The Congress on Thursday decried the transfer of Delhi High Court judge Justice S Muralidhar to the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Wednesday, the same day he criticised the central government, the state as well as the police for the violence in North East Delhi.

The Supreme Court Collegium had on February 12 recommended the judge’s transfer. The centre issued the notification on Wednesday night, some hours after the High Court pulled up the police for inaction.

The number of casualties as a result of large-scale mob violence in Delhi, much of it directed at Muslims, climbed to 34 on Thursday morning.

Addressing a press conference in the national Capital, Congress Spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala called the transfer a “classic case of hit-and-run injustice” by the Bharatiya Janata Party government. “The whole nation is shocked today,” he said. “But it looks like those who give justice in the country won’t be spared.”

Surjewala alleged that the judge was suddenly transferred by the government to save BJP leaders in the Delhi violence case. “Justice Muralidhar was hearing cases against BJP leaders who have made inflammatory speeches,” he said. “This has exposed the politics of revenge and pressure practiced by the party.”

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra called the late-night transfer “sad and shameful” but said it was not a surprise, given “the current dispensation”.

Attaching a screenshot of the transfer letter, she criticised the Centre for attempting to “muzzle justice”. In a tweet, she said: “Millions of Indians have faith in a resilient & upright judiciary, the government’s attempts to muzzle justice & break their faith are deplorable”.

Party leader Rahul Gandhi made an indirect reference to Muralidhar’s transfer, by remembering the “brave Judge Loya, who wasn’t transferred”. Central Bureau of Investigation Judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya died in 2014.

At the time, he was handling the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case in which Union Home Minister Amit Shah was an accused. Suspicions were raised about the circumstances of the judge’s death after The Caravan published a report in November 2017 with interviews with members of his family. In April, however, the Supreme Court dismissed petitions that sought an independent inquiry into his death calling them frivolous and without merit.

BJP hits back

Meanwhile, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday attacked the Congress in return and claimed that the party had again displayed its scant regard for the judiciary by politicising a routine transfer. “People of India have rejected Congress Party and hence it is hell bent on destroying the very institutions India cherishes by constantly attacking them,” he said.

The minister accused Rahul Gandhi of disrespecting the Supreme Court verdict on the death of Justice Loya. “The Loya judgement has been well settled by the top court,” he said. “Those raising questions do not respect the judgment of the Apex Court pronounced after elaborate arguments. Does Rahul Gandhi consider himself above even the Supreme Court?”

Raking up the imposition of the Emergency by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975, the parliamentarian added: “Record of Congress in compromising independence of judiciary, superseding judges even of Supreme Court during Emergency is well known. They [the Congress] rejoice only when the judgment is of their liking otherwise raise questions on the institutions itself.”

The BJP leader called the Congress the “private property” of the Gandhi family who do not have the right to lecture about making objectionable speeches. “The family and it’s cronies have routinely used the harshest words against the Courts, the Army, the CAG, the Prime Minister and the people of India.”

What the court said

More reports of arson and unrest poured in from North East Delhi’s Bhajanpura, Maujpur and Karawal Nagar areas late on Wednesday, hours after National Security Advisor Ajit Doval took charge of the security situation and attempted to establish order in the affected areas.

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday said “another 1984 riots” cannot be allowed in the city and directed the police to take a decision on filing cases against three Bharatiya Janata Party leaders – Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma – for hate speech. The court also ordered security for citizens, 24-hour helplines, adequate ambulances and shelters.

The court also rebuked the police for inaction during the violent clashes in North East Delhi and said the situation would not have escalated if the police had “not allowed instigators to get away”.

The court added that the highest functionaries of the state have to be “very, very alert” and said state and central government functionaries should meet the victims and their families. Justice S Muralidhar, who led the proceedings, was also surprised to note that the Delhi Police official in the court had not watched a video of BJP leader Kapil Mishra, which was the first prayer in the petition.

Muralidhar noted that the situation was “very unpleasant” in Delhi and said the police should not “have to wait for a court’s order” and take action on its own.

Justice Muralidhar had on Tuesday held a hearing at midnight and asked the police to ensure safe passage to those injured during the violence, and to provide emergency medical assistance at government hospitals.