The Communist Party of India-Marxist, which heads Kerala’s ruling coalition, has launched an orchestrated campaign against high court judges, prompting Chief Justice J Chelameswar to observe that “attacking judges personally does not augur well for democracy.”
What drew the party’s ire was the court’s June 23 judgement directing the state government not to grant permission to hold meetings on public roads and road margins. It also asked that if any meeting was held the police must remove all installations and people and prevent it.
A division bench comprising Justice CN Ramachandran Nair and Justice PS Gopinathan had passed the orders on a petition by a resident of Aluva challenging the authorities’ action in permitting a public meeting on the road in front of the local railway station. The Executive Engineer, Public Works Department, Roads, and the Superintendent of Police, Ernakulam Rural district, were cited as respondents.
The judges who perused a set of photographs presented by the petitioner were convinced that the meeting had blocked traffic on the busy road and that such meetings resulted in suffering for the travelling public.
Even though the petitioner drew the court’s attention only to the instance of a road in Aluva, the judges decided to extend the benefit of the decision to road users all over the state. They did not visualise any objection to such extension from any corner, including government agencies, “because the act sought to be prevented is illegal.”
It soon became evident that the assumption that there would be no objection was not correct. All national parties, including the Congress, the CPI-M and the Bharatiya Janata Party criticised the ban on roadside meetings, which have been a feature of public life since the days of the freedom struggle. They dubbed it as a denial of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of association and assembly.
The charge of denial of rights is far-fetched as the court has not imposed a blanket ban on meetings. It only wants to prevent meetings hindering traffic. “In our view,” the judges said, “all meetings should be permitted only in stadiums, public grounds outside road margins and grounds of educational institutions on holidays.”
Three days after the court order, addressing a roadside meeting held on a thoroughfare to protest against the Centre’s decision to hike fuel prices, CPI-M state committee member MV Jayarajan, a close lieutenant of party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, reviled the judges who had delivered the judgement.
After seeing television and newspaper reports of the speech, a lawyer approached the high court with a plea to initiate contempt proceedings against Jayarajan. A bench headed by Chief Justice decided to hear the Advocate General on the issue.
Meanwhile party central committee member EP Jayarajan carried the campaign against the judges further with an equally vituperative speech in which he declared no one could take action against MV Jayarajan.
Pinarayi Vijayan and Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan also joined the campaign but they spoke with a certain degree of restraint. Vijayan said they were only criticising a wrong judgement, not attacking judges. Achuthanandan pointed out that the court had a duty to hear the state’s views before pronouncing a judgement of this kind.
But the vile campaign continued at another level. The Democratic Youth Federation of India and the Students Federation of India organised protest marches to courts at different places in the state and their leaders made virulent attacks on judges. “If necessary we will hold meetings outside judges’ houses,” said a young hothead.
MV Jayarajan’s speech could have been dismissed as the work of a rabble-rouser but for the calibrated performances that followed. The DYFI and SFI are CPI-M affiliates. In the party’s politburo and state committee there are members charged with the task of overseeing the activities of these organisations.
This is not the first time that the CPI-M has come out against court judgements adverse to its interests or those of the government that it heads. However, the current campaign marks a new low in its public conduct. There was no vicious campaign of this kind even when the late EMS Namboodiripad, the tallest party leader of the time, was found guilty of contempt of court in the 1960s for a speech in which he alluded to the class character of judges. – Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 5, 2010