Anyone who has watched the movie Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum in 2001, would remember a scene where a small boy sings “Jana Gana Mana” in his London based school’s annual day. However, many would not know that this scene triggered a chain of event leading to imposition of Supreme Court’s order in 2016 where it had made playing of the national anthem mandatory in cinema halls before the screening of the film. This order evoked strong debates on the idea of patriotism and its expressions and in January 2018, again one of the Supreme Court benches observed that people do not need to stand up in the cinema halls to prove their patriotism.
This is an example of one of the many cases which Mr. Arun Shourie mentioned in his recent Manthan talk in Hyderabad at the launch of his book, “Anita Gets Bail: What Are Our Courts Doing? What Should We Do About Them”. The title of the book denotes Mr. Shourie’s personal experience with the Indian judicial system, when his bed-ridden wife Anita was wrongly implicated in an illegal construction case.
In his book, Mr. Shourie has examined 50 Supreme Court rulings and presented the good, bad, and ugly side of the Indian judicial system. In the talk, he gave examples of rampant corruption in the judiciary, including the Justice Nirmal Yadav bribery case. A bribe of Rs. 15 lacs was wrongly delivered to Justice Nirmaljit Kaur (then a judge at Punjab and Haryana High Court) instead of the judge Nirmal Yadav, who was then a judge in Uttarakhand High Court. He also gave examples of Jalayalaithaa’s Disproportionate Assets Case, wherein after 21 years of filing the case, the Supreme Court convicted all the accused, restoring the judgement of the trial judge, John Michael D’Cunha. The glaring aspect of this case is that all the accused were earlier acquitted by Karnataka High Court judge C R Kumaraswamy. In his judgement, he had sharply reduced the value of assets, inflated the loan amounts and the income.
He also read out excerpts from the lengthy judgements passed by various judges using incomprehensible language which required explanation by separate benches. He gave examples of some of the eminent judges whose discerning power and honesty restored his faith in the judicial system.
After the talk, the Manthan audience asked Mr. Shourie several questions pertaining to his book and his views on current political scenario. The very first question he faced was his reasons for giving legitimacy to BJP (Mr Shourie was part of the cabinet of BJP during 1998-2004) knowing its right wing ideology. He clarified that in terms of value system, the BJP government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee was very different from the current Modi government. He gave the example of the 1998 assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh, when out of 65 seats, BJP and Congress (I) had won 30 and 31 seats respectively. Mr. Vajpayee refused to negotiate and take support from the lone independent and preferred to sit in opposition. Mr. Shourie contrasted this example with recent Karnataka assembly elections where Supreme Court had to intervene to avoid the possibility of horse-trading of MLAs by BJP. He also cautioned that individuals should abstain from seeking legitimacy from public figures and form their views independently.
Mr. Shourie also commented that he had also made the mistake of applauding Narendra Modi without closely examining his Gujarat Model and its far-reaching consequences on the country. The features of the Gujarat model of governance have become characteristics of the current government: non-functioning of parliament, subservience by bureaucracy, spread of untruth by propaganda, and autocracy, instead of teamwork, by cabinet ministers.
On being asked to compare the wrongdoings by Indira Gandhi’s government during Emergency and the totalitarian nature of the current government, Mr. Shourie replied that even during Emergency he could observe residual shame among Indira Gandhi’s supporters, a trait absent among Modi supporters. He also said that unlike the middle class, rest of the Indian citizens do not indulge in discussions over alternatives but choose to observe the amount of difference between the promised and the delivery. He gave example of government advertising two crores job creation under MUDRA scheme, a claim unsupported by government sources. He also cited the false claims of increase in GDP growth of 7.5-8 % under Modi’s rule and finally the absence of confirmed report by RBI on benefits of demonetization.
On the topic of growing intolerance and mob lynching, he said that we should abstain from forming opinions about the communities as the number of people indulging in such behavior is few. Though they may seem powerful since they have state support, as an aware citizen we should research and focus on spreading the truth.
As an alternative to totalitarian rule of the BJP, Mr Shourie said that even at the peak of Modi’s popularity, BJP could garner only 31% of vote share. If all the opposition parties united irrespective of political allegiance and allow only the strongest candidate to contest against the BJP candidate, they can still garner 69% of the votes and oust the BJP.
On the topic of the press conference by four supreme court judges, he said that these judges have done a great service to the country by bringing out the issue of allocation of cases in public. He informed that the mysterious death of CBI judge Loya, which triggered the press conference, happened when he was presiding over the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. As per the Supreme Court directive, the case was supposed to be handled by only one judge from beginning to end. However, the first appointed judge was transferred when Amit Shah, one of the accused was reprimanded when he failed to appear in the court; the next judge B H Loya received multiple bribe offers and six months later died a mysterious death and eventually the judge who replaced him dropped all the charges against Amit Shah and other 14 accused within two weeks of hearing the case. The bench allotted to hear the case of death of Justice Loya was headed by Justice Mishra, who is understood have close relations with BJP and this triggered the four judges to hold the press conference and bring out the discrepancies in the allotment of cases.
At the end, he cautioned that any institution faces the biggest threat from the people working in the system. Their ethics and code of conduct can make or mar the legitimacy of the institution. In case of judicial system, the judges should feel accountable to the Indian citizens and to ensure that citizens should keep a watch and question the court rulings.