Former Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi on Tuesday said he accepted his nomination to Rajya Sabha four months after he retired in November because of a strong conviction that the legislature and judiciary should work together at some point to help nation-building.
In an interview with an Assamese news channel, he said the opportunity to become a member of the Upper House will help him project views of the judiciary before the legislature and vice versa. He added he had given the nomination a considerable thought before agreeing to take accept it. “Let God give me the strength to have an independent voice in Parliament. I have much to say, but let me take oath in Parliament and after that, I will speak,” Gogoi said.
Gogoi’s comments came on a day when Opposition parties questioned his nomination, with the Congress saying the move has hit the belief people had in the judiciary.
Congress’s chief spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala, asked whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi considered late former Union minister Arun Jaitley’s advice before nominating Gogoi.
“Did PM Modi consider the advice of his former colleague and Law Minister and Finance Minister, Late Sh. Arun Jaitley before recommending Ex-CJI, Ranjan Gogoi to Rajya Sabha,” he tweeted, referring to Jaitley’s comments in 2012 that “pre-retirement judgments are influenced by a desire for a post-retirement job”.
“Justice [Madan B] Lokur rightly summarises it : ‘Has the last bastion fallen?’” Surjewala said in another tweet.
Surjewala was referring to Lokur’s reaction to the nomination. “There has been speculation for some time now about what honorific would Justice Gogoi get. So, in that sense, the nomination is not surprising, but what is surprising is that it came so soon. This redefines the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary. Has the last bastion fallen?” Lokur, a former colleague of Gogoi, told the Indian Express.
Surjewala’s party colleague, Abhishek Singhvi, echoed him. “The Congress finds it as one of the most serious, unprecedented and unpardonable assaults on the basic structure of the Constitution, which subsumes independence of the judiciary as held by Supreme Court judgments,” Singhvi told reporters.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), also hit out at the government, saying the nomination is a “brazen” effort to undermine the judiciary’s independence. “By nominating the former CJI to the Rajya Sabha, the Modi government is brazenly undermining the independence of the judiciary and subverting the separation of powers between the organs of the State, which is an inviolable principle enshrined in our constitutional scheme,” the CPI (M) said in a statement.
The party also quoted Gogoi’s statement last year in which he observed: “There is a strong viewpoint that post-retirement appointment is a scar on the independence of the judiciary.”
“The CPI (M) has earlier stated in no uncertain terms that under the constitutional scheme of things, the judiciary in India is not only independent but has a very important role to safeguard the rule of law,” the statement said.
“The recent delays in delivery of justice, midnight transfers of high court judges and the delay in taking up the challenges to abrogation of Article 370 and the CAA [Citizenship Amendment Act] have not evoked confidence among the people and are not in consonance with their legitimate expectations,” it said.
The party urged President Ram Nath Kovind to rescind Gogoi’s nomination.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) criticised the Modi government over the nomination. NCP spokesman, Mahesh Tapase, said the government should refrain from appointing to Rajya Sabha judges, who have handled sensitive cases.
He said the people look up to the judiciary for dispensation of justice “without fear and favour”.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi asked if there is any “quid pro quo” in the nomination of Gogoi. “How will people have faith in the Independence of Judges ? Many Questions,” he tweeted.
Gogoi will be the first former CJI to become a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. He will also be the second CJI to become a Rajya Sabha MP after justice Ranganath Misra, who was elected as a Congress lawmaker from Odisha. Justice Misra, however, became a Rajya Sabha member in 1998, nearly seven years after his retirement from the Supreme Court.
Gogoi’s tenure as CJI was controversial, with a sexual harassment allegation raised against him by a Supreme Court staffer, who also claimed she had been terminated from service after she spoke up. The allegations were dismissed by an internal committee constituted by the Supreme Court. The complainant was later reinstated.
During Gogoi’s term, several key cases came up for the hearing — including the allegations against the government about procedural flaws in the procurement of Rafale jets, and the controversy over the government’s decision to transfer Central Bureau of Investigation director Alok Verma before the end of his term.
Gogoi’s most significant judgment was in the Ram Janmabhoomi case, where he led a bench which granted the disputed land in Ayodhya to the Hindu parties, paving the way for the construction of the Ram Temple, a key political agenda of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
BJP spokesperson Sanjay Mayukh brushed aside the criticism saying Gogoi is a competent person, who should be in the upper House. “The Opposition is politicising his appointment, even though there is a precendent of judges being elected to Rajya Sabha. The opposition has made it a habit to create fuss over nothing.”