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Jaitley vs Katju
BJP leader’s untenable personal attack on the PCI chairman knocks out the very basis of his contention
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Open exchange of charges and counter-charges between two high-level constitutional functionaries in New Delhi has, expectedly, attracted a lot of public attention. BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s sharp reaction to Justice Markandey Katju’s write up in a prominent national daily a few days ago has brought forth latter’s strong rejoinder. The leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha sought to take on the Chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI) on three main counts: (1)That Justice Katju’s ideas propounded in the article were politically controversial; (2) that he had assailed the BJP while seeking to support the Congress and (3) that he had sought to tarnish the image of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi (seeking his sponsorship as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 national elections).

However, instead of replying to what Justice Katju had specifically said, Jaitley sought to mount a personal ‘counter attack. Instead he injected a provocative personal angle into the controversy by virtually questioning the moral integrity of Justice Katju. The former law minister vaguely sought to generalise his allegation purporting as if the views expressed by Justice Katju were intended to ‘repay the debt’ of his post-retirement appointment (to the PCI) by the Congress-led UPA government. Jaitley’ accusation brought forth a sharp rebuttal from the Congress spokesperson reminding the former (NDA) law minister that it was an established practice under each and every regime to utilise the services of retired judges and all such appointments were processed through the law ministry which Jaitley himself headed in the AB Vajpayee government.

Blanket restrictions usually associated with the office of apex court judge cease to exist after his/her retirement. Their re-appointment in various other categories undoubtedly involves certain parameters of functional propriety in discharge of their specified duties. Beyond that they have freedom of speech like any other citizen of this country. Heads of various national commissions have been making statements on political issues and there is hardly any exception taken, even by the BJP.

Justice Katju’s appointment as the PCI chairman falls into that category. He is no longer subject to the blanket conduct rules for a serving judge of the Supreme Court. Mr Jaitley’s angry reaction and his untenable accusation that Justice Katju was ‘paying back the debt’ to the Congress has virtually knocked the basis of his case. He has chosen to go too vindictively personal instead of offering rebuttal of specific points contained in Justice Katju’s article.

Going through Justice Katju’s write up, it is obvious that his conclusions are based on unassailable facts which continue to be on record. Narendra Modi continues to face serious allegations of his involvement in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Justice Katju’s observation that Modi’s victory in the recent assembly elections in Gujarat did not wash off the taint of grave allegations against him. This is also a statement of fact and remains valid until and unless the BJP’s aspiring prime ministerial candidate gets his name convincingly absolved from various cases pending in different courts. A number of senior officials have testified on oath and charged the chief minister of complicity in communal riots.

Mr Jaitley’s attack on the PCI chairman also suffers from another disability. If he and his party were really as particular about such niceties they would not have been looking the other way in the comparable case of the (serving) Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India who has vitually gone on political rampage, within the country and abroad, to run down the UPA government to the extent of calling its functionaries as ‘bullies’. Unlike in the case of Justice Katju where Jaitley was too quick to jump the gun, he and his party have not only ignored to take notice of Rai’s anti-Congress rhetoric but have gone on to hail him as a ‘hero’.

Practising double standard is nothing new in Indian politics. But even the practitioners of this dubious art form need to pause before going public so long as they themselves happen to hold high positions in the power structure. And coming from the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha the accusation that Justice Katju was returning an ‘obligation’ he owed to the Congress for his post-retirement appointment it can only boomerang as indeed it has. The controversy has acquired an ugly tone. The BJP leader would have served his own and his party’s cause better if he had offered a convincing response to the serious points of debate raised in Justice Katju’s article.

News Updated at : Monday, February 18, 2013
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