Interview: Raja, CPI

‘If Parliament’s powers are curtailed, it will create conditions for a fascist regime’

Print edition : May 25, 2018

CPI leader D. Raja. Photo: M. Srinath

Interview with D. Raja, national secretary of the CPI.

ON April 23, over 60 Members of Parliament representing seven political parties, including the Left parties, submitted an impeachment notice against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, and it was rejected by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, M. Venkaiah Naidu. The motion followed the Supreme Court order rejecting all all petitions seeking an independent probe into the death of Special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court judge B.H. Loya. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government then got embroiled in another controversy when it sent back for reconsideration a recommendation of the Supreme Court’s collegium regarding the elevation of the Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Supreme Court. D. Raja, national secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI), in a conversation with Frontline, said the present crisis was a symptom of a broader neoliberal policy environment that was affecting all institutions to the detriment of the majority. Excerpts:

What is your assessment of the present tussle between the government and a section of the judiciary?

The conflict between the judiciary and the executive is not confined to India alone, it is happening the world over. It is also important to recognise the neoliberal context in which these conflicts are located. In the Indian context, the twin realities of caste and class have also to be factored. Our Constitution was framed around the idea of establishing a welfare state. Today, the Indian state is moving definitively in the direction of neoliberalism. The Constitution remains an impediment to those who push for neoliberal policies and that is why right-wing forces want to alter and change it. One of their objectives is to make the judiciary subservient to the neoliberal climate. This is the context in which the present tussle between the executive and the judiciary needs to be seen.

The government has imputed political motives to the impeachment motion moved by a section of the opposition parties.

It is odd that the government rejects the names sent by the collegium. It does not have to give reasons as well. Neither does it have to explain what there is in the memorandum of procedure. Parliament is not privy to the memorandum of procedure. There are many things that are not clear to us and need an explanation. Amid all this, we find a huge pendency of cases and a huge number of vacancies of judges. There was much talk of fast-track courts for dealing with crimes against women, children, the Scheduled Castes [S.Cs] and the Scheduled Tribes [S.Ts]. Why have they not been set up?

Similarly, how does one explain the low representation of judges from S.C., S.T. and OBC [Other Backward Classes] categories? No one should buy the argument that there is a paucity of judges from these social categories. These issues have to be discussed and they are separate from individual, specific issues. Why is there today a demand for adequate social representation in our judiciary or affirmative action? Judges do come from certain social strata. We find judges recusing themselves from cases. Why do they do that unless it is to pursue the highest objective and judicial standards of accountability?

The National Judicial Appointments Commission [NJAC] was passed by Parliament but challenged in court and the judiciary rejected it. Was the NJAC in contravention of our Constitution? Now the apex court’s collegium recommends some names and the government rejects them. It is like this: no one denies that the blasts in the Mecca Masjid took place and people were killed. Those accused have been acquitted by a court. But someone did it. That has to be accounted for. Similarly, there have been cases of atrocities, including massacres against Dalits. The Supreme Court says the S.C./S.T. Act is being misused. By saying so, it has made the Act redundant. These are serious issues today.

The issue of the government sitting over the elevation of the Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Supreme Court has given a new dimension to the role of the executive.

The crisis is deepening. Why does a Union Minister repeatedly give an explanation that the rejection of this particular judge is not linked to a particular judgment he delivered in 2016? [Justice K.M. Joseph had cancelled President’s Rule in Uttarakhand, which resulted in the Congress-led Harish Rawat government coming back to power.]

Why didn’t the government accept the recommendation of the collegium? The opposition is not making a link. The government itself seems to be giving the answers. This means that there are apprehensions within the executive if a certain judge is appointed. Otherwise the government should give reasons as to why that particular judge is not acceptable.

The Rajya Sabha Chairman rejected the impeachment motion signed by 64 MPs representing seven political parties. Senior leaders of the BJP called it a “revenge petition”.

The decision seems to have been arrived at in a hurry. The impeachment motion is part of our Constitutional scheme of governance—an instrument available for Parliament and parliamentarians. It was a principled position. When the state remained a welfare state, an ordinary citizen could write on a post-card, which was treated as a public interest litigation [petition]. Now the situation is different.

When Justice Karnan raised some issues, it was not about his own case but about issues that were meant to be a wake-up call. After all, it is a question of judicial accountability. We stand committed to constitutional morality. So, there is nothing wrong in moving the impeachment motion. It is not a question that is limited to the Congress or the BJP. We are faced with a new situation that needs to be addressed.

If there was no Constitution, things would have taken a different course. How can the BJP attribute motives to the impeachment motion? Parliament is part of the political system and we have a constitutional democracy. By imputing motives to the motion, the BJP is undermining both Parliament and our system of constitutional democracy.

The impeachment motion followed the apex court’s order that there would be no independent probe into the death of Special CBI court judge B.H. Loya.

The reasons for the death are still unclear. The issue was discussed inside and outside Parliament. It should be further probed. People are not by and large convinced of the reasons for his death. A former Arunanchal Pradesh Chief Minister too died in mysterious circumstances, leaving behind a letter. We do not know what exactly is happening. These issues are agitating the public.

For the common people, the judiciary is the last hope. People elect parliamentarians, and Parliament reflects the will of the people. If Parliament’s powers are curtailed, it will create conditions for a fascist regime to emerge. There are certain issues that the judiciary can sort out. There are others that have emerged owing due to the new situation and these need to be addressed by Parliament on the basis of what is said in the Constitution. How can Parliament remain a mute spectator and leave it to the executive of the day to sort it out?

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