Judiciary under attack as political discourse sinks to a new low

The Supreme Court Bench’s observation about BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma for her remarks regarding Prophet Muhammad has invited criticism in the form of an open letter sent to the CJI

When a Supreme Court Bench observed about the former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma, ‘The way she has ignited emotions across the country. This lady is single handedly responsible for what is happening in the country’, it was amply clear that the political discourse in the country has sunk to a very low level.

Referring to the remarks she had made regarding Prophet Muhammad during a TV debate, the court made these observations while hearing a petition filed by Nupur Sharma to club multiple FIRs registered against her across the country. The court also observed that she should have apologised to the nation on TV, adding: ‘She was too late to withdraw.’ More relevantly, the court pulled up the TV channel for organising a debate on a contentious ‘sub judice topic’ for the possible motive of ‘fanning an agenda’.

The matter should have ended here but it didn’t. Days after the judgement, an open letter was sent to CJI NV Ramana, signed by 15 retired judges, 77 retd bureaucrats and 25 retd armed forces officers, against the observation made by Justices Surya Kant & JB Pardiwala while hearing Nupur Sharma’s case in the Supreme Court. Former judges, government officials, and officers from the armed forces who have retired have criticised the recent ruling by the Supreme Court against suspended BJP leader Nupur Sharma.

In the open letter to CJI NV Ramana, they claim that the Supreme Court went beyond “Laxman Rekha” and demanded “rapid corrective” measures. Notably, on July 1, the highest court criticised Nupur Sharma for remarks she made against the Prophet Muhammad, claiming that her statements are upsetting and reek of arrogance. The SC bench had stated that it was too late and that her remark had caused regrettable circumstances despite her remorse for her remarks against the Prophet Mohammad.

Former judges, government officials, and officers from the armed forces asked for the roster of Justice Surya Kant to be withdrawn until he attains superannuation and at least be directed to withdraw the remarks and observations made during the hearing of the Nupur Sharma case. The signed statement further said that, “By no stretch these observations, which are not part of the judicial order, can be sanctified on the plank of judicial propriety and fairness. Such outrageous transgressions are without parallel in the annals of Judiciary.”

Almost at the same time, a  group of noted former civil servants on Wednesday sought the withdrawal of the Supreme Court’s “gratuitous observations” against activist Teesta Setalvad and others during a verdict that reaffirmed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s exoneration in the 2002 Gujarat riots. An Ahmedabad court had on July 2 sent Ms Setalvad to 14-day judicial custody.

In an ‘open letter’, they also asked the top court to issue a clarification to the effect that it was not their intention that Ms Setalvad, who was detained a day after the verdict and arrested the next day by the Gujarat police for alleged fabrication of evidence with regard to the riot cases, should face arrest. They urged the Supreme Court to order her unconditional release.

“Every day of silence lowers the prestige of the court and raises questions about its determination to uphold a core precept of the Constitution: safeguarding the basic right to life and liberty against questionable actions of the state,” said the open statement signed by 92 former civil servants.

The signatories include former Union Home Secretary G K Pillai, former Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, ex-Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, former Health Secretary K Sujatha Rao, ex-IPS officer A S Dulat and former IAS officer Aruna Roy, among others. The recent three-judge bench verdict in the Zakia Ahsan Jafri Vs State of Gujarat, decided on June 24, 2022 has, to say the least, left citizens totally disturbed and dismayed, the statement said.

They said it is not just the dismissal of the appeal that has surprised people but the “gratuitous comments” that the bench made about the appellants, their counsel and supporters. “In the most astonishing comment, the Supreme Court has lauded the officials of the Special Investigation Team who have defended the State and has excoriated the appellants who have challenged the findings of the SIT,” the statement said, citing para 88 of the judgement.

The Supreme Court had on June 24 upheld the SIT’s clean chit to PM Modi and 63 others in the 2002 communal riots, saying there is no “title of material” to show the violence after the Godhra train carnage was “pre-planned” owing to the criminal conspiracy allegedly hatched at the “highest level” in the state.

“We would urge the Supreme Court Justices to suo motu review their order and withdraw the observations contained in Para 88. We would also request them to adopt the course of action advocated by a distinguished former member of their fraternity, Justice Madan Lokur,” said the statement issued by the former civil servants.

As if this was not enough, an organized army of trolls was busy manufacturing and spreading fake news regarding the judges, with fake and distorted photographs being shared to demonstrate a false proximity with leaders of the Indian National Congress. Propaganda portals issued dangerous and openly contemptuous statements against the Judges. A prominent TV channel was exposed and booked for running fake news for which it was forced to tender an apology.  Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel hit out at UP Police for “trying to save the accused instead of supporting Chhattisgarh Police”.  A day after a fracas with the Uttar Pradesh Police when they sought to arrest Zee News anchor Rohit Ranjan from his Ghaziabad residence, the Chhattisgarh Police declared him an “absconder” after finding his home locked. Acting on a first information report (FIR) registered against Ranjan based on a complaint by a state legislator for allegedly “mischievously twisting” a statement issued by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, a Chhattisgarh Police team reached the journalist’s residence, but found their path obstructed by personnel of the UP Police.

In the meanwhile, a senior Judge of the Karnataka High Court has made startling allegations in open Court. Justice HP Sandesh exposed the pressure and threats of transfer he was facing and reminded every citizen that his foremost duty was to the Constitution. “It appears that the attacks on judges are not just random and piecemeal incidents, rather the attack is Organised, Standardised, and Institutionalised! The main objective behind such campaigns is to Demoralise, Pressurise, and Terrorise the judiciary,” said the Congress spokesperson, Abhishek Singhvi.

Significantly, now Justice JB Pardiwala has advocated framing rules and regulations for social media. Justice JB Pardiwala, Supreme Court judge, was part of the 2-judge bench that had last week said that suspended BJP leader Nupur Sharma’s ‘loose tongue’ had set the whole country on fire. Netizens have criticised the observations on social media. Justice Pardiwala expressed a deep concern over media trials of the judiciary. Justice JB Pardiwala said, “Personal attacks on judges for their judgements lead to a dangerous scenario where judges have to think about what the media thinks instead of what the law really thinks,” he added. “In India which cannot be defined as a completely mature or defined democracy, social media is employed frequently to politicise purely legal and constitutional issues,” he further added.