Tirade follows PCI report targeting Bihar press freedom, Katju’s opinion piece against Modi

Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley has demanded the resignation of Press Council of India (PCI) chairman Justice Markandey Katju, accusing him of selectively targeting non-Congress governments and being “more Congress than Congress.”

In a written statement, Mr. Jaitley has charged Justice Katju with indulging in “political activity” while occupying a quasi-judicial office and said that he should be sacked if he did not voluntarily quit.

Mr. Jaitley’s tirade is based on a draft report released by the Press Council of India on the state of media freedom in Bihar and an opinion piece in The Hindu (on February 15) by the Press Council chief attacking Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

The senior Opposition leader’s case is that Justice Katju is “extraordinarily soft on those who provided him a post-retirement job” and exercises “self-censorship” on issues related to the UPA’s corruption, from the 2G spectrum allocation to the coal block allocation.

In support of his argument that Justice Katju is politically partisan, Mr. Jaitley cited the concluding paragraph of his article, in which the PCI chief said that those who wished to see Mr. Modi rule the country could be making the same mistake the Germans made in 1933.

“I concede to Justice Katju the right to hold his political views, but can the occupant of a job whose functioning is quasi-judicial openly participate in political activity. His appeal is political. He appears to be more Congress than the Congress party,” Mr. Jaitley said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party leader charged that Justice Katju had failed every test on which a judge, whether sitting or retired, could be judged and the choice of his subjects and targets was motivated by his political preferences. “He is extraordinarily soft on those who provided him a post-retirement job. I am yet to read a comment from him which prefers meritocracy over dynasty as an instrument of leadership creation.”

On the PCI draft report on the Bihar media, Mr. Jaitley said Justice Katju targeted Nitish Kumar and the State government for its lack of press freedom when confronted with favourable comments by large sections of the domestic and international community praising the change of polity in Bihar and the emergence of development as the central agenda of politics.

On the questions raised in The Hindu article on the burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra and its aftermath, Mr. Jaitley asked, “Is Justice Markandey Katju trying to hold a brief for those who have been convicted for setting the train on fire resulting in the death of innumerable people and injuries to many others. Can a former judge of the Supreme Court presently holding a statutory assignment ignore the fact that the trial court has convicted a large number of accused in the case and their appeals are pending?

“He then comments on the fact that Narendra Modi has not been prima facie held liable by any judicial authority. He prefers bazaar gossip over judicial verdicts and observes, ‘I do not want to comment on our judiciary but I certainly do not buy the story that Shri Modi had no hand in 2002’[riots].”

Mr. Jaitley has accused Justice Katju of selectively quoting statistics on development-related issues and social indices in Gujarat.

The senior BJP leader said judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts must not be eligible for jobs in the government after retirement and claimed that in some cases the pre-retirement judicial conduct of a judge was influenced by the desire to get a post-retirement assignment.

“If a sitting judge of the Supreme Court participated in politics so openly and issued a political appeal, he would be liable for impeachment. If a civil servant did the same, he would be liable to be dismissed from service.

“Should not a former judge who currently occupies a quasi-judicial office as Chairman of the Press Council of India either quit before actively participating in politics or be sacked. Retired judges must remember that the rental for occupying a Lutyens’ bungalow post-retirement has to be political neutrality not political participation,” he said.

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