The abortive attempt to impeach the Chief Justice of India has come a cropper but not before it besmirched the reputation of the judiciary which had survived assaults on institutions under successive regimes at the Centre.
The institution’s credibility has suffered a major blow not least because the Congress party, supported by the Left and some other opposition parties, chose to drag its fair name into public domain and some lawyers thought nothing of casting aspersions and attributing motives to CJI Dipak Misra who too proved unequal to the task of protecting the reputation of the highest court of the land.
With two Congress MPs withdrawing their petition to challenge Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu’s order rejecting the impeachment motion, the curtain has come down on the impeachment plea but the whole drama has left a rank bad taste all around.
Murmurs of disenchantment with the CJI continue and the open verbal defiance of the high office is hitting at the roots of the hallowed institution.
Doubts have crept into the minds of people whether the judiciary is being credited with too much profoundness and wisdom—whether it is as infallible as it is made out to be especially when four of its senior-most judges publicly question the sense of propriety of their chief as was done recently.
Naidu had on April 23 last rejected the notice, given by seven Opposition parties led by the Congress for the removal of the CJI on five grounds of 'misbehaviour'.
This was the first time that an impeachment notice was filed against a sitting CJI. The damage that has been done to the institution by the move for impeachment is incalculable and grave.
The parties that pressed the impeachment move were all along fully aware that in terms of numbers they did not have a ghost of a chance of impeaching the CJI, but they chose to ignore that home-truth. They had the support of 64 members of Parliament while what is required is a two-thirds majority support in both Houses of Parliament.
No judge has been impeached in India’s history and to make a big thing of the seemingly trivial charges of misconduct against him was preposterous indeed.
Senior lawyers Kapil Sibal and Prashant Bhushan contributed greatly to the fiasco that ensued with their ill-thought-out, partisan and myopic conduct. The manner in which they dragged the Chief Justice’s name into what can only be interpreted as mud did little credit to them and to the institution.
There could not have been a worse cause for the Congress and its allies to take up but egged on by an upstart of a president, Rahul Gandhi, the party soldiered on.
Many legal luminaries tried to make the Opposition see reason but to no avail.
The controversy over who constituted the bench that sought to go into the question of the legality or otherwise of the Vice-President’s action in rejecting the impeachment move seemed to have caught the CJI on the wrong foot.
Considering that Justice Misra was at the centre of the impeachment controversy, was it morally right for him to have constituted the bench to go into the legality of the impeachment plea? There has been no clear answer whether it was indeed he who constituted the bench but no refusal either.
The CJI was in a bind because the four senior-most judges of the apex court immediately below him had, through a media conference earlier, sought to question his propriety in constituting benches in important cases, keeping them out. The CJI’s prerogative of constituting benches as per his will had been duly established through earlier case but his action in constituting the bench in his own impeachment case was deemed to be questionable.
The CJI has less than four months before he retires. Will his retirement restore the majesty of the Supreme Court or will things deteriorate further is a moot question that confronts the country.