On Monday, the President of India nominated former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi to the Rajya Sabha. Gogoi had retired in November 2019. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued a gazette notification to announce his nomination to the RS. The notification may be viewed here:
Speaking to media persons in Guwahati on Tuesday, Gogoi reportedly said, “I have accepted it since I have a strong conviction that the legislative and the judiciary must at some point of time work together for nation-building. My presence in parliament will be an opportunity to project the views of the judiciary before the legislature and vice versa.”
Gogoi is perhaps best known for presiding over the Supreme Court case regarding the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that was being updated in his home state of Assam. Gogoi also headed the SC bench that handed the land in Ayodhya to the infant deity and the akhara, and asked the state to provide separate land for construction of a mosque. In fact, he had allegedly put Kashmir related hearings on hold to prioritise the Ayodhya hearing. He had also declined a plea to probe the Rafale deal and dodged a ‘Me Too’ bullet when an in-house panel gave him a clean chit in a matter related to sexual harassment.
In fact, in May 2019, Gogoi, in a shocking turn of events in connection with a petition by activist Harsh Mander against the inhuman condition in detention camps, had refused to recuse himself from the case and instead removed Mander as the petitioner! Mander had appealed to the CJI to recuse himself in light of a few statements made by the CJI at the previous hearing which Mander thought displayed bias against so called foreigners.
At the previous hearing while responding to the affidavit filed by Assam Chief Secretary Alok Kumar, Gogoi had allegedly remarked, “You have no right to continue in office after authoring such an affidavit… This court will not be party to such an unheard of arrangement… You have 900 detainees when lakhs of illegal foreigners have already intermingled with the local population. Most of these foreigners are in the voters’ list and are taking part in the political system of this country.”
Mander had filed an application demanding Gogoi’s recusal “in the interest of justice, in the larger interest of the institution.” Mander submitted he feared the CJI’s alleged bias against non-citizens would affect the outcome in the case. Dismissing Mander’s recusal application, the CJI had reportedly said, “Recusal is destruction of the institution. We are not recusing. We will not allow anybody to browbeat this institution.” Mander’s name has been removed as petitioner and been replaced with the Supreme Court Legal Services Authority.
There have been other allegations against Gogoi of deciding in favour of the regime. Caravan documented these in this scathing piece.
Predictably, Gogoi’s RS nomination led to outrage. Congress heavyweight Kapil Sibal took a not so subtle dig when he compared Gogoi to Justice HR Khanna in his tweet:
Justice H R Khanna remembered for :
1) his integrity
2)standing up to govt.
3) upholding rule of law
Ranjan Gogoi for
lapping up a Rajya Sabha nomination for
1) being saved by govt.
2) standing in line with it
3) compromising his own and the integrity of the institution
— Kapil Sibal (@KapilSibal) March 17, 2020
Meanwhile former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha hoped Gogoi would decline the nomination:
I hope ex-cji Ranjan Gogoi would have the good sense to say ‘NO’ to the offer of Rajya Sabha seat to him. Otherwise he will cause incalculable damage to the reputation of the judiciary.
— Yashwant Sinha (@YashwantSinha) March 16, 2020
All India Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra tweeted:
Fmr CJI Gogoi nominated to Rajya Sabha! Why am I not surprised?
Any propriety, Sir?
He directed NRC exercise
Ram Mandir in hurried hearings
Refusal to hear J&K habeas corpus
Immunity from law in own sexual harassment case
Politician or judge all along, ye Greedy Lord? pic.twitter.com/af3IdhSf1a
— Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra) March 16, 2020
But perhaps the biggest stinger came in the form of The Telegraph’s headline Kovind, not Covid, did it. The scathing piece also shot down comparisons to former CJI Ranganath Mishra who had presided over the anti-Sikh riots case and also became a RS MP, saying, “Justice Misra became a Rajya Sabha member only in July 1998, almost seven years after stepping down as CJI in late 1991. In between, he had served as chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and then joined the Congress. He was elected, not nominated, to the Upper House.”