The Congress on Friday plunged headlong into the judicial firestorm triggered by four of the senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, with party president Rahul Gandhi stating that concerns expressed by the judges are “extremely important”.
Rahul shed the party’s cautious approach on the controversy over the death of judge B H Loya and demanded an impartial investigation by a special investigation team (SIT) under the supervision of senior-most judges of the Supreme Court.
Loya had died in 2014 when he was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh ‘fake encounter’ case, in which BJP chief Amit Shah was an accused but was later discharged.
The party backed the argument of the four judges that “established conventions and traditions of the courts must be followed, and selective assignment of cases must be stopped”.
Cases that have far-reaching implications to society and governance, the party said, “must be heard, in accordance with well-established conventions, by the senior-most judges of Supreme Court.”
Rahul addressed the media after a meeting with the top legal minds of the party — P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid, Manish Tewari and Vivek Tankha among them — where it was decided that the party should give a restrained response today and take the next step after seeing how the issue plays out, sources said. The “assignment of many cases to one particular judge” figured in the discussions, it is learnt.
“This has to end…otherwise we will escalate this issue,” a senior Congress leader, who attended the meeting, said.
While a section of the party floated the idea of bringing an impeachment motion against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, it did not come up for discussion. Another leader who was part of the meeting said, “There are hawks in all parties…but we did not discuss that (impeachment of CJI). It was not floated by any of us…it did not even come up as a thought…. We will be happy if the CJI sits with the senior judges and they resolve the matter and restore judicial conventions and traditions.”
Congress leader and former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar told The Indian Express that the “unprecedented and exceptional news conference” by the judges has “irretrievably dented the institutional integrity and moral authority of the Supreme Court”. He said, “Everything the four judges have written is a cause of concern and needs to be addressed. Hopefully, the Chief Justice of India may wish to respond.”
Senior Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said: “The allegation regarding bench constitution is far too serious. In one sense, it points a finger at sensitive cases in the corridors of power. This must be resolved immediately, and it cannot be (done) without absolute transparent listing procedures and statesmanship by all concerned at the highest level.”
He said that normally one would not agree with the judges holding a press conference to air their views. “But extraordinary events — and bad/motivated selection of benches would qualify as one such issue —sometimes justify extraordinary means and modes. Bench organisational issues do need immediate redress, else the Supreme Court could go up in flame,” Singhvi said.
He said that allegations in the judges’ letter are obliquely referring to the case of CBI special director Rakesh Asthana, which was originally with Justice Gogoi; the Aadhaar case, which was originally with Justice Chelameswar and Justice S A Bobde; and Judge Loya’s case.
In a statement, the party said that issues raised by the judges are “extremely disturbing” and have “far-reaching consequences” for safeguarding democracy and preserving independence of the judiciary.