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Price of hubris and overreach

Politicisation of public office, for a retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India, who is, currently, occupying the quasi-judicial post of the Chairman of the Press Council of India, and partisan moralisation within political affairs, is unwarranted and unethical, to say the least. Justice Markandey Katju, however, believes in batting for the pavilion, oftentimes ignoring the rules of the particular game he has been assigned to play. While no one can point a finger at his array of personal opinions, which, perhaps, border on being steadfastly honest, it would do him, and the dignity of the office that he holds, a great deal of service if he kept them to himself and instead concentrate on executing his job well. As the Chairman of the Press Council of India, Katju’s chief role is to enquire into the methods and ethics of the way the media conducts itself. It is strictly not to preach from a holier-than-thou lectern the electoral course that the people of India must take in order to cleanse the sins of the past, however abominable those might have been. Katju’s article against the Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in a leading national daily amounts to a blatant misuse of his position, precisely because the former’s pontification can be easily read as lending verbal arsenal and polemical canon fodder to the Congress brigade that would appropriate any criticism, no matter how accurate, of Modi, in order to achieve what the BJP believes to be a concerted attempt at guaranteeing the ‘political assassination’ of the Gujarat chief minister and clear the way for Rahul Gandhi becoming the Prime Minister of India in 2014.

In this context, Arun Jaitley, the BJP leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, is, therefore, right to accuse Katju of actively and selectively participating in politics, and making a biased public appeal to the Indian people not to vote for Modi, clearly in violation of the very precepts of media professionalism that Katju has been appointed to ensure. Jaitley is also correct when he comments that ‘it is a fundamental principle in the conduct of judicial or quasi-judicial functions that a judge should refrain from involving themselves in political controversies. If he desires to get into political activity or a political debate, he should cease to hold his judicial or quasi-judicial office.’ From a legal standpoint, Jaitley has hit the nail on its head by pointing out how Katju’s selective condemnation of Modi, Mamata and Nitish Kumar can be interpreted as
ad hominem
attacks on the aforementioned chief ministers, given that the hyperventilating Chairman’s deafening silence on the slew of corruption scams and scandals implicating the UPA government remains confounding. When it comes to doing justice to his post, Katju would do himself and this country a huge favour by ceasing to put his foot in the mouth, and instead act with grace, dignity, sobriety, and, above all, impartiality.
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