Nothing political about Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s Rajya Sabha nomination

Ranjan Gogoi, former Chief Justice of India. (Photo: PTI)
Ranjan Gogoi, former Chief Justice of India. (Photo: PTI)

Justice Gogoi has neither joined BJP nor is he entering the Rajya Sabha from its quota in states. He comes to Rajya Sabha as an eminent jurist and will not be obliged to support any party or its political programme. Explains Amar Bhushan, former Special Secretary of the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW).

Covid-19 has forced us to stay indoors and limited our socializing, it’s time we soberly analyze whether Ranjan Gogoi, the former Chief Justice of India, deserved jeering and walk out by a ruckus opposition when he was taking oath as a member of the Rajya Sabha on March 19, 2020. The scene was not very unusual, knowing how boorishly non-NDA (National Democratic Alliance) MPs (Member of Parliament) mostly behave. But what baffles is that the same set of people were ecstatic about his courage of conviction when he had addressed a press conference in January 2018 along with three other judges of the Supreme Court, calling for transparency and fairness in the distribution of judicial work. Not only that, he was also hailed as principled when he insisted that post-retirement jobs were a scar on judicial independence. That Justice Gogoi, his accusers now lament, has forsaken his ideals for Rajya Sabha membership.

But it is factually not true.

Justice Ranjan Gogoi has been nominated from the quota of eminent professionals and domain experts like Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar whom you do not offer jobs but provide an opportunity to serve the nation with their views in areas of their excellence. They have nothing to do with viciousness of politics. Justice Gogoi has neither joined BJP nor is he entering the Rajya Sabha from its quota in states. He comes to Rajya Sabha as an eminent jurist and will not be obliged to support any party or its political programme.

Still Congress has the gall to taunt him despite having an unsavoury record on this score. After retirement, Chief Justice Rangnath Mishra of the Supreme Court became Rajya Sabha member as a Congress nominee and later joined the Congress. The case of Justice Baharul Islam is even more telling. He was elected to Rajya Sabha for two terms from the Congress quota, then resigned to become a Judge in Guwahati High Court and the Supreme Court. Thereafter, he was again elected as Rajya Sabha Member form the Congress.

The post-retirement jobs that Gogoi referred to was the chairmanship of National Human Rights Commission that has been headed by several chief justices in the past and, of tribunals like NCLT (National Company Law Tribunal), NCLAT (National Company Law Appellate Tribunal), DRT (Debt Recovery Tribunal), DRAT (Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunal) etc. The membership of Rajya Sabha from the quota of luminaries or the Vice-Presidentship of India that Chief Justice Hidayatullah had occupied under the Congress regime, were not his target.    

Justice Gogoi’s former colleagues have also not taken his entry in Rajya Sabha kindly. They fear, his nomination will henceforth encourage sitting judges to give favorable verdicts to please governments so that they wangle plum jobs that carry several perks. Retired Justices like M. Lokur, AP Shah, Kurian Joseph and the irrepressible Markandey Katju who were denied of any post-retirement positions are distressed that by accepting to become a Rajya Sabha member, Justice Gogoi has severely undermined the independence of judiciary. Apparently, they have no faith in the judicial integrity and moral strength of judges who are still sitting on the Bench and who, they think, will now be tempted to tailor their judgements for a price.

Professional baiters like Asaduddin Owaisi, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibbal and TMC (All India Trinamool Congress) greenhorns have gone a step further in running him down. Gifted with supernatural power to see the past, they claim that Justice Gogoi’s nomination is a quid pro quo, meaning that before judgments were delivered, Gogoi and PM held prior consultations on what the verdicts should be. Thereafter, it was left to Justice Gogoi how to cajole, bribe or force other judges of the Bench to write judgements that had already been agreed upon. And for this effort to organize a collective opinion, he was promised a Rajya Sabha seat. If this was the case, Justice Gogoi emerges as a poor bargainer and dumb witted to have been fooled by PM to sell his integrity for a pittance.

To justify their belief in a quid pro quo, hecklers argue that; Gogoi turned blind to the corruption and deviations from laid down procedure in the procurement of Rafael fighter jets, refused to share classified papers to examine the government’s bona fide on the spurious plea that papers were too sensitive to be made public, deliberately avoided quashing the Act, abrogating Art 370 and Art 35A and deferred hearing habeas corpus pleas regarding the assault on fundamental rights in J&K, laid out a firm roadmap for NRC (National Register of Citizens) in Assam with a view to disfranchise illegal Muslim immigrants, paved way for the construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya at the site of Babri Mosque and reopened the Sabarimala judgement that had permitted the menstruating women to enter the temple, by referring it to a larger seven-Judge Bench. Their allegation is that all these commitments were part of the BJP’s election manifesto that Gogoi helped PM Modi to fulfil.

The quid pro quo gang would have loved Justice Ranjan Gogoi had he allowed perpetuation of a temporary constitutional provision in the case of J&K, remained a mute spectator to the tardy implementation of Assam Accord that sought to identify and deport illegal immigrants in the state, kept deferring the resolution of 135-year old Ram Janma Bhoomi land dispute, like all previous Chief Justices of the Supreme Court and he should have let centuries’ old religious practice at Sabarimala, which was decided by two judges remain, a permanent heart-burn. They had obviously misread Gogoi’s steely resolve to handle difficult cases, no matter what anyone said and accused him of.  

To put the record straight, Justice Ranjan Gogoi did not spare the government either. He had struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act that had sought to regulate appointment and service conditions of the members of various tribunals, declared right to privacy as a fundamental right, abolished homosexuality and ruled that case against Devendra Fadanvis, former chief minister of Maharashtra, regarding the suppression of fact in filing his nomination papers for assembly elections was prosecutable. For all you know, his critics will say that PM Modi and Justice Gogoi were clever enough to reach an understanding that Gogoi would give adverse judgements in inconsequential cases but favour those that were closer to PM’s heart. Now you know why the opposition booed and walked out. There was no other way they could have cowed down the Man—Justice Ranjan Gogoi who is bold, has a definite mind of his own and does not mince words in expressing his convictions. He knows, his legacy will be judged by posterity and not by the Owaisis and Sibbals.       

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