POWERLESS: Ranjan Gogoi, who as chief justice of the country enjoyed unlimited power, has to listen humbly in the Rajya Sabha to which he has been nominated by a grateful government.

By Anwiti Singh

While the godi media has lavished praise on the former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, who was seen as a crony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, independent media has lashed out at him. Gogoi was the first retired chief justice to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha soon after his retirement.

AFTER a career punctuated by controversies, it’s only fitting that former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi extends this pattern to his post-retirement activities. First, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the Modi government less than a year after his retirement. Second, and more recently, he came out with a book, ‘Justice for the Judge’ which covers a wide range of grey issues from his tenure.
As part of a publicity blitz for the book, Gogoi gave multiple interviews in the span of a few days, notably to Rahul Kanwal of India Today and Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV. He congratulated one of the anchors several times for asking good questions and got aggressive with the other for putting him on the spot. Any prizes for guessing which is which? Let’s break it down. Importantly, the format of both shows was different. Jain’s was a sit-down interview with the former judge while Kanwal’s was an interview – described by India Today as the ‘first and only tell-all’ – as part of the book launch.

GOGOI was accused of sexual harassment by a junior staffer. A bench was constituted to look into the allegations, and it was presided over by Gogoi himself. Later, an in-house committee headed by Justice S A Bobde said there was ‘no substance’ in the allegations; the staffer did not participate in the proceedings due to her ‘serious concerns and reservations.’ Unsurprisingly, questions on this matter irritated Gogoi the most across both interviews.
On NDTV, Sreenivasan Jain introduced Gogoi as a “rebel judge” and asked what “injustice” was being referred to in the title of his book. Was presiding over a case, where Gogoi himself was the accused, a violation of ‘every principle of natural justice?’ Gogoi responded, “In my book, there is a sentence that in retrospect, perhaps my participation in the bench was not correct. There is also a line in the book, CJs don’t descend from heaven.”
Jain said the complainant had withdrawn after three hearings because she “felt intimidated and nervous in the presence of three judges of the Supreme Court without a lawyer or support.” But Gogoi said it would be ‘very dangerous’ if an outsider, with no knowledge of law, was allowed to be there. When Jain persisted, Gogoi said, “I would be very happy if Sreenivasan Jain was a part of that committee.”
He added that the court order did not exonerate but simply stated the ‘media should consider whether wild and scandalous allegations that undermine the judiciary should be reported on.’ Jain pointed out that such words suggest that the allegations are ‘wild and scandalous’ instead of genuine. Here lies the first big difference between the two interviews because Kanwal asked Gogoi whether criminal proceedings must be initiated against those who have ‘the audacity to make false claims against the CJI.’ In fairness to Kanwal, he also said it would be wise to ‘review the in-house process’ which is largely seen as a ‘cosy brothers’ club.’
In response to Kanwal, Gogoi said, “Any Tom, Dick and Harry raising complaints against the judges doesn’t get investigated…I would have been happy to have an external registrar ICC judge me…But I gave my neck to Bobde. He could have hanged me…” He added that Bobde had reinstated the ‘lady’ who had accused Gogoi of sexual harassment. Kanwal said, “If someone has the audacity of levelling what turned out to be unfounded charges against the CJI, why should there not be penal action taken against that person?” Gogoi said, “Very good, excellent question.”
Kanwal also said Gogoi’s book implied a ‘lobby or gang’ as being behind the entire matter, asking whether Gogoi was ‘convinced’ of ‘some sort of conspiracy.’ Gogoi said, “Why are you putting words in my mouth? I didn’t say conspiracy. The bench did. I don’t speculate. I go by proof.” Kanwal joked that he felt like a lawyer in Gogoi’s court, being ‘questioned’ on ‘every comma, every full-stop.’ Everyone laughed: Kanwal, Gogoi and even Bobde sitting in the audience.
One thing to note: when asked by Kanwal whether it was correct for him to have presided over the case, Gogoi said he had been ‘told’ that “Article 32 plea is coming” which would ask him to step down. As this tweet points out, it begs the question as to who informed Gogoi a “plea was coming.”
On Jain’s part, he reiterated that the procedure was flawed. At one point in the interview, Gogoi seemed visibly annoyed and said, “The bench could have passed an order that the media is restrained from reporting. But the bench didn’t do that…” This can hardly be a defence, Jain replied, “in an ideal situation…” Gogoi cut in, “I disagree with you. There is no defence. I don’t have to defend anything.”

BOTH Kanwal and Jain brought up Gogoi’s speedy nomination to the Rajya Sabha, which at the time had led to allegations of it being a ‘quid pro quo.’ Gogoi’s response in both interviews was that he would have been better paid if he had chosen to head a tribunal or human rights commission. “How would you react then?” he asked Jain, who promptly said he would still find it ‘deeply problematic.’
Gogoi replied, “Like the sexual harassment issue, Rajya Sabha is an obsession of certain people whose voice you’re not projecting.” Almost exactly the same conversation played out on India Today. Except when Gogoi suggested he head a tribunal or commission, Kanwal did not ask a follow-up question. He later asked if Gogoi, in hindsight, would have been happier in Guwahati because of the outcry over the Rajya Sabha nomination. “You can’t cow me down with noises,” Gogoi replied. “Shouting at Ranjan Gogoi will not do.”
Meanwhile, Kanwal asked Gogoi if he would take up a second term at the Rajya Sabha if it was offered. Gogoi joked that he would nominate Kanwal himself for the role. Interestingly, Jain had asked Gogoi the same question, asking about a second term and whether Gogoi’s conscience was clear. “Of course my conscience is clear,” Gogoi said. “Do you doubt it? I may even have a second term in Rajya Sabha…” When Jain asked if there would be a second term, Gogoi replied, “Please be quiet.”

THE present controversy surrounding Gogoi’s delivery of the Ayodhya verdict is from his book. After the verdict on November 9, 2019, Gogoi wrote that he and his colleagues went for dinner to the Taj Mansingh hotel, where they ‘ate Chinese food and shared a bottle of wine, the best available there.’ The book includes a photo of this dinner with the caption ‘celebrating the landmark Ayodhya judgement.’
When Jain asked about the ‘celebration dinner after Ayodhya judgement,’ Gogoi straight-up denied there had been a celebratory dinner, even as NDTV showed the photograph and its caption on screen. “Why are you picking up sentences from here and there?” Gogoi demanded. “Look at the enormity of the task that was taken up by the bench.” “But is it contentious to post such an image when people must have been pained by the judgement?” Jain asked. “Sree, as a mediaperson, you have caused pain to a lot of people,” Gogoi replied. “What does that have to do with the question?” Jain asked. “Do you not go for dinner?” Gogoi said. “Sit at home and mourn my this and that interview…statements based on untruths, half-truths, have caused pain to others?”
Jain persisted. “Last question on Ayodhya,” he said. “The court said the destruction of the mosque was an egregious criminal act but effectively rewarded the party that was involved in the destruction. How is that fair?” In response, Gogoi quoted a line from his book: “Retired judges don’t defend their judgements and they only criticise the judgement of others.” He said he refused to answer the question further.
Kanwal brought up the controversial photo as well but described it as ‘interesting’ that Gogoi would go out for such a dinner. Gogoi clarified he had not partaken in the wine, he had merely paid for the wine for his ‘brother judges.’ Kanwal also asked if the Ayodhya verdict was more important than other cases at the time, particularly cases related to human rights issues in Kashmir. “The media says CJI has no time for human rights and Kashmir cases,” Gogoi replied. “What they don’t say is CJI assigned an alternate bench.”
Glancing at the audience, he then asked Kanwal if he would appreciate it if Aroon Purie or Kallie Purie interfered with his own work. Both interviews culminated with Gogoi seeming quite keen to answer more questions. Bonus: In his chat with Rahul Kanwal, he even hinted at a sequel, titled ‘Justice for the Rajya Sabha Member.’

Courtesy: News Laundry

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