New Delhi, Jan 12: Tsunami hit the Indian judiciary on Friday, when four "wise" judges of the Supreme Court decided to rise in revolt against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra.
It was an open rebellion as the four senior Supreme Court judges--J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph--addressed the media in the national capital.
The press briefing has been termed by everyone as an "unprecedented event in the history of Indian judiciary".
"With no pleasure we are compelled to take the decision to call a press conference. The administration of the SC is not in order and many things which are less than desirable have happened in the last few months," said Justice Chelameswar in the hastily called media briefing at his house in Delhi that took all by surprise.
The four judges, who rank just after the CJI, stated that "it's an extraordinary event in the history of judiciary".
They said democracy will not survive if they do not speak out now, as their attempts to get CJI Misra to address a crisis in the judiciary had gone unanswered. "Democracy cannot survive without an independent judiciary."
The repercussion of revolt in judiciary was immediately felt in the other two pillars of Indian democracy--the executive and legislature-- as Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly met Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to discuss about the press briefing of the four judges. The CJI himself was supposed to address the media, but later cancelled it.
The genesis of unprecedented development which seems to have full support of the opponents of the Modi government, under whose rule the judiciary has been allegedly compromised, lies in the case of Justice Loya's death.
"We tried to collectively persuade the CJI that certain things are not right and remedial measures need to be taken, but unfortunately we failed," said Justice Chelameswar.
"A couple of months ago, the four of us gave a signed letter to the CJI," he said. "We wanted a particular thing to be done in a particular manner. It was done but in such a way that it raised questions about the integrity of the institution."
The judges also made public the scathing letter they had written to CJI Misra two months ago, alleging "selective assignment of cases to preferred judges" and that "sensitive cases were being allotted to junior judges".
"This morning also we had to go for something," Justice Chelameswar said, in reference to the case of Justice Loya's death.
When the judges were asked specifically whether the matter is connected to Loya, a special CBI judge who is said to have died under mysterious circumstances, Justice Gogoi said yes.
Asked whether the judges sought the impeachment of the CJI, they said, "It is not for us to say...Let the nation decide."
Justice Chelameswar added: "There are many wise men saying many wise things in this country. We don't want wise men saying 20 years from now that Justice Chelameswar, Gogoi, Lokur and Kurian Joseph sold their souls and didn't do the right thing by our Constitution."
In a way, the four "rebel" judges cleared their position that they are fighting a war to save the integrity of judiciary which is currently facing "crisis".
"It is discharge of debt to the nation which has brought us here," said Justice Gogoi in the press conference.
Reacting to the open war between the CJI and his immediate juniors, senior SC advocate KTS Tulsi expressed shock.
"It's quite shocking. There must have been compelling reasons for the senior-most judges to have adopted this course of action. One could see pain on their faces while they were speaking."
"Deeply sad and pained, I also feel a sense of agony that highest court of the land should come under such severe stress that forces judges to address the media," said Congress leader and senior advocate Salman Khurshid.
However, former judge RS Sodhi called the dissent against the CJI as "immature and childish" behaviour by the four judges.
"Issues don't matter. It is their complaint on the administrative matter. They are only four, there are 23 others. Four get together and show the CJI in a poor light. It is immature and childish behaviour.
"I think all four judges should be impeached, they have no business to sit there and deliver verdicts anymore. This trade unionism is wrong. Democracy in danger is not for them to say, we have parliament, courts, police functioning," Sodhi told ANI.
Even veteran BJP leader Subramanian Swamy came in support of the judges.
"We can't criticize them. They are men of great integrity and have sacrificed a lot of their legal career, where they could've made money as senior counsels. We must respect them. The PM must ensure that the four judges and CJI, in fact whole SC come to one opinion and proceed further," said Swamy.
"It is certainly a very serious development which has cast a huge shadow on the Chief Justice. Somebody had to confront the situation, where CJI is blatantly misusing his powers, hence the unprecedented step," said SC lawyer Prashant Bhushan to ANI.
It is senior lawyer Ujjwal Nikam who succinctly expressed the fear of all Indians, who generally hold great respect for the judiciary.
"This is a black day for the judiciary. Today's press conference would cause a bad precedent. From now on every common man could look at all judicial order with suspicion. Every judgement will be questioned," said Nikam.
Twitter decided to trend the hashtag--#DemocracyInDanger--to express pain and anguish at the way the "dirty" secrets of judiciary are coming out in the open.
What's happening in India? This is a crisis situation. We need to save our democracy. The current dispensation seems hell bent on taking it towards a dictatorship. #DemocracyInDanger— Hasiba (@HasibaAmin) January 12, 2018
Judges in their letter to CJI: There have been instances where cases of far reaching consequences for the nation have been arbitrarily assigned by CJI to benches of their preference without any rationale. #DemocracyInDanger pic.twitter.com/IGqd2Eihch— Ruchira Chaturvedi (@RuchiraC) January 12, 2018
When 4 senior SC judges in an unprecedented manner hold a presser, to inform the nation that democracy in the country might not survive, it's time for people to understand the extent to which the ruling dispensation is muzzling the judiciary. #DemocracyInDanger— Gaurav Pandhi (@GauravPandhi) January 12, 2018
Nehru’s words “Freedom is in peril, Defend it with All Your Might” #DemocracyInDanger— Aabshar (@Scepticindian) January 12, 2018
On a day when India should have been celebrating the successful launch of 100th satellite by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the sudden turn of events got us all thinking why no institution in the country is currently feeling safe under the Modi regime.