Former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi shot to fame when he, along with three other judges, bravely spoke up against the arbitrary manner in which then CJI Deepak Misra was handing out cases. At the time, Gogoi was the shining example of the integrity of a Judge and the upholder of Justice for all. .. He had once said “Noisy judges were democracy’s first line of defense.” Unfortunately, once he was made CJI he was the first to threaten democracy by pandering to the BJP government. All the noise of the line of defense had become a drum that beat to the Government’s tunes.
Gogoi was one of the five judges who gave the judgment for the abrogation of section 377, which criminalized ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature.’ This landmark judgement de-criminalized all other sex which was not limited to peno-vaginal, or all sex that didn’t lead to producing a child. This essentially meant homosexuality was not illegal in India anymore. Gogoi has also presided on the Sabrimala judgement, which lifted the ban that prevented women between 10-50 from entering the temple.
These judgements were seen as massive victories for the country. These judgements clearly made him the poster child for justice. That didnt last long. With BJP coming to power the second time in 2019, the Gogoi quickly became the puppet giving judgements in line with the BJP/RSS agenda.
NRC debacle, Human rights abuse in Kashmir and Ayodhya Verdict
From 2014 to 2019 Ranjan Gogoi was on a bench that directed and implemented the NRC. The executive and the judicial powers were put together to implement a law that would determine the citizenship of the population in Assam. The Supreme Court was responsible for deciding how the implementation would take place, what documents would be accepted. Gogoi’s hijacking of this process lead to not having strong appellate measures in place which lead to 19.06 lakh people being left out of the NRC. The result of this implementation has not only affected Assam but will continue to affect all of India at large. One of the reasons for the current protests against CAA and NRC is against the way things were handled in Assam and the fear that the same will happen across the country.
Information in Sealed covers for controversial cases was the norm under Gogoi. Sealed covers are profoundly undemocratic as they go against the open-justice principle of the judicial system.
This was not the only fire that the CJI stoked. He also presided over the Ayodhya Judgement. The Muslim plaintiff was asked to prove that the Masjid was under exclusive possession, while the Hindu plaintiff was not asked to demonstrate exclusive possession. While there was proof that namaaz was offered at the site for 450 years, weak evidence from ASI was used to hand the Babri Masjid land to the Hindu plaintiff. A 5 acre plot was given to the Muslim plaintiff to build the mosque at a different location. This paved way for BJP´s dream- the Ram temple will be built on the Ram Janm Bhoomi (mandir wahi banayenge). This vision came at the cost of the rights of a community, not only over their land but against the violence that was undertaken against their cultural symbol by Hindu terrorists. Gogoi legitimized this violation of rights by giving the land to the Hindu plaintiff.
The year 2018 is littered with such contentious judgements and delays in hearing of related petitions. While the proceedings of Ayodhya verdict was being undertaken, Kashmir was sent into a lockdown. The lockdown began on August 5th and many petitions were filed against the unconstitutional repeal of article 370. Many political leaders were put under arrest. Two habeas corpus petitions were filed with regard to the illegal detentions, Gogoi, instead of questioning the legality of the detention allowed the petitioners to visit Kashmir to visit the concerned people, but not to engage in politics while there. While Kashmir was having its human rights suspended, and protests erupted across the country, Ranjan Gogoi claimed that there was no time to hear Kashmir and article 370 related petitions. This was because, the Babri Masjid case was underway before a constitution bench. The Supreme Court, under ex-CJI did next to nothing when the rights in Kashmir were being suspended. It turned a blind eye towards the Modi government’s blatant move to disempower Kashmir further.
Clean chit to BJP over Rafale case
In several other cases, famously the Rafale Case, Gogoi has given judgements in favour of the Modi Government. In this case the bench headed by Gogoi gave a clean chit to the BJP government over allegations of irregularities in the procurement of 36 fighter jets by Indian from France. It rejected review petitions related to the Rafale deals. The decision had come about with the Supreme Court holding ‘oral talks’ with the Air Force. This clearly was against the principals of the Evidence Act. It determines when, how, and what kind of evidence a court can take when determining the truth.
This act by Gogoi closed the door to cross-examine, present rival views and competing evidence.
Under his term, the case of the electoral bonds remained pending. Electoral Bonds allowed limitless anonymous corporate donations to political parties. Gogoi called this a weighty issue and when this matter came up before the Lok Sabha Elections, he stated that there was not enough time to answer the questions under this. The benefit again chalked up in Modi’s favour, and transparency was clearly muddled with.
Gogoi’s term as a CJI was shrouded in uncertainty and no transparency in decision making. Under his term, he has asked for sealed cover records and information during the Rafael deal, NRC Case, Electoral bonds, the CBI Directors’ case among others. Sealed covers are profoundly undemocratic as they go against the open-justice principle of the judicial system. To be used only in specific cases, Gogoi used this for many cases, especially those that were in relation to the Government. Sealed covers open up the dialogue between the state and the judiciary and close communication of the judiciary and the people. Sealed covers take away the rights of the public to contest the decision of the judiciary. At this point it could be concluded that the executive and the judiciary were working in cahoots with the executive.
Sexual harassment allegations and the clean chit
Gogoi treated the Supreme Court as a weapon for meeting out his own agenda. On April 19, 2019, an ex-employee of the Supreme Court made allegations of sexual abuse against Gogoi. As a response to these allegations, a special bench of judges are convened to look into the matter. This bench was headed by Gogoi himself, taking a sword to the principle that no man can be a judge in his own case. Gogoi, in his notice to the other judges, stated that the convening was taking place “to deal with a matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary.” He took a serious allegation against him and turned it around and made it seem like it was a questioning of the entire judiciary. Gogoi used his knack of flouting judicial principles to strip a woman of her legal right to justice, by being a judge for his own cause. He slandered the woman in this hearing, later he directed S.A Bobde to set up a panel to probe the matter. This panel concluded that there was ‘no substance’ to the allegations and gave a clean chit to Gogoi. If anyone wanted to contest this, they could not because the findings of the panel were not made public and no copy was given to the complainant. Gogoi was successful in not only using the judiciary favorably for the BJP government but also for himself.
This was a glimpse of Ex-CJI Ranjan Gogoi’s ‘illustrious’ career, the ending of which should’ve ended the partnership between the executive and the State. This was far from true.
Elevation to the Rajya Sabha seat
On March 16th the President, Ram Nath Kovind nominated Gogoi for a seat in the Rajya Sabha. He said this would be an opportunity for the opinions of the judiciary to be presented in the legislative and vice-versa. Gogoi was nominated within four months of his retirement. Gogoi is the first CJI to be nominated by the President. Clearly, his pro-BJP judgements have paved way for his nomination. The BJP states that this is not an unprecedented move and other CJIs have been moved to the Rajya Sabha as well. The issue with this argument is that other Chief Justices were given seats in the Rajya Sabha for their pandering to the ruling governments as well.
Ranganath Misra, who gave a clean chit to Congress for the 1984 riots and Baharul Islam, gave a favorable judgement for a Congress CM who was accused of scamming a bank. Clearly, both cases show that the judges were trying to chalk up favors for the Congress and thus were given their seats in the Rajya Sabha. If this is the precedent that the BJP Government is counting on as proof of the legitimacy of nomination, then clearly Ranjan Gogoi nomination is pay off for his favourable judgements to the BJP.
On the 19th of March, amidst sloganeering and walkout by the opposition, Ranjan Gogoi took the oath as a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha.
The current decision by the government, clearly shows that those judges who work in the favor of the Modi Government they will be repaid handsomely. If they give judgements that are not in favor of the Government or hinder it in any way, they will pay the price by not being given positions of power in the judiciary or will be transferred, like Justice Kureshi and Justice Murlidhar.
Ranjan Gogoi started off his stint in the Supreme Court as an upholder of justice, a neutral party who would be just in handing out judgments. As his career came to an end, it was clear that he was using the judiciary as an accessory for the BJP Government.