Justice Khanna never called a press conference

It was Justice Khanna who spoke out fearlessly and eloquently for freedom

Justice Khanna never called a press conference
Justice Khanna never called a press conference

As Justice Khanna had feared, he was superseded in January 1977. What did he do? Call a press conference? No, he resigned quietly

Drastic times, they say, call for drastic measures. The situation that Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur, and Kurien Joseph found so intolerable that they organized a press conference, however, doesn’t seem to be as drastic as to merit this unprecedented step. Worse, it could become an unpleasant precedent.

All the four judges are widely respected, but they have erred by talking to the media to air their grievances against Chief Justice Dipak Misra. For, at the end of the day, the issues pertained to administrative matters rather than some diabolical illiberal plot. “The four of us are convinced that unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country,” Justice Chelameswar said at the presser on Friday.

That democracy faces a variety of threats is not disputed; many people, including me, have written extensively on the subject. It is also true that unless the judiciary “is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country.” Nobody would have disputed with Justice Chelameswar had he said this in a judgment, but to say that in a press conference was not very appropriate.

The four judges wrote a letter expressing their displeasure over the CJI’s allocation of important cases to junior SC judges. But neither in their letter nor in their press conference did they mention anything that could be vaguely related to the murder of democracy in India. In reply to a query, one of the judges did say that their revolt also pertains to the Loya case which has political ramifications. On the whole, however, the entire matter seemed about and is about administrative issues related to the apex court. There was nothing that they said or implied that could be perceived as an assault on individual liberty, undermining of democratic institutions, compromise of national security, etc.

So, why did they hold the press conference? No apocalypse was imminent; the world was not coming to an end; tyranny was not looming large over the country. Much worse things have happened in India. During the Emergency (1975-77), the government under Indira Gandhi had the impertinence and insolence to claim in the Supreme Court that there would be no justice even if a police officer killed a citizen out of personal enmity.

In the case of the Additional District Magistrate of Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla, the five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court opined in April 1976 that the government had the power to suspend all Fundamental Rights, including the Right to Life, during a state of emergency. In his autobiography, Justice H.R. Khanna, who wrote a historical note of dissent upholding democracy, mentioned the arguments. He wanted to know if, in view of Attorney-General Niren De’s submissions, there would be any remedy if a police officer because of personal enmity killed a man? “The answer of Mr. De was unequivocal: ‘Consistently with my argument,’ he said, ‘there would be no judicial remedy in such a case as long as the Emergency lasts’.”

April 28, 1976, was perhaps the darkest day in the history of the Supreme Court and of Indian democracy: four judges of the top court accepted the abrogation of the right to life. The outrage was infinitely more than the mismanagement of roster by any CJI. And what did the most courageous and upright judge, Justice Khanna, do? Call a press conference? No, he wrote a note of dissent that cost him the office of chief justice; and he knew the cost. He told his sister, “I have prepared my judgment, which is going to cost me the Chief Justice-ship of India.” He chose principle over expedience and solid action over theatrics.

The New York Times wrote an eloquent editorial on April 30, 1976: “If India ever finds its way back to the freedom and democracy that were proud hallmarks of its first eighteen years as an independent nation, someone will surely erect a monument to Justice H.R. Khanna of the Supreme Court. It was Justice Khanna who spoke out fearlessly and eloquently for freedom this week in dissenting from the Court’s decision upholding the right of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Government to imprison political opponents at will and without court hearings… The submission of an independent judiciary to absolutist government is virtually the last step in the destruction of a democratic society, and the Indian Supreme Court’s decision appears close to utter surrender.”

As Justice Khanna had feared, he was superseded in January 1977. What did he do? Call a press conference? No, he resigned quietly. He lost the top office but earned immortality and gratitude of the entire nation. The same is unlikely to be said about the four judges.

1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

Ravi Shanker Kapoor
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  1. If he did what he did when superceded (where is the question of supersession here) does it mean present day judges should also do the same what are you talking!!!!!

  2. Everything sells for money, power and position. Only rates are different. Congress and their steadfast supporters have lots of ill gotten money. They have bought the 4 and we will have to see how many will fall. They knew that they cannot buy common people with doles and freebies now and win elections so they are buying the VVIPs and then create unrest in the country. Luckily so far they were unable to defect BJP MPs and MLAs. They tried with Gujarat’s Nitin Patel when he was sulking. So they are finding all possible ways to see that Modi doesn’t come back to power in 2019. If they succeed India will lose and i they lose Ghandy family will be out and Congress gets cleaned up and some hope will be there or the country.

    • Fully agreed sir Modiji must be elected with still more seats so further cleaning of systems takes place & these noutanki secularists & deshdrohies may face relevant punishments like in other countries

  3. While the prudent author/columnist has rightly enlightened us about courageous Khanna, he has failed to show a similar courage to reprimand “The Gang of Four” in absolute terms, which only this abysmal “so-called” eminent and erudite SC-Judges deserve, as we gleefully watch them to be promptly and completely deflated by a wise-acting CJI; albeit the demand for immediate removal cum severe punishment for the evil cabal of four still persists!

  4. Yes.The caucus of the four judges should resign at their own.If not DISCIPLINARY ACTION SHOULD BE TAKEN AGAINST THEM. They have failed to keep the high dignity, respect of not only SUPREME COURT,THE ENTIRE JUDICIARY BUT ALSO THE NATION,HOW THEY CAN MAINTAIN THE DIGNITY AND PURITY OF JUSTICE.

  5. I personally think and agree to the matter that the four judges have dented the whole system and they should resign at their own.More over IF POSSIBLE THE DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST THE ALL FOUR SHOULD BE TAKEN. The who could not hold the dignity of how they can hold dignity,respect and purify of the JUSTICE.

  6. Why this pgurus peddling and putting the 4 judges in poor light? Do we yet know the full truth in the matter ?
    Pgurus should not wander into a territory that they are not comfortable with and not try to cast aspersions soon.
    Time and again pgurus shows it is heavily biased ,peddling the opinions of ppl like Swamy & his yesvees who act everyday Asif they know it all.
    Prashant Bhushan seems to have collated all facts nicely recently on why there is intense fear that CBI isbeing misused by present regime to the point of great danger toharm judiciary itself .
    You should publish an article of Prashant Bhushan of U support him in his great cause or keep quiet .
    Or Perhaps Swamy finds himself convenient in present scenario to forward/proceed with mandir case though he was rebuked/reprimanded/warned strictly on 2 recent occassions in his PILs on both nearly to point of getting a cost/fine imposed on him
    Eg data: 1. Sunanda matter – frivolous,shittily drafted PIL wasting courts time so much that judge blasted him and his jr apprentice of political motivated ,wasting taxpayers money
    Even victor Vibhu mentions it was a shittily drafted PIL by Swamy coming from a person who is a hardcore Swamy fan otherwise
    2 prior CJI khehar never like Swamy interfering/hastening in temple/faith matters and told unclear terms matters of faith ought to be settled outside only. He infact volunteer ed to settle amicably and expressed his displeasure in open court despite knowing Swamy comes closer to present govt
    Brave justice khehar indeed!
    I have pointed 2 occassions where Swamy escaped without a cost but if it had happened similar to Prashant Bhushan etched would have been put a cost . Prashant Bhushan infact has more good track record of PILs.

    • This is an opinion piece by an experienced writer and is factual. Agreeing or disagreeing is up to you. Why drag Swamy/ Bhushan into this? You have lost the argument even before you started.

      • Lol. Agreed opinion article. But how many times Pgurus will publish such opinions one-sided in this episode with zilch on otherside of allegations/story. That too not yet everything is settled on this matter.
        I have come to understanding clearly that pgurus is a poodle of men like Swamy (the reason I bring him is every article U publish/write is nothing but spin/view of him)
        Anyway I am least concerned and I henceforth never want to touch any articles in this site even out of mad curiosity. Unfortunately I hit these crap one sided links due to followups from other person I read
        Bye thx

      • Why are you always biased. Are you a real media or jute press. He has correctly
        brought Swamy and Bhushan. Why are you not comfortable. If you are not jute
        press you will also criticise the ruling dispensation sometimes. You are not doing
        that therefore Kishore has said you are biased. Just because someone is experienced
        does not mean that he cannot write crap and how is it that you are yourself terming it as factual. That certificate should come from elsewhere.

  7. Different times, different decisions – precedence is not something that got bestowed from Heaven. Justice Khanna was a great justice, but that doesn’t mean we should glorify the precedence he set. The PM should facilitate conversation among the SC judges and help smooth functioning of SC.

  8. I don’t think the 4 judges need to have resigned on this issue; it could lead, in future, to CJIs using this as a tactic to get inconvenient senior judges out of the way.

    I think they had other options, like raising it in the SC Judges forum, writing to the President seeking his intervention, asking the CJI in writing to ask the AG for his views, etc.

    I’d just say, they didn’t use their discretion well enough.

  9. Very good timely article.press conference issue has to be probed and if judges have any iota of morality should resign on their own or else common man will lose confidence in Supreme Court.


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