Two days ago, over 300 lawyers of the Supreme Court and various high courts, in a strongly-worded statement, condemned the Union Minister for Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju’s remarks at the India Today conclave.
On March 18, Union Minister of Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju, in his address at the India Today Conclave in New Delhi had said that a few retired judges, who are activists, are part of an “anti-India gang” which is trying to turn the judiciary against the government like the Opposition parties. He warned that “those working against the country will have to pay a price”.
Subsequently, responding to a question on the action taken by the government in this regard, he added, “Agencies will take action as per the provisions of law. Nobody will escape. Those who have worked against the country will have to pay a price for that.”
The statement issued by the lawyers condemned the remarks by saying that the Law minister “pointedly threatened” the retired Supreme Court judges and he “transgressed all limits of constitutional propriety”. The lawyers added that “By threatening retired judges, the Law Minister is clearly sending a message to every citizen, that no voice of dissent will be spared.”
Stating that such hectoring and bullying are unbecoming of the high office held by the Minister, the lawyers reminded him that criticism of the government is neither against the nation, nor unpatriotic, nor “anti-India” and that “the government of the day is not the nation, and the nation is not the government”.
You can read the statement here :
We, the undersigned lawyers practicing in diverse courts around the nation, deprecate the unwarranted attack launched against retired judges of the Supreme Court of India by Union Law Minister Shri Kiren Rijiju, at a conclave telecast live by a media house. The allegations of anti-nationalism against people who have dedicated their lives to upholding the rule of law, and the naked threat of reprisals against them, marks a new low in the public discourse of our great nation.
We are compelled to remind Shri Rijiju that as a Member of Parliament, he is sworn to uphold and bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India, and as Minister of Law and Justice, it is his duty to protect the judicial system, the judiciary and the judges, both past and present. It is no part of his duty to single out some retired judges with whose opinion he might disagree, and to issue public threats of action by law enforcement agencies against them.
The Hon’ble Minister, in his speech on March 18, 2023 obliquely referred to a “few retired judges”, who till recently occupied high Constitutional offices, as being part of an “anti-India gang.” By bracketing the critics, that too without naming them, as an anti-India gang, the Minister has transgressed all limits of constitutional propriety by claiming that the members of this ‘anti-India gang’ wanted to “make the judiciary play the role of the opposition.” He pointedly threatened these retired Supreme Court judges that “no one will escape” and “those who work against the country will pay the price.”
By threatening retired judges, the Law Minister is clearly sending a message to every citizen, that no voice of dissent will be spared.
We condemn these remarks in unambiguous terms. Such hectoring and bullying are unbecoming of the high office held by the Minister. We may remind the Minister that criticism of the government is neither against the nation, nor unpatriotic, nor “anti-India”. He must remember that the government of the day is not the nation, and the nation is not the government. And of course, he will do well to remind himself of what Prime Minister Modi said on Network18 in September 2016, and again in his reply to the Motion of Thanks to President Smt. Draupadi Murmu on the floor of the Lok Sabha a couple of months ago: that the toughest questions and criticism must be levelled against governments, as that is the only way in which governments are kept alert and responsive. We unhesitatingly state that critics of the government are every bit as patriotic as those in government; and critics who highlight failures or shortcomings in the administration, or violations of constitutional norms, are exercising an inherent and most basic human right, and one which his Ministry is charged with protecting, freedom of speech and expression.
Under our Constitutional scheme, the space for criticism of the government is neither reserved for exercise in parliament or legislatures alone, nor is it confined to any particular class of persons or barred to any other. The right of every citizen to dissent, criticise and peacefully oppose any government and its policies or functioning is an inherent basic human right, which is also Constitutionally protected. Criticism of the government does not authorize a high state functionary to besmirch any individual’s patriotism.
Views expressed by former Judges, responsible women and men who have shepherded the courts through thick and thin, even if such views be unpalatable to the ruling political dispensation, does not entitle the Minister to make such outrageous comments. These unacceptable threats meted out against retired judges, have the effect of inciting the public against our judges and judicial system and deserve to be strongly condemned.
The nation owes a debt of gratitude to our retired Judges, and it matters not whether one might individually agree or disagree with the views of an individual judge, whether serving or retired.
The Hon’ble Law Minister cannot fail to recall the words attributed to Voltaire, and to remind himself that a Law Minister, more than any other, must unfailingly stand up for those words:
“I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
The Hon’ble Minister must realise that by virtue of his office, he is the bridge between the executive and judicial wings of the state, and that he must therefore maintain a dignified public discourse.
We therefore urge the Minister to publicly withdraw his remarks and refrain from making such remarks in the future.
To see the name of the Signatories To The Response By Lawyers To The Law Minister’s Speech Dated March 18, 2023, click the link given below: