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Supreme Court judges gushing over Modi is a problem for judiciary and democracy

Modi’s praise by the judges shows that the so-called church-state separation in the context of the judiciary is blurring, undermining its credibility.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been called many things. Donald Trump even called him “my true friend”, “religious’, “calm” and “tough” man. But nothing beats the new level of praise that he got from a Supreme Court judge — “versatile genius”.

The third senior-most judge of the Supreme Court of India Justice Arun Mishra went overboard on 22 February, in his appreciation of Modi, describing him as an “internationally acclaimed visionary and a versatile genius who thinks globally and acts locally”.

Justice Mishra was speaking at the inaugural function of the International Judicial Conference, 2020, an event where, apart from the Prime Minister and Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, sitting judges from over 20 countries were also present.

From trying to rule through obiter, some judges seem to have decided to take their words outside the courtrooms too. The so-called church-state separation in the context of the judiciary is blurring, undermining its credibility and the strength of democracy.

But, if anyone thinks Justice Mishra is the first judge to make such loaded comments, drawing controversy to what is supposed to be an independent institution, think again.

Also read: Dear Supreme Court, Indians mostly clueless about what goes behind the scene in judiciary

CJI no different

Before Justice Mishra’s contentious remark, Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde had declared that “real rights are a result of performance of duty”. He was of course, quoting Mahatma Gandhi, but without possibly realising that the context was different and that, unlike the father of the nation, who never held a constitutional post in independent India, CJI Bobde had an obligation to uphold the rights of all citizens, including those who failed to perform their duties.

In August 2019, Supreme Court judge M.R. Shah, then Chief Justice of Patna High Court, was gushing in his praise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, referring to him as a “model and hero”.

“…Modi is a model. He is a hero. This is what is being said about him for the past one month. There are thousands of clippings on social media. The papers are also publishing the same, daily,” Justice Shah had said.

In these trying times, when every action and word of every constitutional office-holder is being carefully scrutinised, judges, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion.

Also read: Indian courts speak of ‘national interest’ but they order often in Modi govt’s interest

Before Modi, it was Indira Gandhi

Decades before Justice Shah, there was justice P.N. Bhagwati, who later rose to become the CJI.

Justice Bhagwati, who superseded three senior judges to be appointed as the CJI by the Indira Gandhi government, penned a letter of praise to Indira after her party’s resounding victory in the 1980 Lok Sabha election.

“May I offer you my heartiest congratulations on your resounding victory in the elections and your triumphant return as prime minister of India? It is a most remarkable achievement of which you, your friends and well-wishers can be justly proud. It is a great honour to be the prime minister of a country like India,” he told Indira Gandhi.

But he didn’t stop at that.

“You have become the symbol of the hopes and aspirations of the poor, hungry millions of Indians who had so far nothing to hope for and nothing to live for… I am sure with your iron will and firm determination, uncanny insight and dynamic vision, great administrative capacity and vast experience, overwhelming love and affection of the people and above all, a heart which is identified with the misery of the poor and the weak you will be able to steer the ship of the nation,” Bhagwati wrote to Indira.

Justice Bhagwati had earlier been part of the highly controversial majority view in the ADM Jabalpur case — popularly known as the Habeas Corpus case — by which the Supreme Court had agreed with the government’s assertion that in times of emergency, the government could take away a citizen’s fundamental rights.

Thirty years after the judgment, Justice Bhagwati apologised, saying if he could turn the clock back, he would side with the dissent penned by Justice H.R. Khanna, something that cost Justice Khanna his rightful shot at chief justiceship of the Supreme Court.

Also read: Modi govt sits on appointment of son of ex-SC judge who found Godhra train fire ‘accidental’

Erosion of credibility

Statements like Justice Mishra’s or Justice Shah’s don’t bring credit to the judiciary, which, in all times, is the final arbiter of legality and constitutionality of actions of the executive.

When they feel the urge to praise the government or any of its functionaries, including the Prime Minister, judges would do well to remember the words of jurist and former Supreme Court judge V.D. Tulzapurkar.

“If judges start sending bouquets or congratulatory letters to a political leader on his political victory, eulogising him on assumption of high office in adulatory terms, the people’s confidence in the judiciary will be shaken,” Justice Tulzapurkar had said two months after the letter written by Justice Bhagwati.

Judges would do well to avoid humouring Prime Minister Modi’s request to see the insides of the Supreme Court, especially when they are hearing a number of cases challenging his government’s actions.

Even small missteps can erode the credibility of an institution — credibility that has been acquired after decades of hard work and institutional integrity.

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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  1. And you consistent “poor me” narrative is to achieve what?
    “Dashāvatara Modi” must be genuinely your Messiah..

    …But the thing is, he’s false-God to the rest of us.
    Never more so when a right-thinking person can smell the stinking rot very, very high up in the Judiciary?

  2. For all those who harbour narratives which are primarily anti-modi have developed severe myopic vision towards praise aimed at PM Modi and abhor more so if it comes from judiciary. They would leave this world with curse laced on their lips for Modi rather than “Ram Naam” or any other lyrics befitting to their religious belief to seek salvation from rebirth.

    • And you consistent “poor me” narrative is to achieve what?
      “Dashāvatara Modi” must be genuinely your Messiah..

      …But the thing is, he’s false-God to the rest of us.
      Nevee more so when a right-thinking person can smell the stinking rot very, very high up in the Judiciary?

    • When you reduce to ad hominem and dismiss any legitimate criticism of Modi by appealing to the motives of the person criticising him, instead of advancing an actual rebuttal disproving the claims asserted by the opponent, you lose your credibility (that is if you had any in the first place). They may or may no leave this earth with curse laced on their lips, but they surely won’t leave this earth being enablers of a malignant man or worse a naive individual who literally fell for the oldest trick in the book.

      Truth be told, Modi and his government destroyed this nation, both economically and morally. It has not only given a voice but muscle to malignant elements of our society. Isn’t it strange that suddenly people aren’t ashamed to be casteist/xenophobic/bigoted? These people know which way the wind is blowing, they know there are no consequences to your words in modi governance unless you are their adversary or a muslim. Muslims in India are the oldest scapegoats; when modi government failed to contain the outbreak they resorted to blaming the Tabligi jamat. How convenient. He has reduced this nation into a joke, a sad joke for the rest of the world with his incompetence and maliciousness. The moral compass and democratic fabric, and the independence of the judiciary has been ripped apart.
      Constant brainwashing has made people to think supporting Bjp Government=supporting Hinduism, and going against bjp = being antinational. The crony capitalists have disguised themselves in the facade of the saffron clad nation loving hindus by hijacking Hinduism and perverting ideas of nationalism while receiving moneys from corrupt capitalists to advance their agendas.
      Dare to tell me even a word of my opinion is false.

  3. It is time for judiciary to protect its reputation and credibility. Just we know some English words ,should not use then in erratic manner, that too a person occupying highest position of land. Better resign. We all know shades of all these characters if indian Shakespeare’s untold story.

  4. Modi is a self made legend which country has seen after a long time. Everyone should be proud of his efforts to make India great country again. I don’t think it’s wrong for judiciary or for anyone to praise good work done by him as they can criticize his wrong work.

  5. Justice Mishra has rightly said that Modi thinks global and acts local. Now we can see how well he acts locally in Delhi. What kind of reaction can we expect from Indian Judges who have so much to lose if they work honestly. Indian Judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court Judges have failed us – We the people. If the Supreme Court would have acted efficiently in the matter of CAA, this mayhem could have been averted. But, the silence, deference and non commitment towards its own duties have cost numerous lives and this will continue.

  6. Hi Only God can save country. This is Kalyuga, God cannot be lier. Now it is a matter of self conscious. Sincerity must come on its own.
    Onday every body has to die and individually accountable for his Karma and Dharma. May God bless every citizen of this country.

  7. Great advice. Unfortunately, the horses have already bolted. The credibility you speak off, mostly lies in tatters. There are only a few who still stick to the law in letter and spirit. How the other gentlemen will look back at their record in the future, whether acknowledge the failures like Justice Bhagwati, remains to be seen.

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