New Delhi, April 21: On Friday, the Congress-led seven opposition parties took an "unprecedented" step by handing over the notice of impeachment of Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra--bearing signatures of 64 MPs and seven former MPs, who recently retired--to Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, who is also the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
The move created ripples in the judiciary and political echelons of the country. While the Congress stated that the step was taken to "protect the independence of the judiciary", the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called it a "revenge petition" to score political points ahead of the 2019 General Elections.
The Congress has publicly admitted that it was a risky move as they don't have the numbers but hopeful of garnering support in the coming days against the incumbent CJI. In the entire process of impeachment move of the CJI, just a day after the Supreme Court rejected a bunch of petitions seeking an independent investigation into the death of Judge BH Loya, the team Congress does not seem to be standing united in the matter.
First, the notice did not bear the signatures of two veteran Congress leaders--former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is a Rajya Sabha MP, and former finance minister P Chidambaram, who is a Lok Sabha MP.
The Congress, however, downplayed it saying the party did not want to involve its senior leaders in the issue. Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal rejected insinuations that there was a "division" within the Congress over the issue and there was no consensus among the opposition parties.
On the issue whether consensus eluded the opposition parties on the issue, Sibal said: "there is a consensus". To a question that Manmohan Singh was reportedly opposed to the decision, Sibal said that "this is absolutely false. This is not true at all. From the very beginning, this is a very serious issue."
"It is not instant coffee... The decision was required to be taken after serious and well-thought discussion. Since the issue dealt with the Constitution, we have deliberately not included Dr Manmohan Singh as he is a former PM. With regard to some others, whose cases are going on, we did not wish to embarrass them," Sibal told reporters.
The division within the Congress was clearly seen when senior Congress leader and former law minister Ashwani Kumar openly said that the "petition for impeachment of CJI should have been avoided".
"I would not like to get into the merits of the controversy, I am on a larger principle and the larger principle is that impeachment is the extreme remedy and that to against the CJI, which is an unprecedented move. This move could have been avoided," Kumar said.
"If I would have been a member of parliament and had I been given this paper to sign, I would not have signed the impeachment motion," he added. The seven opposition parties led by the Congress accused CJI Misra of "misbehaviour" and "misuse" of authority. They have levelled five specific allegations against the CJI.
This is the first time that a notice of impeachment against a sitting CJI has been moved, even though previously there have been three cases of impeachment motions against apex court and high court judges in the last 25 years.
Opposing the impeachment motion, former Attorney General, Soli Sorabjee, said: "this is the worst thing that could happen to the independence of the Judiciary". Senior advocate and former law minister Ram Jethmalani said he did not believe in any allegations against the CJI. "The CJI impeachment motion is propaganda; propaganda by those who've ignored the law," Jethmalani added.
However, founder of the Swaraj Abhiyan party and senior advocate Prashant Bhushan asked, "What is the option when you have a situation where the CJI is abusing his power as master of the roster?"