Above: Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal, CPI’s D Raja and lawyer KTS Tulsi at a press meet on CJI’s impeachment move/Photo: UNI
Though seven parties have submitted a notice for Chief Justice Dipak Misra’s impeachment, what are its chances of succeeding?
~By Sujit Bhar
The Congress, along with six other opposition parties—the CPI(M), NCP, SP, CPI, BSP and IUML—submitted a notice for the impeachment of Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra to Vice-President and Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu on April 20. The TMC and the DMK, initially rooting for the impeachment, decided to stay out of the process.
Several issues emerge from this action. First, the Congress-led move is destined to fail. While the constitutional requirement for an impeachment motion to move is 50 MPs, the petition shows 71 names, of which seven have retired. Hence, in effect, it will be a representation of 64 MPs. This is too small a number to even scratch the legislative-judicial surface.
Secondly, the entire process is based on the principle that the CJI should allot cases as per merit, when he has been legally assigned as the master of the roster and his decisions on the administrative side of the Supreme Court are binding.
Thirdly, the process shows up cracks not only within the opposition but within the Congress itself. With stalwarts such as Salman Khurshid, P Chidambaram and Abhishek Singhvi not signing the petition and the party not even approaching former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (because of his stature) for his signature, the entire process loses much of its import.
This public display of cracks within the opposition might be interpreted negatively by the party faithfuls who were euphoric about the hemming in of the NDA before the 2019 general elections through several horrific instances, including the Kathua and Unnao rapes.
Fourth is the unusual Congress slant towards an issue that might harm the only institution that still retains public faith and that, too, knowing fully well that it will be defeated even before the fight has begun. The common man would wonder why the party is not concentrating on more pressing issues to corner the NDA.
And fifth, of course, is the fact that not a single judge, leave alone a chief justice of India, has ever been impeached. Even Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court had put in his papers before he was ousted in the impeachment process. At most, this will leave a large footnote in the curriculum vitae of Justice Dipak Misra, possibly coming in the way of other serious appointments when he retires in October.
The petition has cited the January 12 press conference of four judges of the top court, saying: “When the judges of the Supreme Court themselves believe that the judiciary’s independence is at (sic) threat, alluding to the functioning of the office of the CJI, should the nation stand still and do nothing?”
The killing point was in what the Congress said next. It said the parties had to move the notice with a “heavy heart” as the CJI had not “asserted the independence of judiciary in the face of interference by the executive”. In effect, the BJP has just been allowed a leeway into an issue that it was dealing with kid gloves on.
The issue echoes in Salman Khurshid’s comment. He said: “Impeachment is too serious a matter to be played with frivolously on the grounds of disagreement with any judgment or point of view of the court.”