File image of Prashant Bhushan | Commons
File image of Prashant Bhushan | Commons
Text Size:

What is wrong in seeking apology?” asked Justice Arun Mishra famously to lawyer Prashant Bhushan this week. “Apology is a magical word,” he reportedly said while assuring Bhushan that he would be elevated to the level of Gandhi if he did so. When Bhushan’s lawyer seemed unwilling to take this flight to Mahatmadom, Justice B.R. Gavai helpfully reminded that Gandhiji used to fast for the sin of others as well.

We do not know how Prashant Bhushan or his counsel Rajeev Dhavan reacted to this suggestion. Dhawan was at his brilliant best that afternoon, but in his wisdom let this one go. Social media was less reverent and has since exploded with cartoons, memes, jokes, tweets and comments on this unusual request. That’s a lot of fun, but it still does not answer the question: what is wrong with an apology?

Prashant Bhushan could turn to Socrates and Gandhi for an answer. After all, the most famous account of the trial and punishment of Socrates, the dialogue written by his famous disciple, Plato, is called The Apology. Not many remember that this was Gandhi’s favourite book of Plato. So much so that he had done a Gujarati translation of this dialogue in 1908. In Greek, apologia did not mean what we mean by apology today. It meant speaking in defence or offering an explanation, just as Prashant Bhushan did in his affidavits.

Prashant Bhushan could have answered Justice Mishra thus: There is nothing wrong with seeking an apology. It is indeed a magical word, whose utterance can repair relationships, an act that can heal deep wounds, an acknowledgment that can begin to undo historical wrongs. Provided — and that’s critical — it meets some basic conditions of what counts as an apology.

Also read: ‘Insincere apology will be contempt of conscience’ — Prashant Bhushan refuses to apologise

Apology as remorse

Bhushan could remind Justice Mishra that a true apology must meet five conditions. There should be a wrongdoing in the first place. There must be a mistake, an error, something morally wrong, for an apology to be initiated. Two, there should be an acknowledgement, an honest admission, of the wrongdoing. Three, there should be a willingness to accept full responsibility for the damage or the consequences of the wrongdoing. Four, there should be genuine remorse accompanied by an expression of regret at what happened. Finally, there must be a commitment not to repeat the mistake.

So, apology is not just a word. It is not to be furnished at one’s convenience. Or worse, a legal trick to wriggle out of responsibility. A true apology must be a deep ethical act of introspection, self-reflection, atonement and self-reform. In its absence, an apology can be farce and duplicity, if not worse. Bhushan could have cited Rajeev Bhargava: “Insincere and fake apologies are morally useless and socially ineffective. Far from repairing fractured relationships, they only cause further damage.” Thus, a true apology emanates from within, in the process of a sincere dialogue, without any coercion or manipulation.

Also read: Unity is not conformity — India should know that as Prashant Bhushan is convicted for contempt

Apology as power play

This is not what was happening in the Supreme Court. Prashant Bhushan had repeatedly said that his tweets contain his bona-fide belief, that he continued to hold those beliefs, that their public expression was his highest duty as a citizen and as an officer of the court. So, the first step to demand an apology would have been to show that there was wrongdoing, that Prashant Bhushan’s tweets were untruthful. This did not seem to interest the court. While it made an attempt to show that his tweet about the court being in a “lockdown mode” was incorrect, the court’s order did not go into Prashant Bhushan’s tweet about the role of the court and the CJIs and the health of the democracy. The court seemed to be saying that whatever hurts the judges, true or false, is in itself wrong. By that logic, Prashant could ask, the hon’ble judges must offer dozens of apologies every day because they hurt all those who do not get favourable orders.

The apology Justice Mishra was demanding was not in the arena of dialogues. When a teacher pulls a student by their ears and asks them to offer an apology before the entire school or when a panchayat gathers the village and asks an ‘errant’ couple to tender an apology, be sure that neither the couple nor the student feels any inner remorse. An apology in this setting does not emanate from a self realisation; it is a demand for compliance, an acknowledgment of authority. This is not a relationship between the persons who give and receive apology; this is a public spectacle of humiliation. Saying sorry under duress is simply surrendering to external power.

Also read: Prashant Bhushan is a selective crusader for democracy, with a cussed streak of intolerance

A satyavir

Even so, what is wrong with this kind of an apology, an acknowledgment of superior power? For an answer, we must again turn to Gandhi. In his translation of Plato’s Apology, Gandhi describes Socrates as satyavir, a soldier of truth, who did not back down even when faced with death penalty. If Socrates had recanted his beliefs to please the jury or wriggle out of trouble, this wouldn’t be a magical apology. This would have betrayed shallow conviction and cowardice.

Gandhi faced this situation when the court in Ahmedabad tried Mahadev Desai and him for committing contempt of court through a publication. Gandhi tells us why he chose not to apologise:

“I wish to assure those friends who out of pure friendliness advised us to tender the required apology, that I refused to accept their advice, not out of obstinacy but because there was a great principle at stake. … I could not offer an apology if I was not prepared not to repeat the offence on a similar occasion. Because I hold that an apology tendered to a Court to be true has to be as sincere as a private apology… if I did not apologise, I did not, because an insincere apology would have been contrary to my conscience. I hold that it was about as perfect an instance of civil disobedience as it ever has been my privilege to offer. (Young India, 24-3-1920, pp. 3-4)

An apology may not make you a Gandhi, but in some situations, it is a very Gandhian thing to do. In some other context, a true Gandhian must refuse to offer an apology. That’s what Prashant Bhushan did.

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

15 Comments Share Your Views


  1. Wow, PB being compared to Gandhi. Is he drinking goat milk too? Well, I think all those who trudged from Delhi, Mumbai and elsewhere to their native places 1000s of kilometers away during this pandemic, without creating law and order situations are all worthy of being considered Gandhi for sticking to ahimsa.

    I just cannot see PB as a crusader for judicial reforms and accountability so long as he is seeking only FoE for himself and his coterie.

    Can anybody tell me why has this crusader never taken up the case of the lakhs of under trials who are in jail for periods longer than they would have been convicted if found guilty? Has he even bothered to analyse why it is so? Even Dr Abdul Kalam, as the President of India, had once remarked: why is it that when all the scams we hear of are in hundreds and thousands of crores of rupees , the people in jail are mostly from the marginalised sections of the society?

    Why has this crusader never demanded cutting down of tariq pe tariq? Court holidays? All of which reflect on the credibility and effectiveness of the courts?

    • True.

      He and his fellow professionals may have also contributed to all the ills you refer in your comment. India can do without such “activism” with personal agendas.

  2. Prashant Bhushan has taken a singularly courageous stand, which is what Gandhi did decades ago on numerous occasions. It shows that Mahatma Gandhi is still very relevant today, perhaps more relevant today than at any other time. Given the dark depths to which Indian politics has sunk, example of Prashant Bhushan and Gandhiji can only retrieve it.

    • True.
      An apology does not take away the true nature of an issue , if at all there was an issue.

      Also activists with egos can’t deliver justice. There is no point in making a noise just because some people have put you on a pedestal – deservedly / undeservedly.

  3. Yogendra Yadav is jobless today. So he now treads where angels fear to. He is equating Prashant Bhushan with Socrates and Gandhi ji. No attempt can be more sinister and deviating from truth than this one. PB basically does a hit and run job and tarnishes reputations. For him, making wild, unsubstantiated allegations and never proving them is the key to remain in news. His oxygen is the funds he receives from foreign NGOs who like to keep the pot boiling in India. If he makes allegations he has to prove them in the court of law which he doesnt. Then if he is caught by the scruff of the neck by SC what is wrong in it. And the scores of articles that have appeared since last 2 weeks are nothing but pressure tactics on the judiciary by his usual gang members. The SC should now take a very tough stand against this habitual offender and throw him behind bars. He may be Gandhi or a Socrates for his ilk but for aam aadmi his getting away with this misdemeanour means miscarriage of justice.

  4. All activists as the name suggests are active at all times to remain relevant. As are the issues in society, politics, Governance…et al, some issues are issues and some are non-issues made into issues by vested interests with an agenda. All part of a “vibrant” democracy?

    So it is here with PraBhu (Mr. Prashant Bhushan), who has over the years raised some issues and some non-issues. The problem arises when activists become overactive or reactive. Public “icons” like PraBhu, cannot be trivial or general in their “activist” activities. His two tweets in question are:-

    1. “ CJI rides a 50 Lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP leader at Raj Bhavan Nagpur, without a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC in Lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access Justice!”

    2. “When historians in future look back at the last 6 years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the Supreme Court in this destruction, & more particularly the role of the last 4 CJIs”
    I suppose there is a lot lacking here in the language and substance, when a senior lawyer talks about justice and the Honourable SC. Methods distract from the cause (like in religions) – was that the aim in the first place? Well….
    Tail piece: Activists are necessary to stimulate action. Any action, including of activists, is primarily defined by its intent and then by its method. So too in this case. Could these points have been raised differently, if the aim was to highlight an errant justice system? Accordingly, there is also a requirement to discuss the activities of the activists and censuring where required.
    Hence an apology to the Nation IS required from PraBhu, without beating around the bush.

    • Do you know who Justice Arun Mishra is? And I think his( PB ) anguage is intact and he is just conveying his opinion through his tweets. Better expend your energy over Modi for lying blatantly about facts, not just for his promises. And what is this Honourable, Honourable BS. SC, like Modi, earns praise over gimmicky things and some moral inconsequential judgements. Anything significant, you can assume that SC will Kneel Down, like Rafale. That’s why no corrupt politician has ever been convicted, especially if he is in power.

  5. Free speech, freedom expression against SC is taken to such ridiculous levels only because it does not have a battery of goons, who will come and beat the shit out, as it would happen if the religious groups were to be bad mouthed.
    The decency of SC is being construed as weakness.
    There will be issues that one may not agree with when dealing with different religious groups and even SC.
    To bad mouth such groups lowers ones own dignity because there are many many more who still have the trust intact, shed the arrogance and respect that sentiment unless anarchy is being propagated.

    • Yogendra yadav is surely jobless and this person is writing a news on this case instead he is just giving his opinion. Are you a judge? Anything that goes goes against current govt and the judiciary. People are aware of things happening in the country so take your this agenda and lies somewhere else. And Prashant bhushan is one shameless egoistic person I see no manners and professionalism in his work a complete shameless guy of may be 60+. God give him some buddhi at the end hopefully, I pray.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here