Over 300 advocates have condemned the attack of the Union law minister on a few retired judges, and claimed that the remarks sent a message to every citizen that no dissenting voices would be spared.
STATING that the nation owes a debt of gratitude to retired judges, a group of advocates have in unambiguous terms deprecated the “anti-India gang” remarks made by Union Minister of Law and Justice, Kiren Rijiju, against retired judges.
The statement has urged the law minister, who acts as a bridge between the executive and the judiciary, to withdraw his remarks and maintain a dignified public discourse by refraining from making such remarks in future.
At a public event on March 18, Rijiju had remarked that a few retired judges are part of an “anti-India gang”.
Rijiju had said: “Recently, there was one seminar… Some retired judges, some senior lawyers… were there. The topic of the seminar was accountability in judges’ appointments but the discussion the whole day was how the government is taking over the Indian judiciary…
“I have an excellent relationship with the present Chief Justice of India… it is a few of the retired judges… a few of those activists are part of the anti-India gang, these people are trying to make the Indian judiciary play a role of the opposition party.”
Rijiju had further threatened these unnamed judges by stating that “[n]obody will escape. Those who have worked against the country will have to pay a price for that.” He went on to group them with the so-called “tukde tukde gang [that is trying to] to destroy India’s integrity and sovereignty.”
The law minister’s comments have invited condemnation from various circles. The statement, signed off by 323 advocates, including 62 senior advocates, practising at the Supreme Court and various high courts across the country, deprecated the unwarranted attack against retired judges of the Supreme Court.
The statement notes: “The allegation of anti-nationalism against people who have dedicated their lives to upholding the rule of law, and naked threat of reprisals against them, marks a new low in the public discourse of our great nation.
“We may remind the minister that criticism of the government is neither against the nation, nor unpatriotic, nor ‘anti-India‘.”
According to the statement, the act of bracketing the government’s critics without naming them and claiming that the members of the alleged ‘anti-India gang’ wanted to make the judiciary play the role of opposition has transgressed all limits of ‘constitutional propriety’.
“It is no part of [Rijiju’s] duty to single out some retired judges with whose opinion he might disagree, and to issue public threats of action by law enforcement agencies against them,” the statement avers.
The law minister’s threat of action by agencies against such retired judges goes against his duty to uphold and bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India, the statement says.
Moreover, it emphasises that such hectoring and bullying are unbecoming of the high office Rijiju holds.“…[A]s Minister of Law and Justice, it is his duty to protect the judicial system, the judiciary and the judges, both past and present,” the statement notes.
It further noted that criticism of the government does not authorise a high State functionary to ‘besmirch’ any individual’s patriotism. Moreover, the space for criticism of the government is not reserved for exercise in the Parliament or legislature alone; nor is it confined to any particular class of persons or barred to any other, it affirmed.
In this context, the statement said: “The right of every citizen to dissent, criticise and peacefully oppose any government and its policies or functioning is an inherent basic human right, which is also constitutionally protected.”
The advocates referred to statements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as per which the toughest questions and criticism must be levelled against governments, as that is the only way to keep governments alert and responsive.
The lawyers’ statement said: “We unhesitatingly state that critics of the government are every bit as patriotic as those in the government; and critics who highlight failures or shortcomings in the administration… or violation of constitutional norms, are exercising an inherent and most basic human right, and one which his ministry is charged with protecting, freedom of speech and expression.”
The law minister should be reminded that the government of the day is not the nation and vice versa, the statement noted.
Further, the statement expressed that even if the views of former judges, who are responsible women and men that have shepherded the courts through thick and thin, are unpalatable to the ruling political dispensation, it does not entitle the minister to make such outrageous comments.
Rijiju’s remarks have the effect of inciting the public against judges and the judicial system, and deserve to be strongly condemned, the statement declared.
Click here to view the public statement, and the list of signatories.