The move by the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court to go public with complaints against the institution has left the government and the BJP “shocked”, but leaders remained tight-lipped on Friday, maintaining that the government and the ruling party are “consciously keeping aloof” from the developments.
Union Minister for Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad as well as lawyers in the BJP did not want to comment on the unprecedented press conference by Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph.
Both the government and the party maintained that they should not join the issue as it would be seen as “taking sides” of either the four judges or Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and it would be “dangerous”, considering that the CJI’s term will end only in October. Besides, Justice Gogoi, considered to be Mishra’s successor, is at the other side.
“We are not even called for (taking a stand)…. Our statement will be uncalled for in this situation,” said a government functionary. Another source said the government would like to maintain a distance and prefer the judiciary to resolve the matter internally.
“The government does not want to respond. The judiciary is independent. They will have to resolve it themselves,” the government functionary said.
“No one (of the four judges) said a word against the government,” was the common refrain from the ruling establishment about their silence on this development.
Officially, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra slammed the Congress for “trying to politicise the issue”, which he said is “pertaining to the administrative and interior issues of the judiciary”. He told the media, “The Supreme Court judges have raised some interior issues pertaining to the administrative domain of the court…. India is known for its democratic character and under the constitutional structure, the judiciary has a strong and independent role. Some parties are trying to politicise the issues raised by the judges. It’s not proper.”
He said, “We are surprised and sad by the attempts of the Congress, which has been rejected by electorate in election after election, to get itself into the issue. This has exposed the Congress before the people of India.”
A section in the BJP seemed to be keen on projecting the judges’ decision as politically motivated. But the top leaders refused to comment on it.
After the press conference by the judges got over, Attorney-General K K Venugopal, said that the move “could have been avoided”, and that the judges will now have to act in “statesmanship” to ensure complete harmony.
Venugopal, who had a meeting with Chief Justice Misra after the press conference, expressed hope that all judges, including the CJI, would rise to the occasion and “wholly neutralise” the “divisiveness”.
He said, “What has happened today could have been avoided. The judges will now have to act with statesmanship and ensure that the divisiveness is wholly neutralised and total harmony and mutual understanding will prevail in future,” he said. “This is what all of us at the bar want, and I am sure that the judges, including the CJI, will rise to the occasion.”
Venugopal declined to divulge details of his deliberations with the CJI and others.
Sources in government pointed out that there had been issues in judiciary in the past as well, and referred to tussles between Justice Y V Chandrachud and his successor, Justice P N Bhagwati, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And then between Justice A M Ahmadi and Justice Kuldip Singh in the 1990s, they pointed out. But BJP leaders viewed the development as “indiscipline” rather than a “rebellion”.