Sutanu Guru, Executive Director, C Voter Foundation
Many discerning analysts are wondering if the executive and the judiciary are heading for a full blown confrontation. Imagine what TRP hungry TV channels will do if that happens.
The headline might appear, sound and look absurd at first glance. After all, D. Y. Chandrachud is by all accounts a reasoned and sober Chief Justice focused on individual liberties despite conspiracy theories surrounding his persona and conduct. And, Narendra Modi, despite the daily proclamations about his “fascism”, is by all accounts a reasoned and sober Prime Minister. What then could be the reason behind the seemingly preposterous claim that the two could become “de facto” players and gladiators in the run up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections? Why would Justice Chandrachud become adversarial and hostile towards a Prime Minister who has already seen more than half a dozen chief justices take oath and retire during his tenure?
The first is the publicly declared promise of Narendra Modi to “not spare” forces, organisations and individuals who are acting against the Indian State. His critics have already announced that such “intolerant and authoritarian” attitude makes him a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. In contrast, Justice Chandrachud has publicly let it be known that “individual liberties” will be paramount under his watch and hold more importance than “perceived” activities that could damage the sovereignty of India. The manner in which bail has been given to alleged Maoists, “urban naxals” and the like provide a clear glimpse into what the Supreme Court will do till at least November 2024 when Justice Chandrachud is scheduled to retire. By then, Modi would be Prime Minister for a third successive term if he leads the BJP to yet another victory in Lok Sabha elections due in March-April 2024.
Will the two clash publicly? Will Ministers in the Modi regime and his supporters in the sphere of public opinion slam the top judiciary the way Union Law Minister Kiren Rijuju is already doing while talking publicly about the opaque collegium system under which five senior most judges of the Supreme Court decide who will become High and Supreme Court judges? Will “liberals and intellectuals” flay the Modi regime for subverting the top judiciary in such a manner? Will India slip further in “democracy and freedom” rankings? The real issue is: will this looming and seemingly inevitable confrontation have any impact on the 2024 Lok Sabha elections? The opposition is so fragmented that barring a massive upsurge of public anger over inflation and unemployment, the Modi regime looks set to win a third term. Some compulsive Modi critics are dreaming of a Justice Chandrachud led Supreme Court “putting the Modi regime in its rightful place”, which they are convinced should be the dog house.
There is little doubt that the Modi regime will intensify two efforts: target corruption which his critics insist is a thinly veiled attempt to misuse agencies like the Income Tax Department, the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI to harass and intimidate political opponents. There is little doubt that agencies like the National Investigative Agency will double down on allegedly “anti-national” and subversive activities of organisations and individuals. The nationwide ban of Popular Front of India and its Islamist affiliates is a hint of more to come. At the same time, there s little doubt that a Chandrachud led Supreme Court will not hesitate to give bail to those accused of terror and facing UAPA charges unless there is compelling and clinching evidence against them. This promises to be a fascinating battle. It will be even more interesting because the media in the country will not be an objective observer. One section will excoriate Modi while the other will praise him to the skies.
But this is not just about two personalities Modi and Chandrachud. It is more about the two institutions of Indian democracy making strange attempts to encroach into each others’ territory and jurisdiction. The Modi regime is accused of unfairly delaying the appointment of members of higher judiciary even though the Collegium has cleared them. It is also accused of dangling lucrative post retirement sinecures to subvert the top judiciary. Similarly, since well before Justice Chandrachud became the top judge, the Supreme Court and many High Courts have been accused of needlessly wading into issues that should be the preserve of the executive and the legislature. For instance, when more than 50 million cases are pending in courts, is it necessary for the top court to “waste time” deciding the height of Dahi Handi during Janmashtami and the distance of bars from national highways?
Partisans, as always will take sides. But for a majority of Indians who care neither for Modi or Chandrachud and their personal propensities, it is an important confrontation that looks inevitable. This silent majority will also hope that better sense when will prevail when the two face off.
About the Author:
After his master’s degree in economics, Sutanu Guru has been a journalist for more than 30 years in media outlets like Times of India, Economic Times, Business Today, Business World, Business India & others. Currently, he focuses more on research and writing.
This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write-up have nothing to do with those of prameyanews.com.