Bid to whip up Odia pride over CJI impeachment reprehensible
Indian judiciary is going through its worst ever crisis. And the crisis predates the initiation of impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra by a clutch of Opposition parties led by the Congress. That all is not well in the highest echelons of the judiciary had become abundantly clear at least two and a half months ago when four senior most judges of the Supreme Court, in an act without precedence, went public through a press conference at the residence of Justice J Chelameswar on January 11 with a litany of charges against the CJI.
There have been a series of face offs between these judges on the one side and the CJI on the other since then, the latest being a letter written by Justice Chelameswar to the CJI, with copies marked to 22 other judges of the apex court, questioning the reopening of a sexual misconduct charge against P Krishna Bhat, a district judge recommended for elevation to the Karnataka High Court, by Chief Justice Dinesh Maheswari allegedly at the behest of the Union Law ministry and bypassing the SC collegium that had recommended the elevation.
Impeachment proceedings against judges of the superior courts have been initiated earlier too, though none of them have led to an actual impeachment. But this is the first time a CJI of the Supreme Court, the highest judicial officer of the country, is in the dock. And the charges against him are way too serious to be brushed aside. The draft of the motion to be tabled in Parliament, inter alia, questions the CJI’s role in the Prasad Educational Trust case (in which a former judge of the Orissa High Court Justice IM Quddusi has been arrested by the CBI) and accuses him of misusing his administrative powers as the CJI to assign important cases, including the Prasad Educational Trust case, to judges of his choice to achieve a ‘predetermined outcome’. For good measure, it also mentions an allegedly false affidavit filed by him to acquire a piece of government land measuring two acres in Markat Nagar in Cuttack way back in 1979.
While the impeachment motion against the CJI is a matter of grave concern in itself, even more worrisome are two parallel developments. The first of these has to do with an orchestrated move by the Hindutva brigade to paint the CJI in ‘nationalist’ colours in an obvious bid to ridicule the impeachment move initiated by Opposition parties and to dub them as ‘anti-nationals’. The plate below, which is being widely shared on social media, makes clear the effort by the Hindutva forces to ‘appropriate’ the CJI as one of their own:
In their utterances on the issue, senior BJP leaders, including Union ministers, have buttressed this highly condemnable line. Instead of condemning such characterization of the top most judicial functionary in the country emphatically, they have actually strengthened the impression that the CJI is on the side of the Narendra Modi government. They don’t realize that in doing so, they are doing no credit to the government or the CJI. More than the impeachment itself, this is a matter of greater concern for the independence of judiciary.
The second development of concern is the concerted move by a section of the population in Odisha to whip up Odia pride in an effort to rally behind the beleaguered CJI. “He is being victimized because he is an Odia” is the line being pushed by this section. It is a disgusting, reprehensible and pathetic attempt to cater to parochial sentiments that must be nipped in the bud. If Justice Misra’s Odia identity did not come in the way of his becoming the CJI, one fails to understand why it should be a consideration in deciding whether or not the impeachment motion against him is justified or not.
Let the issue of impeachment be judged strictly on merit. Parochial considerations have no place in deciding a matter of such great importance involving the independence and integrity of the Indian judiciary.