Abhijit Gangopadhyay | A Judge’s entry into politics

Former Calcutta HC Judge joins BJP, triggering questions about his judgments

Updated - March 07, 2024 10:33 am IST

Published - March 07, 2024 01:10 am IST

Abhijit Gangopadhyay, who resigned as a judge of the Calcutta High Court, at his residence in Kolkata on March 5, 2024.

Abhijit Gangopadhyay, who resigned as a judge of the Calcutta High Court, at his residence in Kolkata on March 5, 2024. | Photo Credit: Debasish Bhaduri

Election season in West Bengal usually triggers a series of defections and politicians adept at gauging the political weather make little hesitation in switching sides. However, something unusual occurred this election season in the State on March 5, when hours after resigning as a Judge of Calcutta High Court, Abhijit Gangopadhyay announced his plans to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The 61-year-old former Judge also made little qualms about eagerly awaiting a ticket from the BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. “I was in touch with the BJP and the BJP was in touch with me,” the former Judge said.

This remark provided enough reasons for the Trinamool Congress leadership to question whether the orders that Mr. Gangopadhyay delivered as a Judge were free from political bias. The State’s ruling party which has suffered several setbacks in a series of orders delivered by the former Judge, has sought review of all the orders.

The orders delivered by Mr. Gangopadhyay not only had far-reaching implications as far as the fate of thousands of job aspirants and teachers and non-teaching staff of the State was concerned, but they also dominated the political discourse in West Bengal since 2021.

The former judge had directed investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on at least 14 occasions in cases relating to the school and municipal recruitment scam in West Bengal. Multiple FIRs were filed by agencies based on these orders and the investigation came as a major setback to the Trinamool Congress in its third term. Ministers, MLAs, and leaders of ruling parties were arrested, hordes of cash were seized and the commission in charge of requirements made to publish details of how examinations were manipulated and OMR (optical mark reader) sheets were forged to deprive deserving candidates. 

What has surprised people of the State more than this sudden decision is the scathing political remarks made by someone who stood in judgment of the corruption in the recruitment system of West Bengal for the past several years. Mr. Gangopadhyay said that he could not join the party because he was a “proud Hindu” and chose to stay away from the Congress party as it was a party of a “single family”. “Trinamool is not a political party. It is a jatra (rural theatre) party. The act they are performing in Maa, Maati, Manus,” he said making scathing references to Trinamool general secretary Abhishek Banerjee.

During his eventful and controversial career, the former Judge who was appointed as Additional Judge in May 2018 and elevated as a permanent Judge of the High Court in July 2020, had on a number of occasions ruffled feathers with the bar. 

On January 27, 2024, the Supreme Court of India had to intervene after Mr. Gangopadhyay made allegations against a senior Judge at Calcutta High Court in his order accusing him of ‘misconduct’ and harbouring political bias in favour of the State’s ruling dispensation. Earlier on April 28, 2023, the court stayed his order to place before him, by midnight, documents based on which the Supreme Court had earlier in the day reassigned a case to itself.

By severing ties with the judiciary five months before his superannuation, Mr. Gangopadhyay has now opened himself to the attacks of his political opponents who will not stop at criticising him but will raise questions on his judgments. This development may have some bearing on the functioning of the judiciary and will set a wrong precedent since Judges have been considered immune to public criticism.

The critics of Mr. Gangopadhyay are frequently referring to a remark by former Union Minister Late Arun Jaitley where the BJP leader had said “Pre-retirement judgments are influenced by post-retirement jobs”.

Questions are also being raised as to the timing of Mr. Gangopadhyay’s resignation particularly when the BJP is busy selecting candidates for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal.

Mr. Gangopadhyay said that he wanted to contribute to the people of the State using a ‘larger platform’ than the judiciary which had its limitations. The people of West Bengal are curious to see whether he would continue his fight against corruption in his second innings as a politician or whether he is only trying to use the political winds before the Lok Sabha elections to his own advantage.

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