In the end, Justice Misra had the last laugh, because his dignified silence in the face of dirty criticism ended up exposing the dubious agenda of his critics.
Few Chief Justices of India are remembered after months or even weeks of quitting office. Dipak Misra will not have to face such anonymity, although he may want to lead a quiet life, after having completed his tenure and retired a few days ago. Few Chief Justices have faced the kind of malicious propaganda that he did, and for wrong reasons. In the end, he had the last laugh, because his dignified silence in the face of dirty criticism ended up exposing the dubious agenda of his critics who, drawn from sections of the judiciary, rights activists and even lawyers, had formed a nexus to discredit him. He did not have to say anything because his judgments’ spoke. And they spoke well enough to leave a lasting mark on the history of judicial pronouncements.
Chief Justice of India, delivered a string of pathbreaking verdicts in just a month of September — the last before he left office.
Justice Misra confronted his first big public test when the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court addressed a Press conference and questioned his decisions on the allotment of work. While they did not openly say so, there was an insinuation of motive when they protested against the “selective allocation of politically sensitive cases to preferred Benches”. Such was the furore, that a bunch of leaders belonging to opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha moved a notice of impeachment against him — it was later rejected by the House Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu. Day in and day out, his critics appeared in television studios to relentlessly flay him, not stopping for a moment to realize the harm they were causing to the institution of the judiciary and to his reputation by their insensitive remarks. But the man did not retaliate. Perhaps it was not in his nature to do so, or perhaps he realized better than some others did, the need to preserve the dignity and propriety of the institution he served.
He had an opportunity to hit back. Many, in fact. Among the four judges who had gone to the media against him, was Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who was the senior-most in line to take over from him. There was speculation that as Chief Justice of India, Misra would not recommend to the Government, Justice Gogoi’s name as his successor. While it’s rarely the case that an outgoing Chief Justice recommends a name other than the senior-most judge in line, the CJI does have the leeway to make that choice. Many of his critics secretly hoped that, driven by a desire for revenge, the CJI would break with tradition and give them ammunition to fire even as he prepared to demit office. But he did not oblige them; he forwarded Justice Gogoi’s name, which was accepted by the Government without any fuss.
Like an adept batsman playing the last overs of a T-20 match, Misra, as Chief Justice of India, delivered a string of pathbreaking verdicts in just a month of September — the last before he left office. His rulings in that month decriminalized same-sex relationships, scrapped the criminal provisions that govern adultery laws, upheld the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar regime and ordered the entry of women of all ages to the venerated Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
The cabal was especially outraged that the court held that the arrests had been based on material which had nothing to do with political dissent.
In 2015, he had presided over the Bench that held a midnight to dawn hearing, on a plea of terrorist Yakub Memon against his hanging the following day. Almost three years after this unprecedented hearing, Justice Misra, as Chief Justice of India, had set up a Bench to hear a late night plea filed by the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) to stay the Governor’s invite to BS Yeddyurappa to form the Government in Karnataka. There are many others, which were liked by some and disliked by others — in the Hadiya case, he had ruled that an adult had every right to marry according to his or choice; he said that Khap panchayats could not interfere in matters of marriage; he had upheld the death sentence to four convicts in the infamous Nirbhaya case; and, he had been scathing in his observations on mob lynching instances. He offered a balanced verdict in the turf battle between the Centre and the Aam Aadmi Party Government in Delhi, so much so that both the political parties claimed victory!
By any yardstick, these are commendable achievements. But not for the agenda-driven cabal which was out to besmirch Justice Dipak Misra’s image as judge and Chief Justice. They attributed malicious motives over an order that rejected a plea to probe judge BH Loya’s death, and they went further ballistic when a Bench that he was part of, later dismissed a review petition in the same matter. And, these people really lost their bearings when they slandered him for refusing relief to five persons held in-house custody for their alleged links with banned Naxal outfits. The cabal was especially outraged that the Bench, through a majority ruling, did not uphold the slimy contention that the arrests of these activists had been done by the Modi regime to quash dissent; instead, the court held that the arrests had been based on material which had nothing to do with political dissent.
Defeated and discredited, the venom-spewing group is waiting on the sidelines for its next opportunity. Justice Misra is no longer in the Supreme Court, but there are others whom it can target. Who will it be, and when?
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.