Second thoughts in Bengal BJP on ‘motormouth justice’ Abhijit Gangopadhyay

His controversial observations like handing over govt schools to Adani Group and getting bulldozers from UP, are making even the BJP uneasy about the loose cannon likely to join the party this week

(Former) Calcutta High Court judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay at a press conference after tendering his resignation on 5 March (photo: PTI)
(Former) Calcutta High Court judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay at a press conference after tendering his resignation on 5 March (photo: PTI)

A.J. Prabal

Due to retire in August, the decision by Abhijit Gangopadhyay to resign as Calcutta High Court judge this week and join the BJP, ostensibly to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, has come in for widespread criticism for impropriety. Many lawyers have been scathing, with Kalyan Banerjee, a lawyer and Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP, calling the former justice the most incompetent judge to have served the high court.

Even Sanjay Hegde, Supreme Court advocate and commentator, said, “Mr Ganguly as he now is, has demeaned the institution that he served till yesterday. A judge who seeks public approval and validation through ballots, should be required to compulsorily wait out a reasonable length of time before seeking electoral office.”

There is no legal provision that insists on a cooling off period, though, and an increasing number of judges have been accepting post-retirement appointments from the government. Justice S. Abdul Nazeer, one of the five Supreme Court judges who authored the Ayodhya judgment, was appointed governor of Andhra Pradesh by the Modi government within a month of his retirement. Former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, a co-author with Nazeer, was nominated to the Rajya Sabha within four months of demitting office.

Earlier, the government had appointed K. Sathasivam governor of Kerala within five months of his retirement. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which was usually chaired by former chief justices of India, changed its rules to accommodate justice Arun Mishra after his retirement.

Justice Gangopadhyay, however, has the dubious distinction of being the first judge of a Constitution court to declare his intent to join a political party while still a judge.

While speculation is rife about Gangopadhyay being fielded from Tamluk in East Medinipur for the Lok Sabha, there are reportedly second thoughts on his candidature within the Bengal BJP itself. Alarmed by his statements at a press conference on Tuesday, BJP leaders have begun voicing their apprehension that the judge, known as a motormouth, could become a liability, and are advocating that he be used as a campaigner instead. With admirers in both the left and right wings in the state, he would be more useful as a star campaigner, they feel.

As judge of the high court, Gangopadhyay was given an unusually long rope by the Supreme Court. Several judges have been transferred to more obscure and smaller high courts outside their home states in the past for much less, but the Supreme Court showed remarkable restraint in his case, even when he accused another high court judge of working in the interests of Mamata Banerjee's TMC, the state's ruling party.

The apex court also delivered only a gentle rap on the knuckles when he gave a long and ‘loaded’ interview to the TV channel ABP Ananda, and spoke without inhibition, a rare case of a sitting judge appearing on TV.

He was let off with the gentle reprimand by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, that orders by judges should be heard, not the judges themselves. He also said judges had no business giving television interviews.

But the errant Gangopadhyay was not transferred to an obscure high court, even as far more upright and distinguished high court chief justices were shuffled around like a pack of cards. It was clear to the more discerning folks that the judge had powerful patrons, and the backing of both the Union ministries of law and home affairs.

Gangopadhyay — it is not clear if his resignation has been accepted by the President in record time, though the judge himself has already fixed 7 March as the day he will join the BJP — claimed that he "had been in touch with the BJP and BJP with him" during the past week or so, when he was "on leave and not handling cases". The grapevine in Kolkata, however, holds otherwise. The ‘former’ judge had met Union home minister Amit Shah several months ago and the ‘deal’ was finalised, they insist.

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