‘Justice for the judge’: a Book That Defends Well  






Book Review by Parmanand Pandey

Very few judges in India have written their autobiographies and this is attributed as one of the reasons for the opacity in the judicial system of the country. Three autobiographies, which readily come to mind – ‘Roses in December’ by Justice MC Chagla, ‘My own Boswell’ by JusticeM Hidayatullah, and ‘Up-Till-Now’ by Justice VR Krishna Aiyer- are very much talked about books. A ‘Justice for the Judge’ by Shri Ranjan Gogoi is bound to be more famous than all three previous books for many reasons but mainly because of the controversies that enveloped him during his tenure of Chief Justiceship and more after his retirement. It is indeed a remarkable book in the sense that it fully exposes the lobby that attempted to malign him for being instrumental in delivering some of the judgements.
Nobody is a paragon of virtues, and no one can claim to have a fully unblemished life. The beauty of this book is that Justice Gogoi has accepted, in the hindsight, that where he should have acted differently to avoid controversies. Some landmark judgments, which he presided over as the judge of the Supreme Court are truly epoch-making. It is a famous adage that judges should not speak about their judgments, but they must speak through their judgments. Once a judgment has been delivered, it becomes public property, and it can be criticized or eulogized, but the judges cannot be reviled for them. However, this golden principle was thrown to the wind in the case of Justice Gogoi. Hence, this book has made it abundantly clear that complete transparency was observed at every stage and Justice Gogoihas defended himself very well.
The book is divided into 12 chapters. The first three chapters are related to his childhood, education, and family but from the fourth chapter, he has narrated his life at Bar and Bench. It is a matter of common knowledge that the appointment of judges has been shrouded in mystery. Pulls, pressures, and approaches have been playing important roles in the appointment of judges and justice Gogoi had to also face them. In this mode of selection, many times the deserving and less resourceful members of the Bar do not get the chance to be elevated to the Bench. But Justice Gogoi did not face the handicaps of an ordinary advocate. His father was not only a political heavyweight of Assam but had a fairly good legal practice in the Dibrugarh district and also in the Gauhati High Court. He himself has been a Stephanion and an alumnus of the prestigious Law Centre of Delhi University. The clarity in his judgments can also be attributed to his good education and training at the Bar.
Be that as it may, Justice Gogoi will be eternally known for Ayodhya-judgement. Millions thought that the Ayodhya tangle would never be resolved because Judges in the Supreme Court lacked the courage to face the wrath, slander, and vituperative insinuations of the powerful political lobby that has been working not only in Delhi but across the country. The credit thus goes to Justice, who took the lobby head-on and made it a point that the case was finally decided, although in the beginning he also seemed to be hesitant. But once he made up his mind to get the contentious issue decided, he did not look back. He constituted the Bench and continuously heard the case for months together. Finally, the judgment was delivered, interestingly acceptable to both parties, and paved the way for the construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya. The beauty of the judgment is that it is not only unanimous but anonymous also, although after seeing the letter circulated by the Chief Justice to other companion judges for the approval of the draft gives an unmistakable indication as to who authored the judgment.
The judgment on Ayodhya is also an example of the well-known principle of the ‘moulding of relief for complete justice by the Supreme Court. Under this principle, the court gave the disputed land to Hindus, but Muslims were also given a five-are alternative plot in a suitable and prominent place in Ayodhya for building a mosque. While this judgment was hailed throughout the world, the most significant part of it is that no communal tension got built up in its aftermath.  The other judgment for which Justice Gogoi will be remembered is that of the NRC (NationalRegister for Citizens) in Assam. Being aware of the ground realities of the large-scale infiltration of Bangladeshis, who have got the demography of Assam changed by reducing the original Assamese in certain parts of the state, Justice Gogoiensured that minimum difficulties are faced by the people while identifying the immigrants. It is a different matter that due to the callous and insincere attitude of the successive governments and the corrupt bureaucracy; Assam is still ailing with the serious disease of immigrants.  With regard to the allegations of sexual harassment made by an employee of the Supreme Court against him, he has devoted a full chapter. Going by the report of the InquiryCommittee, one comes to the conclusion that he was framed by some people, who got the lady employee set up against him. The allegations of some vested interests that he himself was the part of the Bench that decided to have the Inquiry is frivolous, which is clear from the records annexed with the book.
His detractors raised the hue and cry over his nomination to the Rajya Sabha and they alleged that it was a quid pro quo for the favourable judgment in the Ayodhya issue, but they forget the fact that by levelling such allegations, these people bring bad name and disrepute, less to Justice Gogoi but more to the institution of the Supreme Court. As a matter of fact, the nomination of such eminent judges to Parliament should be welcomed as it brings lustre to it. Judges can enrich the Parliamentary democracy by their vast knowledge in the field of law-making. They can be more useful for society and as the Parliamentarians rather than by accepting the posts of the chairpersons of certain Tribunals or Commissions.  The other example of Justice Gogoi’s boldness is the reprimand that he gave to a very flippant and talkative judge Markandey Katju, who is known for passing subjective judgments on persons and professions. This happened for the first time in the annals of the Supreme Court when a retired judge of the Supreme Court was hauled-up for his irresponsible conduct.
However, the justification offered by Justice Gogoi for having addressed the Press Conference of 12 January 2018 along with four other SC Judges namely, Justices Chelameswar, Lokur, and Kurienagainst the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra is rather very feeble and unconvincing to a layperson. A lobby that was trying to create a rift among the judges of the Supreme Court was successful to some extent. JusticeGogoi himself has expressed his hope that it might be the first and the last press conference by the judges as they are not expected to wash the dirty linens of the judiciary in the public and thereby erode the people’s confidence in the judiciary.    The book is worth reading. It is written in the crisp language. Hopefully, this book will encourage other judges also to write their memoirs for the benefit of posterity as it is said that ‘lives of great men all remind us that we can make our lives sublime.’