Justice Ranjan Gogoi led from the front a year ago, now his silence is deafening.
A year back, around this time, Justice Ranjan Gogoi was in the headlines along with three of his comrades, changing judicial history in India. They spoke of democracy and of a more transparent court. They were the knights in shining armour, the light at the end of the tunnel. Judge Gogoi led from the front.
Ranjan Gogoi is back in the headlines this week again, now as the Chief Justice of India, but not for being a revolutionary. Quite the opposite. His armour seems to be rusted and the tunnel seems dark again.
A collegium led by him covertly replaced its own recommendation to elevate two judges to the Supreme Court. A senior judge wrote to the CJI questioning the propriety of his decision to recommend the elevation of a junior Delhi HC judge, Justice Sanjeev Khanna.
Is it just the nature of the post that makes one lose all ability to be transparent, my Lord?
Or is there something else at play here, one can’t tell with certainty.
Sample this: it was a CJI-headed bench that ruled on the Rafale deal, dismissing all petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the deal.
We were spared the courtroom drama, but the verdict and the subsequent clarification by the Narendra Modi government cast doubt on the credibility of the Supreme Court. Over a grammatical error, no less.
Despite the blunder that it was, the situation could have been salvaged partially, only if the CJI had spoken—taking a cue from his own eloquence a year ago.
But this wasn’t the end of our secondhand embarrassment thanks to the judiciary.
Justice A.J. Sikri, whose deciding vote determined whether or not CBI director Alok Verma should remain chief, was offered a plum post-retirement job by the government just a month before the decision.
Once more, CJI Gogoi was in the news: he recused himself from the case because of conflict of interest, but nominated Justice Sikri who was the seniormost after him. The government had apprised CJI Gogoi of its decision to nominate Justice Sikri to the coveted post and had sought his consent. He still nominated Justice Sikri to the all-important panel. Ultimately, the latter was left red-faced. If criticism from the media wasn’t enough, two senior judges have also written to the CJI questioning the propriety of his decision to recommend Sanjeev Khanna to be elevated to the Supreme Court.
As CJI Gogoi’s deafening silence grows shrill, we must ask him: When will he cease to be the gift that keeps giving?
The article has been updated to reflect changes.