The Congress is not particularly enthusiastic about impeaching Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. It will, however, not break ranks with other Opposition parties if they decide to move an impeachment motion.
The party is, in fact, yet to formally discuss Sitaram Yechury’s ongoing efforts to rally opposition parties to kickstart the process of impeaching Misra. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief has been working to gather support for an impeachment motion ever since four senior judges of the Supreme Court – Jasti Chelameswar, Rajan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph – held an unprecedented press conference on January 12 to express concerns about the court’s functioning under Misra.
The Congress leadership is expected to firm up their position in the next few days, and then consult other oOposition leaders to devise a common floor strategy for Parliament’s Budget session, which starts on January 29. The party is likely to argue against impeaching the chief justice but would go with the majority view.
The party’s reluctance stems from the fact that the Opposition does not have the numbers to pass an impeachment motion in Parliament. While it is in a hopeless minority in the Lok Sabha, the ruling National Democratic Alliance has also substantially narrowed the gap in the Rajya Sabha.
Moreover, impeachment, which is the only way to remove a higher court judge in India, is a cumbersome exercise. A motion must be signed by 50 members of the Rajya Sabha or 100 MPs of the Lok Sabha and submitted to the presiding officer of either House, who will set up a committee to examine it. Only if the committee is convinced that the motion has merit would it be debated and voted on. To pass, the motion must be supported by the majority membership of the House and not less two-thirds of the members present and voting.
Some Congress leaders are also hesitant because they believe Yechury is pushing for the impeachment to salvage his own position and reputation, which were weakened when his party’s Central Committee voted out his proposal to ally with the Congress to defeat the BJP. Congress leaders said Yechury is trying to demonstrate he remains in control by leading the pitch for impeaching Misra.
So, for now, the party has maintained an ambivalent position. Asked about it, Congress spokesman RPN Singh merely said the CPI(M) has raised an important matter and that his party’s leaders in Parliament will “make their position clear after talking to other opposition leaders” in the coming days.
When the four judges went public with their grievances with the chief justice, the Congress lost no time wading into the controversy. It issued a statement describing the matters raised by them as “extremely disturbing” and suggesting they be addressed by the full court. The party’s president, Rahul Gandhi, also made a brief comment on the development, which he termed as unprecedented. Referring to the petition for investigation into the death of Maharashtra judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, Gandhi said it should be heard by the senior-most judges of the Supreme Court. He also asked for an independent special investigation team to look into Loya’s death. Loya died in December 2014 while he was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, in which BJP president Amit Shah was among the accused. Misra’s handling of the petition seeking an enquiry into Loya’s death was one of the key concerns raised by the four judges.
Having gone so far, the Congress is not inclined to push further. A strong section in the party, including former ministers P Chidambaram, Salman Khursheed and Manish Tewari, believe that moving to impeach Misra will not serve any purpose. The chief justice is retiring in October this year and three of the four dissenting judges will also be gone over the next year. So, this may not be a wise move considering it could antagonise the remaining judges. “On what basis should we move an impeachment motion and to what end?” asked a senior Congress leader who is against the proposal. “Is there a specific court verdict or ruling delivered by the chief justice which can be cited for such an extreme move?”
Even on the day the dissenting judges went public, this section of leaders had argued against taking a hard position. At a meeting called by Gandhi to decide the party’s response, former minister and lawyer Kapil Sibal said the Congress should not shy away from taking an aggressive stand. Tewari, however, argued that they should refrain from reacting immediately and wait to see how the events play out. Other lawyer-leaders such as Khursheed and Chidambaram were said to be of the view that the Congress should keep the focus on the concerns raised by the four judges and keep away from discussing their personal differences with the chief justice.
Meanwhile, making a case for moving ahead with the impeachment motion, Yechury told the media on Tuesday that since the judiciary had failed to address the concerns raised by the four senior judges, it was time for the legislature and the executive to come together and find a resolution. Yechury said he has met Nationalist Congress Party leader Tariq Anwar and the Janata Dal (United) rebel Sharad Yadav to discuss the matter and he is also talking to other opposition leaders.