Congress-led Opposition parties’ move to impeach the chief justice of India, Dipak Misra, marks a new low in our politics. It’s symptomatic of institutional collapse.
The erosion of institutions - Parliament and Supreme Court in particular, which has been an act in motion - has led to a denouement in the unprecedented notice for CJI’s impeachment or removal.
Political parties and the bitter competitive race for 2019 Lok Sabha election have contributed to the erosion of Parliament as well as the higher judiciary.
The BJP and the Congress in particular have turned Parliament and the Supreme Court into playgrounds for maintaining their hold on power and for edging out one another in the race.
The notice for impeachment motion submitted to the Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu is not an outcome of concern over judiciary or “misbehaviour” on part of the CJI as Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kabil Sibal said. It’s a consequence of the political game being played out in the corridors of Parliament.
There are two reasons why the impeachment motion is the nadir. One, the notice for motion lacking requisite number in Parliament to impeach the CJI speaks of hidden political agenda.
One could understand if the seven parties - Congress, NCP, CPI, CPI(M), SP, BSP and Muslim league - had the number or were close to the number needed to pass the impeachment motion if accepted. But that’s not the case.
Two, the malaise of institutional breakdown under the ruling BJP government has become so grave that a drastic measure like impeachment of CJI is being justified.
Opposition leaders and some jurists outside parties such as Prashant Bhushan have justified the move as the last resort under the provisions of the Constitution to arrest the decline in the Supreme Court.
It’s one of the worst moments for the judiciary, Parliament as well as the nation since the Emergency. For this, the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is no less responsible
On the one hand, judiciary’s credibility is under attack. The Supreme Court stands divided with senior judges venting their disappointment over conduct of CJI in the public.
Four senior judges - justices J Chelmeshwar, Ranjan Gogoi, Kurien Joseph and Madan Lokur - went public in January in an unprecedented step to hold a press conference to express their express their grievances against CJI Misra. Instead of maintaining a discreet distance from the affairs of the Supreme Court, political parties have been on fishing expedition in the troubled waters.
On the other had, the government - Modi in particular - has shut down all channels of communications with the Opposition that has resulted in the paralysis of Parliament.
The logjam in Parliament, passing the annual Budget without discussion, stonewalling the move on no-confidence motion and many such instances are indicators of steep decline of Parliament.
The incidents of rapes of a minor in Kathua and its politicisation along communal lines by the BJP and shielding of rape accused, BJP MLA, in Unnao add to the chaos and decline of order in public life.
The Modi government appears unconcerned and least inclined to work to restore the credibility of Parliament, judiciary and renew faith of the common people in the highest institutions.
Opposition though seeking for unity against Modi, is also divided. The division has come out in the open over the impeachment issue.
Senior Congress members, including some top legal minds such as P Chidambaram, Salman Khusheed, Ashwani Kumar and Veerappa Moily, have distanced themselves from the impeachment move.
Above all, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, the moral guide and philosopher of the Congress, has also not signed the notice for motion. He is opposed to seeking removal of the chief justice in principle.
Parties such as the TMC, the DMK and the RJD too have distanced themselves from the move with their members not signing the impeachment motion.
It proves that the decision to seek removal of CJI Misra has been planned and moved by the Congress and a section of Opposition with clear intent of embarrassing him. It has been brought with the purpose of ensuring that CJI Misra is left with no option but to recuse from work or resign before he retires on October 2 this year.
The purpose seems to be to delay the verdict in crucial cases such as Ayodhya dispute being heard by justice Misra. Sibal has argued in the court for the controversial case to be kept in abeyance till the 2019 election.
Whether or not Venkaiah Naidu accepts the motion, it will be untenable for justice Misra to continue in office after a decision by him.
He can continue till his retirement in two possibilities. One, if Opposition parties withdraw their motion. Two, if Naidu sits over the notice for the time till justice Misra is close to demitting office.
In all likelihood, the CJI will be retiring by the time the complex and time-consuming process is taken up.
The Rajya Sabha chairman will be required to constitute a three-member committee of judges that will frame charges against justice Misra if the notice is accepted. Investigations into the allegations will follow after that.
In the case of its rejection, Opposition parties will be at liberty to move the Supreme Court in an appeal against Naidu’s decision. In both such eventualities, the CJI will have to give up SC responsibilities if he is in office until then.
That’s what the Congress and six other Opposition parties seeking CJI’s impeachment want. They want justice Misra to go in embarrassment and use their victory as a political weapon against Modi
Whether or not the Supreme Court’s decision in judge BH Loya death case is the trigger for impeachment notice is a matter of conjecture.
However, it’s a bit more than mere coincidence that the impeachment notice was given on the day after the Supreme Court dismissed the plea for inquiry into the Loya death case.
In response, finance minister Arun Jaitely has attacked the Congress for using impeachment as a “political tool”. Jaitely has said, “It is an attempt to intimidate a judge and send a message to other Judges, that if you don’t agree with us, fifty MPs are enough for a revenge action.”
In the run-up to the 2019 elections, the die is cast for the country to experience one low after another with institutions such as Parliament, judiciary and Election Commission being repeatedly dragged into it.