Dr. Satya Dev Gupta
When former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi took an oath as the member of Rajya Sabha on March 16, 2020 amid unprecedented scenes of slogan shouting and walkout by several opposition parties, including Congress. The members of Congress, CPM, Muslim League, DMK, MDMK, and several others shouted “shame on you”; after been nominated by the President of India Ram Nath Kovind as ever big blunder have been done and as if this is the first time in the history of India parliament. Many of them at the peak of their voice frequency raised a hue and cry to pollute the floor of the house once again.
This is perhaps the first instance in recent times of a protest by some parties against a member taking oath in Parliament. Gogoi was nominated by President Ram Nath Kovind to the Upper House on March 16. The vacancy had arisen after KTS Tulsi completed his term.
The nomination of the former chief justice, who retired four months ago on November 17, 2019, has stirred controversy as the opposition has alleged that this appeared to be a quid pro quo for some of his judgments. Gogoi headed the Supreme Court benches that heard the Ram temple issue, entry of women to Sabarimala shrine, the Rafale fighter jet case and NRC in Assam.
Gogoi is the first chief justice to become a nominated member of the House. Justice (retd) Ranganath Mishra was elected to the Upper House as a Congress member. All the hue and cry were bound to happen for Justice Gogoi because of his nomination by the President after being recommended by the BJP Government. However, it is pertinent to mention here that the decision pertaining to Ram Mandir was a decision of the five-member bench of the Supreme court well supported by the evidence particularly the Archeological Survey of India. Other decisions also fall in similar categories. Moreover, the Congress regime is full of such examples where a lot of favouritism has been done.
Previous precedents
This debate began way back in 1952 when Justice Fazl Ali was appointed the governor of Odisha after he completed his tenure as a judge of the Supreme Court. Interestingly, Justice Fazl Ali had retired on June 30, but was appointed as the governor of Odisha on June 7, 1952.
The two appointments that also stand out are those of Justice Baharul Islam and Justice Ranganath Misra. Justice Baharul Islam was an advocate elected to the Rajya Sabha as a member of the Congress in 1962. He resigned as a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1972 only to be appointed as a Judge of the Guwahati High Court. Justice Islam was subsequently made a judge of the Supreme Court. Not only was such an appointment unprecedented owing to his political inclinations, Justice Islam, during his tenure in the Supreme Court, also delivered a judgment absolving then Bihar chief minister from the Congress in the urban cooperative bank case.
What followed was even more abrasive – Justice Islam resigned from the Supreme Court to contest elections as a candidate of the Congress. As Justice Islam was elected to the Rajya Sabha yet again, it almost seemed like life had come a full circle for him.
The second interesting case was that of retired Chief Justice Ranganath Misra. Chief Justice Ranganath Misra had given a clean chit to the Congress for its role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Not surprisingly, Justice Ranganath Misra was also elected as a member of the Congress to the Rajya Sabha.
Congress stand
The former CJI, both Deepak Misra, nephew of Ranganath Misra and recently retired Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi have been very dear to Congress, Left parties and other Opposition parties. Justice Gogoi is the son of a strong Congressman, KC Gogoi who remained Chief Minister of Assam. Then what were the reasons that both Justice Misra and Gogoi broke the shackles of Congress supremacy? Too much interference in the court proceedings and working, fixing the court by using the influence and other means could be the reasons which have irked the judges.
Contrary to this, there are some concrete backgrounds where Congress opposed both CJs particularly Justice Ranjan Gogoi. The oldest party of the country has made a strategy to win the election war by appeasing the Muslims and opposing the Majority community interests, so in both innings of UPA the party front leaders opposed the most sensitive issue of building Ram Mandir. Kapil Sibal stood in the court against Ram Mandir issue. The next paragraph may explain the eventualities in a better way.
Chief Justice Gogol stranding
Justice Gogoi’s tenure as CJI was not free of controversy as he faced allegations of sexual harassment, of which he was cleared.
However, he is more likely to be remembered for the Ayodhya verdict that gave Hindus the 2.77 acres disputed land for construction of Ram Temple, and order that Muslims be given a 5-acre land at a “prominent location” to build a mosque in the city.
The CJI also headed a bench which, by a majority 3:2 verdict, referred to a larger 7-judge bench the pleas seeking review of the apex court’s historic 2018 judgment allowing women and girls of all ages to enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple.
The majority verdict included in the ambit of the review petitions raising issues of alleged religious discrimination against Muslim and Parsi women as well.
Justice Gogoi’s name will also be remembered for heading a bench which gave a clean chit to the Modi government twice — first on the writ petition and then on the pleas seeking review of the December 14, 2018 verdict — in the Rafale fighter jet deal with French firm Dassault Aviation.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad defended Gogoi when the opposition staged a walkout. “This House has a great tradition of many eminent persons of diverse fields, including former chief justices, being nominated by those who, I regretfully say, shouted. Ranjan Gogoi, who has taken an oath today, will surely contribute his best as a nominated member.