A Critique on Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s “Justice for the Judge – An Autobiography”

By Vivek Raj

As the dawn breaks, an incident or two takes place and the same sometimes is penned down and at times is left unnoticed. The former later on, if recorded and preserved takes the shape of Biography or Autobiography.

So here is the main question that arises is Why is somebody will be compelled to write his/her Autobiography?

He must be wanting to share his experiences, his pain, and pleasure, his hardship, and comfort, his success, and failure, his ups and downs of life which has treated him sometimes with cruelty and now and then with all the mercy and kindness it could have showered upon him.

What do you think, Former Chief Justice, Ranjan Gogoi’s Autobiography would be identical to what has been mentioned above, or will this be an aberration?

Former CJI did not focus much on his childhood. He mentioned that though his family was not a wealthy family by any means but the notion was that his father was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Who later on not only became a legendry Advocate but joining politics he ascended to the post of Chief Minister of Assam. His name was Kesab Chandra Gogoi.

A reader must be thinking that the life for Ranjan Gogoi, being a son of a Chief Minister, must be free from any turmoil, trials, and turbulences, it is accurate about his student life to a great extent too but posts his ascendance to the Chief Justice of India, life was not too kind to him. He was projected as a Villain and the line from dark Knight clicks a reader’s mind ‘ You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain’.

This Autobiography is, majorly, an attempt not to justify oneself to oneself but rather it is an explanation with a pinch of aggression to the contemporaries and to posterity who might have perceived Chief Justice unjust judge.

The story told by himself has multiple layers to it and he himself has drawn the curtain on a considerable number of them by revealing what was considered a secret or mystery for instance the most criticism that he was at the receiving end of, was about his acceptance of an offer of Upper House seat post his retirement. To him, it was not a Quid Pro Quo nor did he sells his soul, instead, the offer was accepted with the intent of representing his constituency and his state which will not only provide him a platform to highlight issues pertaining to his state like perpetual sufferings of flood and the burning issue of Citizenship Amendment Act, but also give him an opportunity to project the problems of the judiciary before the representatives of the Upper and Lower House together at the same time. He said ‘ he did not remotely think that his acceptance of the offer of Rajya Sabha Birth will invite such an adverse comments ‘had it occurred to me I would probably have thought twice before accepting the nomination’. Ranjan  Gogoi did not respond to each critique but yes he preferred to give rebuttal namely to former Justice, Mr. Katju, who accused him of passing a verdict with respect to cases like Rafael Jet and Ram Janam Bhoomi, in exchange for a mere nomination to the upper house of parliament of India on his retirement on quid pro quo basis, was asked by Ranjan Gogoi, was your appointment to the chairman of Press Council of India following your retirement in exchange of some decision that you were able to write or pass?

A very common trait that can be traced in his writing is,  that he criticized the government and the system audaciously but this audacity of these officials unknowingly comes to the fore only once they abdicate their position or get retired which later on bear no fruit. Nevertheless, his courage can be visible, visualized, and appreciated because at a time when the Supreme Court judges for the first time in the history of India realized that there is something that is the credibility of the Supreme Court was at stake and the independence of the judiciary was under the peril he stepped out and spearheaded the Press conference on matters pertaining to the Supreme Court functioning and the then chief justice Deepak Mishra’s handling of the cases arbitrarily, and took undoubtedly a huge risk from his future career perspective.

Judiciary and its dilatory procedure have been one of the great concerns of each and every rationalistic person who has been endowed with some rationality. The writer has cast a great deal of light on this aspect comparing a number of judges in India and America. As per his research, the number of judges in India is 19 per 10 lakhs in comparison to America which in fact recently has increased to 21 where number is greater in America and that is 107 per Million, despite the fact that the population of America is only one fourth that of India.

Public Interest Litigation is another significant subject the mention of which has been found in various pages and Chief Justice has rightly said that the philosophy of PIL has lost its significance as it was brought and introduced for bringing issues of public importance before the court by any socially conscious citizen, acting bona fide in a representative capacity, but instances are such that display the trivialities of the subject such as banning of Sardar Jokes, bringing back the Kohinoor to India and very recently declaring the 26 verses of the Quran unconstitutional and non-functional.

Having seen some disorderly conditions in one place the former chief justice very emphatically said that ‘judiciary in the country needed a thorough shake-up, a revolution and not mere reforms’. An issue that was much discussed and written was the harassment allegations against a sitting chief justice for the first time in the history of the Supreme Court. The pages of his book tell a different story altogether and it in fact projects that his critiques were not only too quick to cast aspersion on his character but were also full of ill-will towards him as he recalls an established principle ‘ a man is innocent until he is proven guilty, by rebuking them that these so-called commentators were not even patient enough to wait for the in-house Report and then come to any conclusion. But the shortcoming of this In-House inquiry can be questioned because when the girl who accused the chief justice of sexual harassment insisted on being represented by an Advocate she was denied to opt the same as in House -inquiry, only the judges can be allowed to be a part of In House inquiry. The girl staff got disappointed and left the proceeding and the judges’ panel decided that the charges were baseless and even Chief Justice termed it a conspiracy of certain people to tarnish his image.

The Autobiography apparently is a response to those who made an attempt to malign his image as chief justice. His sole objective to release this autobiography in such a short span of time is to defend himself by putting the ball in the reader’s court but his constant absence from Upper House not only added an insult to his injury as he is running away from facing opposition’s sloganeering but also provided an opportunity of suspicion in the minds of his political rivals in the Rajya Sabha.

Throughout the book and with turning of the pages a reader may easily gauge what purpose this book is going to serve. The judge of the highest court of the land seems sitting with the mindset of pointing his gun to his dissenters and telling them they hare worthless lives and have no business except indulging in mudslinging and casting unsubstantiated aspersion and launching personal attacks against both institution and its members. As the rulers of the country consider his criticism is the criticism of the country, former chief justice terms his own criticism, criticism of the institution, undoubtedly no institution is built or run in a vacuum, there must be somebody managing or running that specific institution, and obviously, if some harm is done to the institution, it must be done by some individual because institutions are recognized and represented by a group of individuals, therefore it must be kept in mind that judges are a human being and they are susceptible to make errors as they are not infallible. They are bound to make mistakes, though the chances are less as per the intellect and credence they have built throughout their career. Nevertheless, they are not beyond criticism. In a democratic nation, constructive criticism must be given room to nurture and flourish, restraint like contempt of court subsequent to or prior to criticism weakens the potential of democracy.

Former Chief Justice will be certainly remembered for his numerous landmark verdicts like Rafael Deal, Ram Janam Bhoomi case, and the like but the question remains will his indifferent attitude towards Kashmiris and Kashmir post 370 revocations be erased from the memory of the youth of Kashmir? Will he ever be able to cajole the next generation that he had sniffed the tyranny and acted accordingly?

It is left to posterity to decide he did just to his profession or compromised somewhere with the ethics.

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