The country’s main Opposition party continues to embarrass itself on the matter of the notice to impeach the Chief Justice of India. The Congress-led bid was ill-advised and misconceived in the first place. For all the questions that can legitimately be raised about his performance in office, there is little evidence of proven incapacity or misconduct against CJI Misra, the chargesheet against him wobbled visibly. Then, the timing of the Congress push encouraged suspicions that the party is using an internally divided judiciary to settle political scores with the Narendra Modi government — it came close on the heels of the apex court’s dismissal of the demand for an independent probe into the death of Judge B H Loya, who was presiding over the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case in which BJP president Amit Shah was an accused. Now, the two Congress MPs who moved the SC to challenge Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu’s decision to reject the impeachment notice have withdrawn their petition in a huff. Who constituted the 5-judge bench to hear the matter, show us a copy of the order, they say. Questions can, of course, be raised about whether or not the CJI should have exercised his administrative prerogative as Master of the Roster to constitute the very bench that would consider his own impeachment. In fact, a strong argument can be made that, for the sake of propriety and good form, he should have made the effort to step back and aside. Yet, by casting its net indiscriminately wide, the Congress does not make that argument, damages its own case.
What stands out in the Congress’s telling of the story is the party’s spreading mistrust — not just of the CJI, but also, and more disquietingly, of the five judges he has selected to consider the Congress MPs’ petition. Is the Congress saying that it is not just that the CJI misuses the powers of his office to constitute benches, but also that all the judges selected by him unresistingly follow his bidding, not their calling? The question can be made even more encompassing, yet more disturbing: Is the Congress expressing a lack of confidence not just in individual judges, but in the institution of the judiciary? Underlying the day-to-day working of any institution in a constitutional system are the rules of the game that are a source of power for its personnel but which also create checks and boundaries in order to protect and preserve institutional integrity. In pressing ahead against CJI Misra in the reckless manner that it has, the Congress is coming perilously close to targeting not just him, but the high office of which he is but a temporary occupant.
These are anxious times for the judiciary. It needs to sort out problems and address crises, internally and vis a vis other institutions, particularly the executive. It is of utmost importance that it is given the space and time to do so — free of political meddling.