File image of former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi | Photo: PTI
File image of former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi | Photo: PTI
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If democracy was just about free and fair elections, India would be the world’s greatest democracy. There are many issues in the way our elections are held, but for a messy, third-world country of our size, it is a big deal that we (still) have largely free and fair elections.

However, India’s ranking in the global Democracy Index for 2019 put out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) fell ten points to 51. The reason for this, according to the EIU, was an erosion in civil liberties.

The apparatus needed for a healthy democracy goes beyond elections to unelected institutions: the judiciary, the press, the Reserve Bank of India, the Election Commission of India, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the Lokpal, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the tax agencies, the police, and so on. Even an institution we don’t think much about in India’s political discourse, the armed forces, need to play their part by remaining politically neutral and committed to democratic ideals.

When Narendra Modi was waging his campaign to become prime minister the first time in 2014, many felt that our institutions would keep Modi’s excesses in check. After all, we have one of the world’s most activist judiciaries, and our free press was bringing UPA-2 to its knees.

Six years later, we see the shameful sight of a recently retired Chief Justice of India (CJI) nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Enough and more has been said on why Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s appointment is a blight on India’s judicial independence. This is hardly a first. In 2014 itself, the Modi government made another recently retired chief justice, P. Sathasivam, the governor of Kerala.

From Arun Jaitley to Justice Gogoi himself, all the important people in India agree that post-retirement jobs compromise judicial independence. Except that they agree with this sentiment only when they are not in power or not seeking power with the same compromise.


Also read: Blame Amit Shah for UAPA changes but Nehru, Indira ignored civil liberties too


Corrupted absolutely

The cases of Gogoi and Sathasivam are a bit too brazen, but it is not as if the Congress or others have not used the same carrot of post-retirement jobs to play games with the judiciary. The rule of thumb is this: the more powerful a government, the more it pushes and shoves its way ahead of independent institutions. For instance, despite the shame of the Emergency, Rajiv Gandhi was trying to muzzle the freedom of the press with a ‘defamation’ bill, because his absolute majority allowed him to do so. The pushback from the press made him go back on it.

A lot of Indira Gandhi’s defenders insist she was a democrat at heart, and yet she imposed the Emergency. Power corrupts, said Lord Acton, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Whether it is the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or any other political party, whether it is Indira Gandhi or Narendra Modi or any other person, India will always have this problem of an executive seeking to ride roughshod over independent institutions through whatever means possible.

That is why we need a bipartisan conversation on strengthening our institutions. We need to think afresh, and think long-term, beyond the present political moment. It is easy to be led astray by the Congress-BJP, Left-Right whataboutery. In this great year of the revival of constitutional nationalism, we need to think as partisans only of the Constitution of India, and ask: what changes do we need in the judiciary so that we can make it immune to the electoral heft the government of the day carries?

The demand for a cooling-off period for post-retirement jobs for judges, or for not holding political office, or revising the collegium system of appointment of judges — these debates and issues should be made central to our political conversation. As the Supreme Court of India becomes a defanged ‘executive court’, this is the right time to think about the institution with the long view of the future.


Also read: Legal autocrats are on the rise. They use constitution and democracy to destroy both


We the guardians of democracy

It reflects poorly on all of us that we had to pressure the government to have an independent system of appointing the Election Commissioners. Surely, it does not sound right that the Election Commissioners are appointed by the President of India on the advice of the Prime Minister? Which Prime Minister would make the mistake of not appointing a yes man there?

L.K. Advani had proposed a collegium system to involve the opposition leader and the chief justice of India in appointing the election commissioners, as senior journalist D.K. Singh recently reminded us. The Manmohan Singh government didn’t agree in 2012. Nobody wants to relinquish their powers. It is we the people who have to force the political class to have this conversation.

Most of the Indian media has become a mouthpiece of the government and the ruling BJP. We need an equivalent of the First Amendment in the United States to ensure press freedom.

If we get a Congress government in power tomorrow, it won’t pursue media freedom. It is more likely that it will be taking a leaf out of the Modi playbook and making the media its own mouthpiece. It is civil society that will have to help create a consensus that we need to do something to ensure greater media independence. How, for example, can the government get away with refusing to grant new licenses for news channels? And why does such red tape not affect Arnab Goswami’s expanding empire?

India’s political parties will pay lip-service to such issues only until they are in opposition. Remember how Narendra Modi protested Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which was used to arrest social media users for political speech, but when Modi became PM, his government went on to defend 66A before the Supreme Court. When the court read down the provision, former communications minister Kapil Sibal welcomed the decision.

In these brazen games, those occupying the chair murder democracy to make themselves more powerful. There are enough people to speak up for the BJP and the Congress in India. We now need people to speak up for democracy, so that we may be able to prevent the next Supreme Court judge from eyeing political office.

The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.

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33 Comments Share Your Views

33 COMMENTS

  1. We all indians must put up the appels in the supreme court to review all cases which Gogai has given verdicts.
    These type of open blunders should not be happen in future.
    This might be lessons for judiciary

    • All of Gogoi’s verdicts were unanimous verdicts by panel of judges. There is no scope for bias unless you want to argue all those judges were corrupt.

  2. Unfortunately Sri Gogoi is thinking he is carrying judiciary which is very much absurd. The press conference held by four judges is seperating judiciary prudence and dissent only by hair thin line. As a routine practice Sri Gogoi was recommended for the highest position. The way the manner in which title suit of civil nature smacks at our constitution. Really many wonder how many judgements are unanimous. ! Really all these judges are on same page wet legal jurisprudence.

  3. Why blame ex-CJ alone? If we want comparison with democratic standards of USA, the first culprit was Jawaharlal Nehru. Compare him with George Washington, the first president of the USA. G.W. refused third term, although the country wanted him to continue. This established the norm of max two terms for the presidential post. What about Nehru? He was PM of independent India since 1947. In 1962, he had already completed three terms. Why did he not emulate George Washington? He can also be blamed for inviting his daughter Indira Gandhi into whirlpool of politics. Although she didn’t become PM immediately after his death, this was essentially a modest beginning of dynasty politics in India.

  4. Were the decisions of the Supreme court of India which were not to the liking of Leftists, so-called secularists and Jihadist, or camp-followers of “discarded dynasty ” , — -Single Judge s judgements by — Justice Gagoi or were these judgements , unpleasant to journalist like Shivam — collective or majority Judgements by bench comprising other senior judges of the Supreme Court of India ? I think many of the judgments were unanimous judgements . Then why to attributes motives to CJI Justice Gagoi ? If there has been loss of face of leftists by the supreme court judgments , it simply means that their cases were weak, based on poor facts and figures , devoid of any merit and their political lawyers — failed to offer convincing arguments.

    Another thing, Indian Democracy is not weak. People of India have been voting out non-performing governments in various states and at centre too. Please read the results of elections since 1967.

    Journalist educated prior to 2000 A.D. needs to go for refresher courses , at least in study of Modern india history post 1937 — when first time Indian voters elected the congress party and its twin brother Muslim league to power in election held under Governments of India Act 1935 . How it resulted in defeats and partition in ,1947. 1962, ? How it resulted in carnage in 1947. 1984.? How communalism thrived with thousands of communal riots since 1940 to 2014 ? How constitutional institutions were undermined ? Do not forget Emergency of 1975.

    The history and articles prior to 2000 are / were product by historian, and journalist loyal to Congress party and a particular family — not a researched material but as obedience to them. Thus it is fourth estate — the press that needs self-reformation.

  5. The choice is between Justice GOGOI or RG. The writer choose RG THE GOVERNMENT CHOICE IS Justice GOGOI. Readers decide your preference

  6. At the end of the day the judiciary remains the most trustworthy and least corrupt institution in India. Why should we trust a bunch of politicians and media persons who attack our former Chief Justice? The same people who praised him as a crusader when he took part in a press conference against his predecessor 2 years ago?

    If the author wants to question our institutions he should first answer the questions about the behavior of the institution called the Indian media. How can you label a judge as honest and corrupt based on whether you like their judgement or not? Who made you the arbiter of justice?

    • Judiciary is most trustworthy & least corrupt ,in comparison to which institution?Has the judiciary become so under the present or was it like this under all regimes? Why do you think that Indians when they man the judiciary become so honorable & when they work in the media so dishonorable?Why was Deepak Mishra honorable when Gogoi levelled allegations against him ?And why is the same Gogoi least corrupt when he himself levelled allegations against Cji?So Gogoi was right when he said supreme court headed by deepak Mishra was corrupt & you are right that Gogoi & court are both not corrupt?

      • “Judiciary is most trustworthy & least corrupt ,in comparison to which institution?”

        Compared to all other instutitions.

        Unlike you and I, judges don’t give judgements from armchair based on casual half-knowledge, emotions and political bias. They have to do it profesionally based on laws and procedures and confidential information about the case and investigations etc.

        or all the so-called controversial judgements of Justice Gogoi it was uninanimous ruling by a full panel of judges so unless you want to accuse entire judiciary of being BJP agents the former CJI has only acted professionally.

  7. Congis and the Commis with all their stooges, minions, fans and followers should be shunned and shut LOCK, STOCK and BARREL for the country to survive. See a Ray of Hope with ONE Courageous and Upright former CJI mustering the Courage to attempt to take them Head ON. Vast Majority of Silent, Law abiding, Patriotic, hard working, tax paying INDIANS PRAY for the Success of this lone crusader.

  8. Shivam vij i presume has been a journalist for many years. Can he republish any article criticising previous congress governments when they elected or appointed retired judges to parliament or other positions?
    He is a typical congress durbari who under the guise of independent journalism wants to find fault for every action by Modi government. Perhaps his income levels have dropped due to lack of political patronage.

  9. Is the nation short of talent outside bureaucracy or judiciary that we require judges to be appointed as rajya sabha members or governors.let us forget congress or bjp .these appointments shakes the confidence of people in judiciary or bureaucracy.

  10. Is the nation short of talent outside bureaucracy or judiciary that we require judged to be appointed as rajya sabha members or governors.let us forget congress or bjp .these appointments shakes the confidence of people in judiciary or bureaucracy.

  11. Independent institutions ,manned by free thinking individuals , unfettered by self interest & ideology , well that would be a dream I would ‘nt dream. Bofors , Emergency, 1984 Anti Sikh riots , the goddamned dynasty,all those lousy judicial appointment s , every body who follows has fantastic precedents to boot for justification,Martin Luther King said I have a dream ,well as an ordinary indian ,that is too much of a dream.

  12. Blah blah blah. The real threat to the judiciary is the congi-commy cabal of lawyers and criminals who are constantly trying to intimidate the judges to get favorable rulings. Just look at the brazen criminal attempt to implicate CJI Gogoi in a sexual harassment case. Look at the brazen attempt to impeach CJI Mishra by Sibal & Co. It is this congi-commy enterprise that has built a criminal infrastructure to intimidate the judiciary which is the real threat to Indian democracy.

    • The real threat to democracy is from the stooges of the Congress in the media who hide the sins of the Congress and blame Modi for everything happening in India. Ever wondered why media including 5hia authour or his boss Shekhar Gupta afraid to take the name of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi who made all the institutions dance to their tunes. They have a cabal of lawyers, as Gogoi rightly said who always dictated the judges the verdict which they wanted. If the judge didn’t comply then his reputation was sullied like never before. Shekhar Gupta like a Shakuni was a forefront when the 4 judges namely Gogoi before he became CJI, Madan Lokur, Chamaleshwar, Joseph called for a press conference. I used the word Shakuni because Shekhar Gupta would use this to do what he does best, hit out at Modi govt, of course doing his hit job at Congress behest. Now that Justice Gogoi has talked about this coterie which is used to pressurising judiciary the media is trying to divert the debate in a totally different direction. None of the Congress stooges in the media are talking of who this cabal is? Can the media name and shame this cabal ? Never. A Shivam Vij or a Shekhar Gupta or a Barkha Dutt or a Rajdeep etc will never have the courage to take up this subject for debate. This is because the media has been playing the proverbial side kicks for these Congress and Left leaders. Now they are chestbeating because issues like Ayodhya, Triple talaq, CAA have all been endorsed by the SC which has rattled them because congres and the Left is being seen as a loser in this. Biggest lie being pedalled is that the media is pro Modi. There can’t be a bigger canard than this. Except Republic and Zee TV every other media in Print or TV is hitting out at Modi everyday. Modi is abused on daily basis and these same sold out media guys have no issues with that. Shivam Vij belongs to this category. His grouse is how can Modi get away with verdicts like Ayodhya, Triple talaq, 370 which zooms his popularity at the cost of congress ? Real pain of the media lies here. Hence attack the judges but be silent on who this cabal of half a dozen who pressurise SC judges to give verdict in their favour. And this is media’s bloody neutrality. Its anybody’s guess as to who these cabal members are…Singhvi, Sibal, P Bhushan, Indira Jaising, Vrinda Grover, Dhawan and their cronies in Congress, Left and the media. Stop this shit Mr Vij. Stop being dishonest. You stand exposed.

    • Yes and this is what media is afraid to debate. Shekhar Gupta and his cohorts in media know we’ll that they can’t take on Sibal, Singhvi, P Bhushan head on as their careers will be finished. These Congress is are so vindictive that they will not spare the media. So the media looks the other way when Gogoi talks of cabal of half a dozen who try to pressurise the judiciary. Have we seen any of these mediamen asking Gogoi as to who belongs to this cabal ? No. They will never ask. They are afraid, have no courage. On the contrary they will write such misleading and diverting articles. They know that they can attack Modi, Shah, Hindus everyday, spread lies about them but BJP will not come back at them. So this non sense of media like one here goes on.

  13. Very fact author didn’t touch upon precedents where politicians became judges in supreme court’s or supreme court judges taking up post-retirement shows his bias. Please search for Ranganath Misra, Baharul Islam, Fazl Ali who all had been appointed by Congress

    • If you’re not biased, please include within how many days of retirement congress appointed them? Besides, the very article is not about whataboutery it’s about stating all the politicians are baf

      • Epsom, sathya is biased and is into professional whataboutery. He has failed to understand the essence of the article because of a lack of reading comprehension. He can’t be blamed. His brain capacity is to be blamed.

  14. Such articles will be written only when BJP is in power. When UPA was in power, doing the same things, no media writes such articles. Shame.

  15. For democracy to survive, socialism and secularism should be deleted from the constitution to accommodate all ideologies. Rajya sabha should be disbanded. Judiciary and police should be privatised.

  16. The sieve for appointments is getting finer. Vinod Rai was appointed by UPA. Ashok Lavasa by its successor. Those mistakes will not be repeated. The emasculation of institutions in a country which has so many challenges and a shortage of resources is wrecking the quality of governance and the quality of outcomes. It is a very costly and painful process for common people but the anti incumbency this creates will lead to regime change. And the fond hope that the next lot will be a little better.

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