A somewhat comical, even if self-serving, side play in the Narendra Modi government’s brazen (and thus far successful) attempts to fool the Supreme Court—not once, but twice—in #Rafale and #CBI, have been the interjections of Justice Markandey Katju*.
Justice Katju has tweeted 48 times on or around the “transfer” of CBI director Alok Varma by a three-member panel that included an SC judge.
Hear that again: 48 times, since January 10.
On the one hand, are Justice Katju’s broad generalisations of “Indian media”—or those worthies from “Lutyens Delhi” whom he encounters on his daily trudges through the thickets of Twitter. He probably deludes himself into thinking they are the media.
# “Donald Trump‘s remark calling media fake news may not be true for American media, but it accurately describes most of Indian media”
# “Most Indian journalists believe in expressing opinions without proper investigation, irrespective of its truth as long as it provides masala.”
# “Most journalists should join ‘go rakshaks‘. They will feel comfortable in the company of lynchers.”
# “Most of the Indian largely believes in creating sensations and providing masala to the public. It is no surprise then that the people do not hold most of the media and journalists in high regards.”
The escape clause for Justice Katju is “most” or “most of”, implying not all, meaning there are still some creatures in the vast cesspool he still considers kosher, which must be those he tweets to, or tags, or sends unsolicited articles.
The Indian media has been called far worse by those who matter—-bazaaru (Narendra Modi); dalals (Arvind Kejriwal); “presstitutes” (Gen V.K. Singh)—for Justice Katju’s barbs to hurt. Why, Rahul Gandhi even hurled an English epithet at the HMTs: “pliable“.
But Justice Katju was chairman of the Press Council of India for three years, a post he was rewarded immediately after his retirement in 2011 by the Manmohan Singh government, and a tenure marked by frequently run-ins with the media.
Surely, he, of all people, should know the media better?
Surely, he should know why he didn’t get a second term?
But that’s not the point.
The point is #Rafale. First, the eye-popping, brain-imploding spectacle of judges of the Supreme Court being “misled” by a government’s schoolboy lies, obfuscations, and grammar—a tragedy of errors the SC has deemed not serious enough to explain. Yet.
And the point is #CBI, the eagerness of a former SC judge to spring to the rescue of a junior judge who clearly fell prey to the shenanigans of a government that was trying to remove a thorn in its #Rafale flesh, by making ad hominem attacks on journalists.
Justice Markandey Katju employs two tactics in this game.
The first tactic is the unsolicited character certificate.
Justice A.K. Sikri is “deputed” by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi to sit with prime minister Modi and the “leader of the opposition” Mallikarjuna Kharge on January 10 to decide on the future of CBI director Alok Verma, who had been reinstated in office by the SC two days earlier.
Verma is “transferred” through a 2-1 vote without being given a chance to explain the charges against him before the panel. And he is “transferred” although he has already reached superannuation as a civil service officer.
As tongues wag, Justice Katju wades into the debate to defend Justice Sikri through two tweets and a Facebook post.
“I know Justice Sikri very well as I was his Chief Justice in the Delhi High Court, and I can vouchsafe for his high reputation of integrity. He would not have taken the decision which he did unless there was some strong material on record against Alok Verma.
“What that material is I do not know. But I know Justice Sikri, and can say from personal knowledge that he cannot be influenced by anyone. To attribute motives to him is wrong and unfair. “
Then, as the questions pile up about the judge being party to a possible miscarriage of justice, about being a “puppet of the PM“, Justice Katju, using his calling card as a senior and as former SC judge, falls back on his second card.
The old Delhi trick called “access”.
He telephones Justice Sikri and puts up a Facebook post.
The simple question here is: why should anybody believe this is Justice Sikri’s view? Just because Justice Katju says so.
If Justice Sikri felt hard done by media speculation, why didn’t he call the media directly, why did he need to use Katju’s services?
On the other hand, if “protocol” prevented Justice Sikri from talking to the media, then Justice Katju’s complaint against the media—of not contacting the judge—falls flat.
Surely, Justice Katju of all people is aware of the power of contempt.
But those questions do not stop Justice Katju from gunning for journalists, who, he alleges, showed their “low level” by not contacting Justice Sikri, or for merely commenting on the manner of the removal of Alok Verma.
Actually, how many Supreme Court judges does Justice Katju know who routinely answer phone calls from journalists, even from “legal reporters” whom they encounter every day in the court?
And, how many SC judges does Justice Katju know who entertain journalists’ queries on political issues which are in the news, and that too on the record?
Did Justice Katju really expect Justice Sikri to welcome journalists’ queries involving the biggest stories of the day, #Rafale and #CBI, even if it was not a judicial hearing, even if the #Rafale word was not explicitly spelled out?
There is only one way of finding out: Call 011-3016022 or 3016044. Apparently, these are Justice Sikri’s number and Justice Katju assures you that he will answer your questions.
Since Justice Katju’s views are music to the ears of North Korean TV channels aching to bale out the Modi government in the #Rafale issue or any other issue, the Mukesh Ambani-owned CNN-News18 gets him on-air, “exclusively”.
(Justice Katju retweets the channel’s promo tweet four times.)
A twist in Katju’s script emerges on 12 January when Seema Chishti of The Indian Express gets retired Justice A.K. Patnaik to say—on the record—that there was no record of corruption against Alok Verma; that what the CVC said on the CBI chief cannot be the final word, and that he was critical of the “very, very hasty” decision of the PM-led panel to remove Verma.
Remember, retired judge Katju has all this while been shouting that journalists should talk to the judge before commenting.
Now, when another judge, just as retired as him, speaks to a journalist on the record, Katju exhorts them to call the judge to check if what he told the newspaper was true!
And then, when no holes could be found in Seema Chishti’s report, swiftly turns it into a debate on how, and how long, she spoke to Judge Patnaik.
Not in person but on the phone, the very device he has been advocating thus far!
During his interactions with media folk in the #Rafale-CBI saga, Justice Katju—big, brash and a bit of a bully given his physique and pedigree—blows hot and cold.
When the former Outlook and Hindustan Times journalist Sujata Anandan taunts him, he gets all hot under the collar.
But when the former Economic Times journalist Rohini Singh reports for The Wire that the CVC had met Alok Verma to persuade him to withdraw his case against the PMO’s “blue-eyed boy”, Rakesh Asthana, Justice Katju turns all avuncular.
When Maneesh Chibber of The Print broke the news that Justice Sikri, to whom Justice Katju had issued a certificate of character, had been given a “plum posting” in London, post his retirement, Justice Katju is back to his elements.
Justice Sikri, to him, is outstanding, totally upright, extremely competent, and hardworking. Yes, but what has that got to do with the price of onions?
Thankfully, all this to and fro between Katju and the journalists has been in the echo spa called Twitter, which leads many (including those in the media) into thinking that it is the real world. It is not.
Because at the end of the day, all the screaming of Justice Katju and his telephone calls to judges, present and past, do not change the material facts:
- How could a Supreme Court bench comprising the CJI and Justices S.K. Kaul and K.M. Joseph have been be misled by grammatical and factual errors in the #Rafale matter? Do the honourable judges not feel it necessary to explain or admonish?
- If the SC-appointed judge to supervise the CVC report Justice A.K. Patnaik says there was “no evidence of corruption” how did Justice Sikri go along with the PM’s view, and against the LoP’s , to sack Alok Verma without giving him a chance to explain?
- How did Justice Sikri find the “prima facie findings of guilt” of a CVC, who has himself been under the SC’s scanner, sufficient? Was he completely unaware of the tug-of-war between Alok Verma and PMO’s “blue-eyed boy” Rakesh Asthana?
- Alok Verma had attained superannuation and serving out a fixed two-year term as CBI chief. How did Justice Sikri go along with the PM in “transferring” the CBI chief to another department when he was already superannuated?
- In the government-to-government #Rafale in which the Prime Minister was the sole signatory, how right was it for Narendra Modi to be on a panel on the future of a CBI chief who had the papers submitted by Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan before him?
When time permits this weekend, or next, Justice Katju should make a few more calls to figure out who is peddling “fake news” and who is doing the “lynching”.
*Disclosure: Justice Markandey Katju was chairman of the Press Council of India. where this writer, as a representative of the Editors Guild of India, briefly served as a member alongside him.
Screenshots: The Indian Express and The Telegraph