From the time four of its most senior judges publicly questioned the conduct of the Chief Justice of India, all eyes have been on the Supreme Court, its judges have been under the spotlight like never before in recent years. But Tuesday afternoon was different.
There was bonhomie over tea, complete with conversations on King Lear and Bengali sweets — a marked departure from the acrimony that has followed the January 12 press conference where Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph targeted Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.
At a high tea that followed the launch of the SCBA Times, the newsletter of the Supreme Court Bar Association, eleven judges, including the CJI, showed up. So did Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, whose name was mentioned in the invitation, did not turn up. Nor did Justices Chelameswar and Gogoi. Also absent was Justice Arun Mishra.
Justice Joseph was the first judge to reach the venue. And when he walked in, CJI Misra shook hands with both Justices Joseph and Lokur.
After the release of the newsletter, all headed for tea where Minister Prasad asked TV camerapersons to leave them alone. Justice Joseph, who joined him at the table with other judges, had everyone smiling, laughing when he said: “They want to see us eating together.”
Prasad engaged Justice Joseph in a conversation on Bengali sweets. CJI Misra called Justice Lokur, who arrived with jurist Soli Sorabjee, to take a seat. Known for his love of literature, the CJI was heard discussing King Lear with Sorabjee while Justice D Y Chandrachud sat beside him, enjoying a samosa.
Justice Joseph was heard asking Sorabjee: “Between you and Fali, who is older?” Pause later, he repeated the question. Sorabjee said he was 87. At this, Prasad exclaimed, “You are 87?” and then added that (former Attorney General) K Parasaran was 91. He told Justice Joseph he had recently been to the Bahamas for a meeting of law ministers and felt proud when he heard people praising the Indian judiciary.
Earlier, speaking at the launch of the newsletter, CJI Misra said: “Somebody wrote a book ‘I’m opinionated’. Most welcome. There is a saying in English, do not perpendicularise yourself, meaning thereby when you write I, it means egotism. It means egoism. It means self alone. But everybody has a right to say I’m opinionated. That’s his opinion and, therefore, I must say SCBA Times proclaims, announces and states with authority, I have the right of freedom to speak and also express. For that also, I congratulate the editors.”
Prasad asked the SCBA and its president, senior advocate Vikas Singh, if the journal could start a debate on the need for simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls.
“Can your journal provoke a debate, a purely Constitutional one, whether we should have simultaneous elections in the entire country? I don’t wish to make any political comments. But just now we had two state elections — Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh… we are also going to have elections in Tripura and Meghalaya. Thereafter, we are going to have elections in Karnataka. After two months, we are going to have elections in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. And three months thereafter, we are going to have elections… to Lok Sabha.”
“Every year, we have five, six, seven… and I’m not speaking of municipal elections. Every election entails heavy expenditure. Once the model code of conduct comes, then there is the problem of not taking any action. So many security personnel are involved in ensuring free and fair elections,” he said.
Prasad said people have respect for the judiciary and Supreme Court. “And one thing I definitely see: the respect the people of the country have for the judiciary and the kind of respect people of India have for this great institution, the Supreme Court of India.”