Interview with Prashant Bhushan: “If I don’t say what needs to be said, who will say it?”
“If I am going to be intimidated or deterred from saying it because of the fear of contempt, then who will point out. I always say things with the spirit of reform,” he said
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan was in the spotlight after the Supreme Court stated that two of his tweets criticising the Chief Justice SA Bobde were in contempt of the court. He, however, stated that the Supreme Court was the last bastion of hope for the protection of fundamental rights.
Eventually, he was fined Rs 1 by the Supreme Court, after multiple attempts by the apex court to convince him into giving an apology. “If I am going to be intimidated or deterred from saying it because of the fear of contempt, then who will point out,” underscored Bhushan.
The senior SC lawyer spoke to Ashlin Mathew in a free-wheeling interview. Here are edited excerpts from the same:
When you put those tweets on CJI SA Bobde and SC, did you think that the Supreme Court would suo moto hear the case and it would culminate where it did?
I said those things in my tweet because I strongly felt anguished about what was happening around. My tweet on the CJI and the motorcycle was to underline about lockdown of the courts and it showed the incongruity of keeping the courts locked up because of Covid-19. The second tweet was a carefully calibrated tweet about what has happened to democracy in the last six years. What the role of the court has been to protect democracy and what the role of the last four Chief Justices had been. So, I didn’t think they constitute contempt at all. It was just my opinion about what happened. Now, of course, people around me had been saying for some time that I shouldn’t be saying so sharply against the court. What I felt was if I don’t say what needs to be said, who will say it. My Twitter is one way of saying what I honestly believe. I felt that my Twitter account is for saying things about important public issues, about what I feel is going right or wrong in our society. This was something I felt strongly about.
If I am going to be intimidated or deterred from saying it because of the fear of contempt, then who will point out. I always say things with the spirit of reform.
It seemed like the court dragged the case to get an apology from you. What would you say to that?
My ego and self-respect do not allow me to give a false apology, even if people were trying to push me into saying ‘sorry’ and take the easy way out. That goes against my conscience as it goes against what is my honest bonafide view and what I still believe in. That is not how I work.
Fortunately, my lawyers (Dushyant Dave and Rajiv Dhavan) also did not say anything of that sort because I had always made it clear that if it comes to sending me to jail, I was prepared to go to jail. Even if they debarred me from practicing in the Supreme Court, I was prepared for that. I would still have been able to practice in the High Courts, where I could have done a few important public interest cases. I would have written a book or two on the judiciary.
The Supreme Court still convicted you in the contempt case. Does this set a bad precedent?
There’s no doubt that it sets a very bad precedent. That’s why we will be fighting it with a review and a writ petition.
Speaking of contempt of court, we must speak about your support of jailing Justice CS Karnan for contempt of court. Do you think the Supreme Court had overstretched itself by convicting him?
I felt that he had committed gross contempt by interfering with the administration of justice. It was not a case of mere scandalisation of court, but it was case of obstructing the administration of justice by abusing the judicial office to order the arrest of Supreme Court judges. But, he should not have been sent to prison. He should have been removed from office.
Recently, Justice Arun Mishra’s brother was appointed to the Madhya Pradesh HC in contravention to the laid norms. What do you have to say about this?
When you have people from a certain background as the appointing authority, then nepotism flourishes, especially in the absence of transparency. That is why we have been saying that there is a need for a full-time judicial appointment commission, not an ex-officio body as was proposed with a few sitting judges, law minister and jurists. There must be a full-time body as in England, who should lay down criteria and how they would evaluate people on those criteria. Then, they must put out a shortlist before the public, so that the public has a chance to respond about the people who are being considered.
Suppose Arun Mishra’s brother’s name had been put out, a lot of people would have pointed out his communal views. He does not adhere to the values of the Constitution. Therefore, how can he protect the Constitution?
How can the judiciary be made inclusive?
I’m not particularly in favour of reservations in the higher judiciary. I am certainly of the view all the relevant qualities in a judge need to be considered, including their sensitivity to caste discrimination, sexual discrimination in our society. Even to protect those very people you want to protect by reservation, it’s not necessary to have Dalit judges. If they are deserving, they would come through the normal course too.
Higher judiciary is meant to protect the Constitution and rights. Therefore, it’s a place where you need the most appropriate people who can do the job with sensitivity. It’s not necessary that only a Dalit judge will be sensitive to Dalit issues. Justice Krishna Iyer was much more sensitive than Justice KG Balakrishnan.
Your trajectory of fighting cases has been chequered by your support for Aam Aadmi Party and the RSS-backed India Against Corruption. What do you think retrospectively?
It’s unfortunate. One of the regrets that I have is that I didn’t see Arvind’s character early enough. He turned out to be a totally unscrupulous person without any ideology or principle. He would sleep with anybody, even with the devil, if it suits his interests.
At that time, perhaps, I thought the only way to bring about change would be to get into governments. I did not want to contest elections myself, but I wanted to help in the process.
I didn’t notice that RSS and BJP were propping up this movement for their own purposes. They had clear links with Arvind (Kejriwal) at that time. It did do damage to Congress at that time. I have apologised publicly for what all I have felt bad about.
You have been extremely critical of the Congress and that probably drove you towards IAC. What damage has that done?
Congress has many problems. But, having said that I feel that the Gandhi family, which is often attacked, is much more decent than most politicians in this country. Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka are basically good people. This is my perception of them.
The BJP and its government representatives are a far greater threat to our democracy, civilisation than the Congress can ever be. The Congress still has heritage and depth, which BJP does not have.