Who will hold a press conference now that CJI Ranjan Gogoi and his collegium are in the line of fire?

The great revolution in Indian judiciary that was triggered a year ago could well be dead and buried now.

Ranjan Gogoi, then one of the senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, along with three others had held a historic press conference on 18 January 2018. They questioned CJI Dipak Misra and his method of running India’s top court as well as his alleged cosiness with the Narendra Modi government. It was a watershed moment for India and its judiciary.

A year on, how ironic is it then that CJI Gogoi himself is now in the line of fire. His own actions as Chief Justice have caused an unprecedented upheaval in the judiciary after the controversial recommendations by the new collegium.

Who will hold a press conference now?

It took a former Delhi High Court judge – Justice Kailash Gambhir – to question the impropriety of CJI Gogoi-led collegium surreptitiously replacing two judges who were recommended for elevation barely a month ago with new names. One of the new judges recommended – Delhi High Court Judge Sanjiv Khanna – is going to supercede three judges, including two who are already Chief Justices of other high courts and are senior to him.

Now it looks like that Supreme Court Judge S.K. Kaul has also written to the CJI, objecting to the new recommendations.

But, the silence of the others is deafening. Or do they feel let down by the chosen one – the one who was supposed to transform the judiciary, especially the collegium, into an open, transparent institution from the opaque system that we had gotten used to.

But the signs that CJI Ranjan Gogoi isn’t exactly the same man who the entire nation saw on TV screens last year talking about protecting the judiciary and democracy have been there for all to see ever since he took over as CJI in October 2018.

And, we can’t blame him for not forewarning us. When he wrote a note – one that blocked any chance that Punjab and Haryana High Court Judge Ajay Kumar Mittal had of becoming Chief Justice of a high court, and cited a 15-year-old Intelligence Bureau input (that had been disregarded by a previous collegium as well as the government) – Ranjan Gogoi did give us a clear glimpse of what lay in store after he took over as the CJI.

But we chose to ignore the warning signs. In fact, when there were murmurs that the Modi government could punish him for being a part of the January press conference by denying him the top post after the retirement of CJI Misra, many came out in his support.

We cited constitutional morality and law to buttress our argument on why the Modi government could not deny him the post

Time has come for CJI Gogoi to be reminded of that constitutional morality and the hope that he rekindled in several that the Supreme Court would be different under him than it was under his predecessor.

Last year, in one of my articles, I had written: “I have a theory— within days of taking over, every incumbent CJI makes the previous one looks better. Hope the next CJI Ranjan Gogoi will prove me wrong.”

After the Rafale judgment, l’affaire Alok Verma, and now the controversial decision of the collegium, I am near-certain I won’t be proven wrong.

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