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Why Congress-led Opposition wants to impeach chief justice of India

Author: Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant
Publication: Dailyo.in
Date: April 4, 2018
URL:      https://www.dailyo.in/politics/dipak-misra-chief-justice-judicial-crisis-justice-loya-amit-shah-2019-general-elections/story/1/23262.html

The conspiracy - and conspiracy it is - to impeach chief justice of India Dipak Misra isn't meant to actually impeach him. The Congress, Left, NCP and other Opposition parties leading the move for impeachment know they don't have the two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha necessary to impeach CJI Misra.

The conspiracy is intended to delay and subvert verdicts in two key cases being heard by a Supreme Court bench headed by the CJI. The first is about building a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. The second is about the death of CBI judge BH Loya.

Why do these two cases worry Opposition leaders to an extent that they are prepared to go through the pretence of an impeachment motion against the CJI even though they know it will fall at the first hurdle? If, for example, the impeachment motion gathers the minimum required signatures of MPs in the Rajya Sabha (50) and the Lok Sabha (100), the chairperson of the upper house, vice-president Venkaiah Naidu, and the Speaker in the lower house, Sumitra Mahajan, can reject the motion at their discretion.

In the improbable event they don't, a three-member committee has to be formed to probe the charges against the CJI, prove those charges beyond doubt and present its findings to the two houses. A two-thirds majority in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is necessary for the impeachment process to be successful. Since the motion is pre-ordained to fail, turn to the real reason why the Congress, Left, NCP and other Opposition parties want to go through this theatre of the absurd.

Ever since CJI Misra indicated a few months ago that he would like to fast-track the Ram Mandir-Ayodhya hearings, alarm bells began ringing in 10 Janpath and 12 Tughlak Lane. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi know that a Supreme Court verdict in favour of building a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya would set off a majoritarian Hindu wave in favour of the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha poll.

The alarm bells rang even louder when CJI Misra dismissed all intervention PILs - and there were dozens - in the Ayodhya case. Had those PILs been impleaded, the Ayodhya verdict would have been inevitably delayed.

Enraged at the CJI's moves, the Congress has deployed its political ammunition built up over 55 years in power. Sonia and Rahul realise that the 2019 Lok Sabha election is the Congress' best opportunity to make a comeback.

That comeback could be stillborn if the Supreme Court rules in favour of building the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. The impeachment motion is aimed at unnerving Misra into delaying his verdict till after the 2019 general election. Activists and friendly media have been co-opted to further this objective.

The NCP's lawyer-member Majeed Memon said grimly: "Several Opposition MPs, including me, have signed the petition to remove the chief justice." Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee was more cautious: "I can say that Trinamool Congress will go with whatever decision the other parties take on the impeachment of the CJI. After all, one cannot ignore what the four judges had to say."

What the other four Supreme Court judges said at their unprecedented press conference in January 2018 dovetailed nicely into the Congress-led Opposition strategy. They complained about the roster system and the assignment of key cases. But the hidden message was a statement of no-confidence in the CJI.

The chief justice was quick to disappoint the quartet. A month later he put up for the first time on the Supreme Court website the new roster. To their shock, the four dissenting senior justices were assigned land and civil cases. CJI Misra, in a clinical show of authority, confined all PILs and sensitive political cases to his own bench.

The second sub-text in the impeachment motion is the Opposition's decision to target BJP president Amit Shah. The Congress despises Shah. Rahul Gandhi and Shah do not even acknowledge each other, much less exchange courtesies, in Parliament. The Congress believes that if it can discredit Shah before the 2019 Lok Sabha election, it will slow the BJP's electoral momentum. This is why the Judge Loya incident is being fervidly played up by the Congress.

Judge Loya's death in December 2014 in Nagpur forms part of a key PIL being heard by a bench headed by CJI Misra. Judge Loya died following a heart attack. Nearly three years later, in September 2017, Caravan magazine carried a story linking Judge Loya's "mysterious" death to a case he was in the midst of hearing. The case involved the death in 2005 in an encounter with police in Gujarat of the notorious smuggler and criminal Sohrabuddin. Amit Shah was then Gujarat's home minister.

The allegations: one, that Sohrabuddin was killed in a fake encounter by the Gujarat anti-terror squad on Shah's watch; two, that Judge Loya's death during the trial of the Sohrabuddin case in which Shah was an accused and Loya the presiding judge seemed suspicious and unnatural; and three, that CJI Misra should assign the PIL questioning Judge Loya's death (and Shah's rapid acquittal by a judge who succeeded Judge Loya in the trial court) to another Supreme Court bench.

The chief justice did nothing of the kind. Instead he transferred all cases pertaining to Judge Loya's death pending in the Bombay High Court to a Supreme Court bench headed by himself. Dushyant Dave is the senior advocate at the forefront of the allegation that Judge Loya's death was suspicious and unnatural. CJI Misra told a livid Dave that his bench would examine the matter carefully and order an investigation into the case only if it was merited.

At every juncture, the Opposition fumes, the chief justice has acted arbitrarily. A close examination of the facts reveals it is the Opposition and its senior lawyers that have acted capriciously. For example, Judge Loya's death was certified as natural by two judges of the Bombay High Court (justices Sunil Shukre and Bhushan Gavai) as well as two district judges who were with Judge Loya in the hours just before and after his death. Caravan magazine in its latest issue has however continued to call Judge Loya's death suspicious, alleging that the post-mortem report was manipulated.

The Congress-led Opposition fears that both its pre-2019 electoral objectives - delaying the Ram Mandir verdict and tarnishing Shah over the Loya/Sohrabuddin case - could be negated by chief justice Misra. Hence the unrelenting attack on him through legal and media proxies.

CJI Misra retires on October 2, 2018. He could well deliver the Ayodhya and Loya verdicts before that. The process to impeach him is meant to derail both.
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