Calm after storm

Supreme Court
Supreme Court

After the last Friday's unprecedented episode of four senior judges of the Apex Court staging a tableau of delirious discord, a tense congeniality has since descended upon the Supreme Court. The dissenting judges are attending court as usual, and Attorney-General K K Venugopal, the most respected legal luminary around, declared that the storm in the tea cup had petered out.


A key republican institution has been spared a prolonged crisis. Various Bar associations and former judges lent their services and advice, just as anguished voices from the civil society pitched in with their expectations of statesman-like behaviour from the Chief Justice of and the rest of the Bench.


No one, of course, knows the terms of reconciliation between the two factions in the court. The four dissenting judges had flagged down a critical issue about the manner in which the Chief Justice was discharging his responsibility as the master of the court roster.


If the judges have gone back to work it must be presumed that they have been given some satisfaction and assurance on this sensitive point. Even though they rendered themselves open to the charge of breaking ranks and traditions by holding a press conference, there was nothing malicious in the judges' act; in fact, they did a great service to the institution by inviting a public spotlight on its internal functioning.


Expectedly, there were convulsions, inside and outside the apex court, and suddenly the small minds were jolted out of their arrogant complacency and petty-mindedness. Too much of anonymity and too tightly-closed doors do not always produce wholesome or wise decisions.


Any institution is only as good as the people who man it. The Supreme Court is not immune from this principle. And, it must be presumed that the differences among honourable judges were not simply procedural about Bench formation; there are bound to be differences as to how to deal with other organised centres of power in these divisive and demanding times.


The citizens need to be reassured that there is no dilution in the Supreme Court's institutional role as the guarantor of the republic's equanimity and equilibrium.


Regardless of the poisonous narrative being spewed by the viscerally anti-Modi elements, the truth is that the apex court is far more free and independent now than at any time before. Indeed, the lack of awareness of recent history has allowed the people to assume that the court had had its best time in the bygone era.


In general, the government of the day has done well to leave the Supreme Court alone for it to sort out its own mess – and to restore people's faith in it.