Disquietingly, the dots can be joined between statements emanating from the top-most echelons of the ruling establishment over the last few days — and they add up to casting aspersions on the institution of the judiciary. At an election rally in Alwar on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the Congress of delaying the court’s decision on the Ram temple at Ayodhya, and of threatening judges with impeachment to “derail the justice system” and “prevent hearing of sensitive issues”. Of course, the Congress’s bid to impeach former Chief Justice Dipak Misra was a shameful attempt to score a political point but what is disturbing is the PM’s suggestion that the highest court in the land was vulnerable to Congress pressure, which is holding back its work “as per law and Constitution”. On the same day, at the VHP’s “Humkar Sabha” in Nagpur, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat spoke of the need to put “pressure” on the court given that the Ram temple was not, for it, “a matter of priority”. He urged PM Modi to enact a law, and in the same breath, warned against the running out of Hindu “dhairya (patience)”, calling for a “nirnayak aandolan (decisive battle)”, and throwing a provocative, even inflammatory, challenge: “Though law is necessary, can society run only on the basis of law?” And a day later, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad questioned the notion of “constitutional morality”, demanding of it a greater “clarity” and “consensus”.
This questioning of the judiciary’s handling of the Ayodhya case, that exhortation to the faithful to bypass the court, and the demand for a standardised justice, unvarying across cases, is cause for serious concern. Evidently, for the BJP-RSS, the court is worthy of applause when it admirably strikes down instant triple talaq, none of its leaders then raised any questions about the court’s credibility in treading on matters of belief and faith. But its narrative changes when it comes to Sabarimala and the Ram temple. To be sure, the BJP has the right to question the court. But when these questions are given the government’s push and imprimatur in a way that they threaten to range one institution against another, the political executive against the judiciary, when motives are suggested, there is need for a step back, or failing that, a push back.
As the custodian of the Constitution’s letter and spirit, it is the judiciary which rightfully interprets and defines the constitutional morality, case by case, in changing time and circumstance — constitutional morality cannot be left to the whim and fancy of the majoritarian government. Of course, if the government has an argument against the court, it can always go to court. In a constitutional democracy, it has no other option.