A press conference in New Delhi on Friday by justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, MB Lokur and Kurian Joseph highlighted the growing rift between senior judges and CJI Dipak Misra.
“This is an extraordinary event in the history of any nation, more particularly this nation, and an extraordinary event in the institution of the judiciary,” said Chelameswar, the second-most-senior judge.
“We’re all convinced that unless this institution is preserved… democracy won’t survive in this country,” he added.
“The hallmark of a good democracy is an impartial and independent judiciary, and we don’t want to be blamed for selling our souls.”
Ever since taking charge in August 2017, the chief justice has moved cases on numerous occasions from one bench to another on a whim.
Protesting judges say Misra is using his power to allot cases arbitrarily, not in the spirit of constitutionality and democracy.
The matter came to a head with the death in 2014 of Justice Brijgopal Harkishan Loya. Three years later, a New Delhi-based magazine raised doubts about the manner in which he died.
The Mumbai High Court was supposed to hear a petition for a probe into his death on Wednesday, but the CJI gave the case to two junior judges in the Supreme Court. Judges wanted the case to be given to senior peers, considering the gravity of the case.
“We all want the judiciary to survive, and this is the only top institution of the country that can safeguard you and me,” said senior Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaising.
Prominent lawyer Prashant Bushan said: “This is a serious matter. The judges who came out protesting are highly reputed and very conservative. They are known for their wisdom.”
Political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay told Arab News: “The unprecedented development today is a direct indictment of (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s regime.”
Mukhopadhyay added: “It proves beyond doubt what civil society members have been alleging for the past few years, that Modi has been eroding the autonomy and credibility of constitutional bodies in a systematic manner ever since he came to power.”
He said the only way out of this crisis is for Misra to resign, adding: “My feeling is that the government will allege that protesting judges are in cahoots with forces that are trying to destabilize the country or the government, as they’ve done with civil society members who have criticized the government’s divisive and sectarian agenda.”
The opposition Congress Party’s President Rahul Gandhi said the points raised by the judges are “extremely important” and “must be looked into carefully.”
India’s Attorney General K. Venugopal, the government’s chief legal adviser, said if the protesting judges had “avoided going to the press,” the matter would have been resolved “in a day or two.”