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Jan. 13, 2018: How The Leader Saves Democracy

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The Leader was working through a normal day until a nuclear (political) missile hit his office a little after noon. His aides dashed in and flipped on his chic wall-mounted flat TV. On the screen was a spectacle unseen over seven decades of Independence. Four of the most senior judges of Supreme Court, comprising 80 percent of the Collegium, had risen in open revolt against their “first among equals” – the Chief Justice. Their charges were grave – nepotism and corruption compounded by an utter lack of consensus and leadership plaguing the top man. The Recalcitrant Four said they were doing this with a “heavy heart to save Democracy.”

But for the moment, Democracy had been shoved into grave peril, perhaps its most vulnerable moment after the Emergency of June 1975.

The Supreme Court is the Constitution. Any crack in it means Democracy gets unhinged. Simple. More words were not needed to figure out the scale of the crisis.

Also Read: A Supreme Court Changed Forever: Editorial

The Leader Marshalled His Key Advisors, Who Spoke Up One by One

Mr Legal Advisor: Sir, I suggest we stay away completely; let these guys muddle through this mess and clean up the vomit. If we get involved, our critics will scream blue murder saying we are hitting at the foundation of the Constitution by compromising judicial independence.

Mr Media Advisor: Sir, I have already activated our propaganda channels. There is going to be a deluge of abuse and hate unloaded on The Ungrateful Four. We shall accuse them of acting in cahoots with the political opposition. We shall blacken their records. A deafening whisper campaign will begin on their liberal and religious affiliations. We shall make them objects of ridicule in the eyes of the Republic.

Mr Political Advisor: Sir, we shall preempt the opposition; even as they are trying to cobble together a response, we shall tell the world how they jumped the gun and revealed their anti-national design by asking for the Chief Justice’s impeachment.

Supreme Court judge Jasti Chelameswar along with other judges addresses a press conference in New Delhi on January 12, 2018. (Source: PTI)

The Leader heard out all of them. His head was spinning with the cacophony that was drowning his country in unreason. But he chose to remain silent. Night had fallen. He drifted into troubled sleep…

Jan 13, 2018: The Next Day

The Leader got up early. As often happens (I think there is a biological explanation for it, but we shall leave that for another time), he woke up with a clearer head. He had “slept over” last night’s furore which helped him assess the situation a bit more objectively:

  • The crisis was GRAVE. He could not underplay it, shrug it off, or remain distant. The country had trusted him with the Nuclear Button of Annihilation. Today he had to discharge that trust by using the Nuclear Button of Reconciliation. Every leader is supremely tested in handling adversity.
  • And yet he could not intervene directly to try and fix the stand-off. That would be devastatingly misconstrued. He knew his best option was to call the Chief Justice and ask if he was willing to show maturity and accommodation? If he was going to reach out and win over the dissenters with a touch of enlightened statesmanship? The Leader did not get a clear answer to his virtual entreaty.
  • Also, the propaganda channels were now being harmful; it was silly to colour the situation in shrill black/white labels, like “mutiny” or “politically sponsored”. These were four of the wisest men, with impeccable credibility and record of public service. All attempts to tarnish by unleashing “presstitutes” on them were going to boomerang, tragically and badly.
  • The writing on the wall was sharp: The Leader could not allow this to drift and fester any more. Luckily, he had 48 hours, an entire weekend, to get a visible rapprochement to nurse the institution back to health. Come Monday morning, the wounds had to begin, and be seen to begin, healing. That was imperative if Democracy was to survive.
  • Since it was a moment of immense adversity, it was also a moment of astonishing opportunity. A crisis of this magnitude should never be wasted. His mantra had to be heal, heal, heal.
  • Finally, his brahmastra (nuclear button) in this situation had to lie with the President of the Republic. Yes, agreed that the President is not the CEO (or Executive Leader) of the country. Yet, the Constitution invests a ton of moral ether in him. He is the Supreme Commander of Armed Forces, the Guardian of the Constitution, the Owner of all Public Assets, the Appointing Authority of the CEO (with almost unlimited discretion, to be exercised conscientiously) and these very judges; therefore, the solution to this unusual and unprecedented crisis had to lie within his sovereignty! It was an unconventional thought, but exceptional situations require exceptional responses.
Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, arrives at his residence in New Delhi on January 12, 2018. (Photographer: Ravi Choudhary/PTI)

Also Read: Rift In Supreme Court Plunges India Into Judicial Crisis

The Leader Got Dressed And Called To Seek An Appointment…

With the President of the Republic. He drove up the gentle hill to the President’s imposing colonial palace. He was instantly ushered in.

The Leader: Your Excellency, only your office has the Constitutional gravitas and moral authority to intervene and heal this wound, without it looking like a political transgression. So with your permission, I would like to invite all 27 gentlemen to tea at the palace. Lest it look like you are treading into executive territory, and thereby undermining my authority, the invitation shall go in your name but will be issued by me…

The President (after a long, thoughtful pause): I understand. Please go ahead.

Also Read: Judges Can’t Behave Like Company Shareholders, Says Soli Sorabjee

The Invitation Read…

“At my request, the Hon’ble President has desired your presence over tea. Kindly make it convenient to reach the Presidential Palace at 3 pm this afternoon. Yours sincerely, The Leader”.

And so they trooped in, all 27 of them, bowing deferentially before the President and picking nervously at the thepla served with masala chai (tea).

The Leader (clearing his throat): Gentlemen, the Hon’ble President is deeply concerned at the events since yesterday’s press conference. Being a scrupulous upholder of the Constitution, he also knows that neither he, nor I, should be intervening or instructing you in any manner whatsoever. This is a situation that only you can resolve, but resolve it you must. Therefore, the Hon’ble President has graciously allowed the use of Durbar Hall where you have to begin immediately to conduct your deliberations.

The Leader (continuing after a pause): Both he and I shall step away now. But we would expect you to conduct free, frank, fair and transparent discussions amongst yourselves. Take as long as you want to today; but come tomorrow evening, the Hon’ble President and I expect you to announce your consensual agreement to the country at a joint press conference in the lawns of Supreme Court.

"Whatever we do, before dawn on Monday, the country must know that this nightmare is over, and has, in fact, resulted in a positive outcome, with greater transparency and trust in one of the most important institutions that our founding fathers cherished. So help you God."

With those words, the President and The Leader walked out of Durbar Hall…

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Nuclear Button was used, to create peace!

Raghav Bahl is the co-founder and chairman of Quintillion Media, including BloombergQuint. He is the author of two books, viz ‘Superpower?: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise’, and ‘Super Economies: America, India, China & The Future Of The World’.

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