)”, and “Sanskrit as a language of science (June 5, 2014)”. He quotes Urdu couplets or Sanskrit shlokas at some times, and explains Urdu poetry in detail at others. On June 20, 2014, he “acquainted the uninitiated about North Indian (Hindustani) Classical music”.
In May 2014, he argued at length for a uniform civil code, and often writes about women being discriminated against under the Muslim personal law.
A Kashmiri Pandit, Katju doesn’t hide what he feels about the conditions that forced his community to leave J&K, and in a July 19, 2014, blog admits to having “banned several persons who made impertinent or abusive comments on my previous post”.
“As I said, secularism cannot be a one way traffic. All atrocities on everyone should be condemned,” he writes, adding, “I am prepared to unban those I banned provided they apologize unconditionally… By nature I am quite a forgiving person.”
On May 31, 2014, he wrote, “I have said several times that the only solution to the Kashmir problem is reunification of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh under a strong, secular, modern minded government.” Pakistan, he says repeatedly, is a “fake”, “Jurassic Park” state.
He admits to having been “described variously as a megalomaniac, a crank, a maverick, a publicity seeker, a wild man, a loose cannon, and even a dog… who ‘comments on everything under the Sun’ (December 31, 2012)” but, as he passionately explains in a February 27, 2013, blog, “even the (PCI) chairman has freedom of speech”.
And while Katju may no longer talk about the 90 per cent Indians he feels need enlightenment, he is convinced they do need his help. He often quotes his own judgments or court experiences to underline a point — the round of blogs that started the current row began with one titled ‘My experiences as chief justice of Madras High Court’ on the request of “some Tamilians”.
However, he says he is governed only by one principle: “To help my country become prosperous with its people having decent lives (December 31, 2012)”.
On July 18, 2014, he had a suggestion: “The posts I have been putting up on Facebook and on my blog may… be regarded as Addresses to the Indian Nation”.