PM Modi flays Congress over lawyers letter to CJI; Kharge hits back

Congress accuses PM Modi of orchestrating attack on the judiciary after Electoral Bonds order.

March 28, 2024 06:15 pm | Updated March 29, 2024 02:11 am IST - New Delhi

PM Modi

PM Modi | Photo Credit: E. Lakshmi Narayanan

Prime Minister Narendra Modi targeted the Congress and recalled how it had “called for a committed judiciary” even 50 years ago, after a group of eminent lawyers wrote to Chief Justice of India (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud about a “vested interest group” trying to put pressure on the Indian judiciary in corruption cases involving politicians.

The letter by the group of lawyers, however, didn’t link any political party to the “vested interest group”.

Responding to the Prime Minister, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge reminded Mr. Modi that four judges of the Supreme Court were forced to hold a press conference because of “interference” from the government.

“To browbeat and bully others is vintage Congress culture. 5 decades ago itself they had called for a “committed judiciary” — they shamelessly want commitment from others for their selfish interests but desist from any commitment towards the nation. No wonder 140 crore Indians are rejecting them,” Mr. Modi said in a post on X on March 28.

The Prime Minister’s post was prompted by a letter that over 600 lawyers, including senior advocate Harish Salve and Bar Council chief Manan Kumar Mishra, wrote to CJI Chandrachud about some groups trying to put pressure on and defame courts.

“These tactics are damaging to our courts and threaten our democratic fabric,” the lawyers drawn from across the country said in the letter dated March 26.

The letter said the CJI’s leadership is crucial in these “tough times” and the top court should “stay strong and not maintain a dignified silence”.

Influencing judges

The signatories to the letter targeted a section of lawyers without naming them and alleged that they defend politicians by day and then try to influence judges through the media at night.

“This interest group creates false narratives of a supposed better past and golden period of courts, contrasting it with the happenings in the present. These are nothing but intentional statements, made to sway court decisions and embarrass the courts for certain political gains,” the letter read.

The interest group has concocted “an entire theory of bench fixing which is not just disrespectful and contemptuous but an attack on the honour and dignity of courts,” the group of lawyers said.

“They have also stooped to the level of comparing our courts to those countries where there is no rule of law and accusing our judicial institutions with unfair practices. These aren’t just criticisms. They are direct attacks meant to damage the public’s trust in our judiciary and threaten the fair application of our laws,” the letter said, without identifying the people in the “interest group” or any particular case.

In his statement, Mr. Kharge advised Mr. Modi to refrain from commenting on the judiciary. “You fail to acknowledge that during your regime, four senior-most Supreme Court judges felt compelled to hold an unprecedented press conference, warning against the “destruction of Democracy”. One of these judges was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by your government. So, who truly desires a ‘committed judiciary’?” he asked.

The Congress chief also pointed out how the BJP has fielded a former High Court judge in West Bengal in the upcoming Lok Sabha election. “What criteria led to his candidacy?” he asked, adding, “Modi ji, one institution after another is being ‘bullied’ into submission under your leadership, so cease shifting blame onto the Congress party for your own actions!”

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said on X, “The PM’s brazenness in orchestrating and coordinating an attack on the judiciary, in the name of defending the judiciary, is the height of hypocrisy! The Supreme Court has delivered body blows to him in recent weeks. The Electoral Bonds Scheme is but one example...”

Mr. Ramesh also shared a post from Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan that targeted Mr. Salve, a signatory to the letter.

“Government’s favourite lawyer Salve tried very hard to stop the exposé of bribery and extortion details of Electoral Bonds... He now leads a pack of 600 nondescript lawyers trying to influence the CJI to back off from tough orders. How many of these bond donors are Salve’s clients? Amazing that Modi tweets in support of this letter!” Mr. Bhushan said in his post.

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