Holding of Senior Advocate and Democratic Rights’ Activist Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt by the Supreme Court marks yet another landmark in the slide of Indian state away from democratic rights to the extent these are enshrined in the Constitution of the country, as a part of the wholesome attack against the very Constitutional framework which was adopted by the ruling classes after transfer of power from British colonial rulers.
Supreme Court has taken suo moto cognizance of two tweets of Mr. Prashant Bhushan in July 2020. In one of the tweets Mr. Bhushan has expressed his anguish about the destruction of democracy over last six years i.e. under RSS-BJP rule and the role of Supreme Court in that. This tweet as quoted in the Supreme Court order read, “When historians in the future look back at the last six years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the SC in this destruction, and more particularly the role of the last four CJIs.” The other tweet concerned the present CJI and lockdown of the Apex Court. Supreme Court has also revived an earlier case of contempt of 2009 against Prashant Bhushan and Tehelka publisher Tarun Tejpal. That the case is being taken up at a time when the apex Court is conducting only virtual hearings shows that it is these tweets which have triggered taking up of that old case at the present time. From the order of the Court it is apparent that tweet concerning role of Supreme Court in destruction of existing democracy has irked their Lordships the most. Is it not because there is more than a grain of truth in this?
The SC Bench in its order in the case has held the Judiciary to be the “Central pillar” of democracy. Now according to the Bench, this central pillar is being threatened by these tweets. It only shows that the Central pillar must have undergone erosion to that degree that tweets alone also now can undermine it, as some commentators have observed. The Bench has observed, “There is no manner of doubt that the tweets tend to shake public confidence in the institution of judiciary.” This again begets the question that how is it that the public confidence in the institution of judiciary is so fragile that these tweets can shake it! The Bench has also observed, “The strong arm of the law must, in the name of public interest and public justice, strike a blow on Bhushan who challenges the supremacy of the rule of law by fouling the stream.” Why has the judicial ‘stream’ been rendered so dirty that tweets can foul it? The apex Court having come to this conclusion about the existing state of affairs, to the extent that such tweets could tarnish “the prestige in the comity of nations”, with this assessment, it was expected that the apex Court bench would have proceeded to enquire into the real reason for such a perilous situation. However, the Bench has refused to undertake this exercise for reasons which have not been given in the order. Its prestige should shine in its defense of democratic rights of the people and constitutional order.
The power of contempt is mainly accorded and accepted to overcome obstruction of justice. It may involve punishing those in authority who defy the Court’s order; it may be exercised against those who attack judiciary to influence it or with ulterior motive. This power is in furtherance of judicial independence. It is a means to an end. It must not be made a lese majeste power criminalizing any criticism, like that of royalty under monarchies.
Mr. Bhushan’s anguish against destruction of democracy under RSS-BJP rule and the failure of the judiciary especially of the apex Court to protect the constitutional rights of the people is shared by many. People have watched with dismay the wholesale abdication of judicial responsibility by the apex Court when millions upon millions of workers were forced to walk thousands of kilometers braving heat and hunger, during the lockdown announced in March 2020. People have also watched with dismay the failure of SC to act when elementary rights of the people of J&K are being suppressed for over a year; even habeus corpus writ has not been entertained. People are also dismayed at the haste with which the matter of these tweets is being dealt, while so many critical issues pertaining to people’s rights are kept pending. Mr. Bhushan is not alone. His conviction for contempt has aroused countrywide indignation because of widespread anguish against judicial paralysis in face of fascist onslaught against the people’s rights.
When Supreme Court has accepted to consider the issue of criticism of judges in detail, Mr. Bhushan’s conviction should be held in abeyance and sentencing should be postponed till after the whole issue is debated in open court and decided upon.
Judiciary has been a refuge for those seeking redressal from the actions of Executive. Executive in the country is all powerful while people have less rights and even lesser in practice.
Organize and participate in protests against conviction of Mr. Prashant Bhushan. This attack is part of the general onslaught against people’s rights. People must rise to defend their democratic rights. This struggle is part of the struggle against fascist onslaught.
August 18, 2020