Docket in his pocket
CJI seems to be winning as the mutiny is kept at bay, writes Sushil Kutty.
When you take on the Chief, empirical data shows that the Chief wins, always. And Tuesday morning, A-G KK Venugopal made a U-turn and confessed that despite the morning tea, "differences" remain and the SC dispute has not been "laid to rest" as the Bar Council of India would like everybody to believe. The fact is, there is no saying if the Friday insurrection was just a storm in a teacup or the kettle calling the pot black. Anyway, every grown man who has taken on a chief will have a 'chief' anecdote or two to narrate.
The Famous Four, who took on the CJI of the Supreme Court, will have an anecdote to tell after the Friday presser. The CJI seems to be winning as he holds the docket in his pocket. The four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court must have woken up with a Monday hangover, after the weekend, to the realisation that none of them figured in the five-judge Constitution bench to hear a clutch of important cases from January 17 on.
It will rankle most to Justice Chelameswar and Justice Ranjan Gogoi. The former is second only to CJI Dipak Misra in seniority, and the latter will succeed to CJI-ship, by the end of this year. Their revolt has come to naught. The CJI as the master of the roster is acting as if there was no mutiny-on-the-lawn and has gone ahead and kept his immediate juniors out of important cases, like the one on women's entry into Sabarimala.
None of the four judges – Justices Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur, and Kurian Joseph – has been named to the five-judge Constitution bench. What can they do, hold another press conference? Come to think of it, that is what they should have done, held the press conference on Tuesday this week rather than Friday last week, waited for the CJI to name the five-judge Constitution bench to pin him down to the accusation that he does arbitrarily allocate cases. But, alas, patience is a virtual lacking in even the wisest men.
The five judges named to the Constitution bench are CJI Dipak Misra, Justice AK Sikri, Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice AY Chandrachud, and Justice Ashok Bhushan. Barring the CJI, the remaining four are all "junior" to the Famous Four. Sources have told that contrary to the BCI claims that the hatchet has been buried between the CJI and the Famous Four, there is nothing to suggest that the ice has been broken. CJI Dipak Mishra continues to keep his distance and the Famous Four have done nothing to close the gap. It is simmering stalemate.
That, in short, are the wages of revolt, an anecdote to be told in the family drawing room after Justices Chelameswar, Kurian and Lokur retire by the end of 2019. Their children and grandchildren will have more details of why they went to town on January 12, 2018, than the entire press corps of Lutyen's Delhi.
As per the SC roster, firmly ensconced in the CJI-pen, the five-judge Constitution bench will hear, among other cases, the Constitutional validity of the Aadhaar Act and the 2013 judgement which re-criminalised homosexuality. Whether Parsi women would remain Parsi after they marry a non-Parsi will also be heard by the three-judge bench as also if women from age 10 to 50 can set foot in Sabarimala. All cases which will fuel debate in 'judge' Arnab Goswami's 'court', loud shrill debates that will batter eardrums and end with Arnab pronouncing those guilty, whom he fancies guilty. With the Famous Four grounded, so to speak, that will be all that they will hear of the cases.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'extern' as, "a person in but not living in an institution, such as a non-resident doctor or other worker in a hospital, a nun who cannot join the order." The Famous Four are for all practical purposes externs – in but out.
The ill-timed Friday presser – when they chose to leave in limbo and not explain why they chose to enact a resurrection, the exact reasons why they plumbed to find friends in the fourth estate, believed that they could get away by beating around the bush – has left them limited to the 10-minute daily morning tea-session. And Justice Arun Mishra, who it has been reported, wept a few tears at his "defamation" by the Famous Four at the Monday morning tea, continues to be on the bench hearing the BH Loya death case proving that the unprecedented presser failed to set the tone in the SC as wished by the Famous Four.
And the biggest of all accusations that there was "a danger to democracy" has not been established by the Famous Four, just left hanging. What the presser did was to establish in the mind of the common man a suspicion that all was not "okay" in the SC and that tea is not an ice-breaker; that "this" was not a small matter of a "storm in a teacup".
To reiterate, to take on the Chief and survive to tell the tale is difficult. Not when you are behind him in the pecking order and there is the roster establishing that line of descent. Congress President Rahul Gandhi's hints to go after CJI Dipak Misra have been defeated by the roster. Who sits on the front bench is not a fight restricted to classrooms in schools; it is a daily scuffle in the highest court of the land, too. CJI Dipak Misra retires by year-end and then Justice Ranjan Gogoi gets the CJI's chair, and also the roster to decide who sits on the bench. By then three of the four would be home retired. Till then, they should drink their morning cups of tea and bench their thoughts, which they haven't, so far.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)