In a surprising intervention by the ruling establishment, a day after Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi convened an extraordinary sitting of the Supreme Court following reports in four online portals about a former woman staffer’s sexual harassment complaint against him, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley posted a blog defending the CJI under the title: “It is time to stand with the judiciary”.
“A Judge is continuously judged every day by the Bar and the stakeholders in the course of his personal and judicial conduct. Every time he makes a comment or writes a judgement, every word is scrutinised. In terms of personal decency, values, ethics and integrity, the present Chief Justice of India is extremely well regarded. Even when critics disagree with his judicial view, his value system has never been questioned,” Jaitley wrote.
Jaitley’s post Sunday came in contrast to the silence of the government last year, when four senior judges of the Supreme Court including Justice Gogoi, held an unprecedented press conference on January 12, 2018, questioning the selective allocation of sensitive cases by the then CJI Dipak Misra.
In his blog, Jaitley said the allegations against the CJI “has acquired a disproportionate magnitude”. “Such complaints, when they are made in the ordinary course of any administrative functioning, are referred to the appropriate Committee. However, when the complainant distributes copies of her representation to other Judges of the Supreme Court and the media in order to sensationalise her allegations, it ceases to be routine,” he wrote.
“Lending shoulder to completely unverified allegations coming from a disgruntled person with a not- so-glorious track record is aiding the process of destabilisation of the institution of the Chief Justice of India,” he wrote.
The Finance Minister wrote that the CJI’s “integrity, ethics, scholarship and fairness reflect the image of India’s judiciary.” “He lives by example. For both the Chief Justice and the judicial institutions, credibility and respect are essential. Once the ‘Iqbal’ of judiciary is destroyed, the institution itself will crumble,” he posted.
Pointing to an “assault to the institution”, Jaitley wrote: “The last few years have witnessed the consolidation of ‘institution destabilizers’ in a major way. Many of these destabilizers represent Left or ultra-Left views. They have no electoral base or popular support. However, they still have a disproportionate presence in the media and the academia. When ousted for mainstream media, they have taken refuge in the digital and social media.”
He further wrote: “…let it be remembered that this is not the first case of the ‘institutional destabilizers’ nor will it be the last. If those who peddle falsehood to destroy the institution are not dealt with in an exemplary manner, this trend will only accelerate.”
Jaitley claimed that the country has “witnessed a series of attacks by the ‘institution disruptors’ against judges who are unwilling to agree with them” and that “a mass-intimidation of Judges is on”.
“Some lawyers have used intimidatory behaviour as a tactic to expand their practise. Intimidation and discrediting are important weapons in the hands of these people. Reputation is an integral part of a person’s fundamental right to live with dignity. An intimidated judge can fear consequences of a possible view that he is taking. It is, therefore, essential that all well-meaning persons stand with the judicial institution when destabilizers get ready for an assault,” he wrote.
Jaitley said the “liberal attitude of the Courts has emboldened” the “institution disruptors”, and that they “get away because of the magnanimity and the compassion of judges”.
“Independent judiciary and free media are both essential for a vibrant democracy…One cannot take upon itself the task of destroying the other…Mainstream print media conventionally had greater editorial control. The ability to dissect facts and take a balanced view was much higher. But of late, the rat race for grabbing eyeballs or viewership has begun. For the ‘institutional disruptors’ there are no red lines,” he said.
Jaitley alleged that the “institution destabilizers… exploit the judicial refrain of excessively using the power of contempt”. “…they themselves have no hesitation in contemptuous behaviour themselves. They go public against individual judges, including the Chief Justice, when they fail to get a favourable order. They carry on social media campaigns against judges who write judgements adverse to them. They have little regard for truth but masquerade as protectors of public interest. Their behaviour in courts is offensive both to the Bench and their opponents. They threaten walkouts if judges are in disagreement,” Jaitley wrote.
Attacking the Congress for attempting to move an impeachment motion against former CJI Misra, Jaitley wrote: “Even though most of them subscribe to fringe ideologies and ideas, it is regrettable that a section of the Members of the Bar affiliated to the Congress Party tend to join them. Frequent attempts are made to get some Parliamentarians to sign Motion of Impeachment against judges and even the Chief Justice on unsustainable grounds. What has always puzzled me is the Congress lending support to such fringe campaigns.”