How did Kapil Sibal suddenly emerge as the face of the political opposition to take on the CJI? One must question his proactive role and its rationale
In December 2017, Kapil Sibal – the man behind the current impeachment proceedings of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) – demanded a two-year postponement on hearings in the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi case since he didn’t want the verdict to impact the 2019 elections. By April 2018, he emerged as the main face of the opposition to take on the CJI in a move to impeach him.
Life must have come a full circle for veteran lawyer and Congress leader Kapil Sibal as he read out the impeachment motion. Twenty-five years ago, Sibal was also at the forefront defending the then Supreme Court judge V Ramaswami. Allegations of financial impropriety and irregularities were made against Justice Ramaswami from when he was Chief Justice of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana. A total of 108 members of the 9th Lok Sabha had moved an impeachment motion against the judge. What really explains this flip-flop? Sibal asserts that the Opposition’s impeachment motion against the CJI is not politics. One has to disagree.
Sibal’s Hindu Hate
Sibal has made it a habit of invariably opposing the Hindu party in all important cases that are being argued before the Supreme Court. He opposed the abolition of triple talaq. He has also opposed the annulment of Hadiya’s marriage to a member of an Islamist organisation. And to pile glory upon glory, he is also now opposing the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Impeachment Lobbying- Justice Ramaswami Case
The 196 Opposition MPs in the Lok Sabha who earlier voted in favour of impeachment were less than half the strength of the House. The move had to be supported by two-thirds of the members present to succeed. All those who voted for impeachment were from the Opposition, while the Congress (I) adopted the strategy of abstaining. The Congress (I) camp decided there were good reasons for sabotaging the impeachment motion.
Justice V Ramaswami was a Congress (I) appointed judge and his removal could have undermined the party"s credibility. Especially as Rajiv Gandhi had sent him as Chief Justice to Chandigarh to tackle terrorist cases. Besides, his son was a Congress (I) MLA in Tamil Nadu.
And the lawyer who argued his case in the Lok Sabha, Kapil Sibal, was also a Congress (I) member.
I am hard pressed to find even a single instance wherein he might have appeared for a Hindu party or espoused a cause that was dear to Hindu hearts. There is also some indication that he may have taken up some of these cases, especially the second one, pro bono. Given the high fees that he charges for a single appearance before the Supreme Court of India, it is not surprising that today people are asking uncomfortable questions in relation to his proximity to jihadis and jihad apologists. Politically, he has always been a lightweight. In Sheila Dikshit’s salad days, it was easy for him to contest from Chandni Chowk and get elected.
Stratagem or Silliness
A very popular defence that apologists of the Congress party keep trotting out is that a lawyer cannot be identified by the briefs that he takes up. The proposition is something, that as a lawyer myself, I hold to be correct. However, it does not really apply to the present case.
“I think it"s doing the greatest disservice to the nation if politicians decide on the fate of judges… political parties as opposition sign x number of... and now say that 50 people have signed and now the guy is guilty... Those 50 people, all the parties, all the members of parties who have signed will issue whips. Whether you agree with the defence or not, you have to vote against him. What kind of process is that?”
— Kapil Sibal in 2010
However, as on date, it is well-nigh impossible for him to do that given the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s resurgence in the state. It is clear now that inter alia, Kapil Sibal is also now a political liability as far as the Congress party is concerned even though there are news reports to the effect that he would not be appearing for the Muslim parties in the Shri Ramjanmabhoomi case. However, to my mind, by now the damage has already been done.
The last attempt made by the Congress-led ecosystem to smear the credibility of the incumbent highest judicial officer in the country ended in a major embarrassment for the Congress party as the Chief Justice exercised his prerogative as the Master of the Roster by retaining all PIL matters before his own court in line with the practice followed by all other major High Courts in the country.
The motion for the removal is in all likelihood going to fail and fail spectacularly at that. As this drama is going on, the people of this country are wondering as to why the Congress is so dead against one particular judge who is going to retire in six months at any rate.
The inescapable conclusion that one reaches is that the only reason could be that the grand old party apprehends that in case there is a verdict in favour of the Hindu parties in the Ram Janmabhoomi case, the same would lead to a groundswell of support as far as the BJP is concerned, which would in turn make it impossible for the opposition to make a comeback to power in 2019.
(The writer is a lawyer based in Delhi)