I know how Modi suffocates: Suresh Mehta to Jaitley
Former Gujarat Chief Minister Suresh Mehta has shot off a stinging letter to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, asserting that his recent remarks against the judiciary has a connect with BJP's "flamboyant Rajya Sabha MP Subramaniam Swamy('s)" attacks on him.
In the letter, Mehta, who quit Bharatiya Janata Party in 2007, says: "I was shocked to read your statement in the Rajya Sabha (May 11, 2016), where you said that the judiciary is destroying the edifice of India's legislature "step by step, brick by brick." You do not stop here; you choose to continue (to) accuse the judiciary of "misadventure", suggesting that this is not in the "interests of Indian democracy.""
He goes on to write: "I don't know what has compelled you to make the statement. If recent reports are any indication, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to be keen to pit your party's flamboyant Rajya Sabha MP Subramaniam Swamy, a perpetual rebel, against you."
Mehta, who was the industries minister when Modi was made the chief minister of Gujarat in October 2001, cited a recent TV interview where Swamy spoke about Jaitley's attempts to undermine investigation into the AgustaWestland chopper scam without naming him.
"This has come amidst reports, in a section of the media, that Swamy may replace you as India's next finance minister. I wonder if you are feeling nervous, finding that Modi is seeking to sideline you sooner rather than later. I can understand your frustration," Suresh Mehta taunted, adding that like Jaitley he too had felt suffocated as a minister under Modi.
"Already under attack from several quarters from among your intelligent supporters (one of them being Arun Shourie) for running a government single-handedly, without any advice from ministers, I can understand how difficult it might be for you to function in a suffocating atmosphere under Modi. I have personally suffered such suffocation in 2002, when I was industries minister under Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat. I have been witness to how he muzzled elected representatives' voice, on one hand, and dissent within the BJP, on the other."
The senior Gujarat leader asserted that Modi was similarly trying to clip the wings of the judiciary instead of the latter, which Jaitley had said was destroying the edifice of the judiciary "step by step, brick by brick."
Mehta writes in his letter, "It is not the judiciary which is seeking to undermine the executive or the legislature. Rather, it is the executive, led by Narendra Modi, which is doing it on purpose, seeking to destroy the independence of judiciary, which is one of the three pillars of our India's great democracy, in order to remove all the hurdles which he believes are coming in the way of establishing his autocratic rule."
He laments that this "statement accusing the judiciary coming from an eminent and perceptive Supreme Court advocate like you (Arun Jaitley) has completely shaken me." Mehta said it acquired significance that Jaitley's remarks came a day after the BJP lost the floor test in Uttarakhand, thanks to the Supreme Court's intervention.
Mehta said two instances were adequate to explain how Modi was trying to destroy the judiciary's independence. He referred to Modi's remarks at the joint conference of chief ministers and chief justices of high courts last year that the courts "need to be cautious against perception-driven verdicts", since "perceptions are often driven by five star activists".
The former chief minister who was earlier a judicial magistrate, states that there is a need to understand what exactly these "perception-drive verdicts" are. Any view or decision emanating from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), for instance, should be essentially understood as the "perception" of the Prime Minister. Can one possibly delink the PMO's view from that of the Prime Minister? Obviously not. But if Modi's logic is to be applied, he as the Prime Minister of India should not be held responsible for (what) officials in the PMO do.
Significantly, Modi's statement on "perception-driven verdict" came just around the time when a clean chit was sought to be given to BJP president Amit Shah, one of the prime accused in two of the most notorious fake encounter cases in Gujarat - Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Ishrat Jahan.
The Prime Minister's entire effort was to drive home the point that the judiciary should not go by the "perception" supposedly held by activists and others that a criminal politician, who acts behind the scene, is responsible for the crimes committed on the ground. The judiciary may, if it so wishes, seek to"nab" the officials responsible for carrying out the instructions of the criminal politician.
The second instance, Mehta said, was the delay in the appointment of 170 judges to the high courts as recommended by the Supreme Court collegium. "The perception has gone strong, and not without reason, that this is happening because the Supreme Court struck down the Government of India seeking to take under its wings all the powers of appointing judges through a National Judicial Appointments Commission," Suresh Mehta wrote.
(The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.)
Edited by Anna Verghese
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