RS Seat No Quid Pro Quo For Ayodhya Verdict: Former CJI Ranjan Gogoi

Former CJI Ranjan Gogoi launched his tell-all memoir 'Justice for the Judge: An Autobiography' on Wednesday.

Former Ranjan Gogoi said his Rajya Sabha seat was no quid pro quo for a favourable verdict in the Ayodhya case pertaining to the long-standing Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title dispute matter.

Justice Gogoi's defiant admission came during a tete-a-tete with India Today anchor Rahul Kanwal that followed the launch of his memoir 'Justice for the Judge: An Autobiography'. Justice Gogoi's successor former CJI SA Bobde launched the book before an intimate gathering attended by several sitting and former Supreme Court judges, former union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, industrialist Gautam Adani among others.

The discussion following Justice Gogoi's memoir revealed several startling admissions, confessions, and clarifications on issues that plagued his tumultuous tenure as the top court's chief justice of India. Justice Gogoi discussed the sexual harassment charges leveled against him, collegium decisions on transfer of judges, executive interference in the judiciary, on the National Register of Citizens (NRC), constitutional matters pertaining to Kashmir, and more.

Also Read: Ram Mandir Bhoomi Pujan: Legal Battle Timeline That Ended The Dispute

Rajya Sabha nomination no quid pro quo for Ayodhya verdict

Justice Gogoi said he found nothing wrong with accepting the Rajya Sabha seat post his retirement. "I am least convinced about the allegations that Rajya Sabha seat was offered to me as quid pro quo for the Ayodhya judgment. These are all made up by media and newspapers," Justice Gogoi said defiantly.

President Ram Nath Kovind nominated the former top judge to the upper house on March 16, 2020 months after his retirement from the Supreme Court on November 17, 2019, and the famed Ayodhya verdict days before that.

"What would you have me accept? A governorship, or perhaps the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) or Law Commission?" he said. I would have been better off, he said adding that he is "not taking a penny" in terms of salary he is entitled to as a Rajya Sabha MP. "I am not even taking the amount that is due to me for office help. I am even paying for that from my own pocket, Justice Gogoi said.

After a marathon hearing that lasted 40 days, a five-judge constitution bench in a unanimous verdict on November 9, 2018 granted Ram Lalla (minor Lord Ram) full possession of the disputed site which was purported to be his birthplace. The verdict, which was unsigned, directed the government to allot five acres of land to the Waqf Board at an alternate site.

Clarifying that he didn't resurrect the Ayodhya case, Justice Gogoi said his predecessor (then CJI Dipak Misra) "gave me a date". "I had two options, I could run, or I could hide. As Justice Bobde said (in his opening remarks), I come from a family of warriors, so I fought. How could I sleep? The credibility of the institution was at stake and the wastage of time of five judges. I took the burden on myself. I should not have taken the job (as CJI) if I was unable to do it," Justice Gogoi said.

Also Read: Can't Rule Out Conspiracy Against Ex-CJI Gogoi, But Can't Verify: SC

Was a mistake to preside the bench dealing with sexual harassment charges

Justice Gogoi confessed that it was a mistake to preside on the bench that was constituted to deal with the sexual harassment charges leveled against him by a supreme court staffer. Justice Gogoi had presided over the extraordinary hearing held on a Saturday morning, a day after the charges against him surfaced.

"In hindsight, I shouldn't have been on the bench. But what do you do?" Justice Gogoi confessed. "If your hard-earned reputation is sought to be destroyed overnight, am I to expect one would not act with rationality? Is the Chief Justice not human? With one stroke of the pen, 45 years' worth of reputation was going to be destroyed," he told the gathering.

"No difficulty in saying so, we all make mistakes," he added.

Also Read: SC Staffer Who Accused Ex-CJI Gogoi Of Sexual Harassment A Potential Pegasus Target

No executive interference in the judiciary

When questioned whether there was Executive interference in the functioning of the judiciary, Justice Gogoi responded: "NIL."

"There was no interference in the judiciary from the government of the day," Justice Gogoi said. "Who dares come to Ranjan Gogoi to do something, Tushar (Mehta) would you?," Justice Gogoi asked the solicitor general who was sitting in the audience.

"I would have called the All India Radio...," Justice Gogoi added. "I would have displayed my warrior skills," he said.

Justice Gogoi revealed that he was given a special hotline to the Prime Minister and the law minister (then Ravi Shankar Prasad), but he threw it. "Executive interference is possible to be made in hundred different ways and it depends upon the incumbent. I didn't speak to the PM even once," Justice Gogoi confessed.

"People said daal main kuch kala hai," India Today's Rahul Kanwal told Justice Gogoi on the latter's private dinner with PM Narendra Modi in the Supreme Court before the crucial verdict (which gave a clean chit to the government) in the Rafale deal.

To which, Justice Gogoi clarified that PM Modi came to the Supreme Court on November 26, which also happens to be Constitution Day. "I don't think there's anything wrong with it. They were judges who took selfies with the PM. They are the activist judges now," he added.

Justice Gogoi also said that judges should not only meet judges. "I was meeting Ravi Shankar Prasad, my friend. Not the law minister," he added.

Also Read: Ayodhya Verdict : Fake Letter Claims PM Modi Thanked SC Judges For Supporting A Hindu Rashtra

The government did not want to push the NRC issue

Justice Gogoi clarified that the government did not want to push the NRC issue. "Nobody wanted NRC, but NRC is a constitutional obligation, so the Supreme Court did it," the former judge said. Justice Gogoi also revealed that a senior government official asked him to go slow on NRC. "Dont ask me to name the officer who asked me to go slow on the NRC. It will shake the govt," he confessed.

Also Read: Chief Justice of India SA Bobde Retires, 17-Month Eventful Term Ends

Didn't allow Kashmir Matter to hibernate

Justice Gogoi said by the time matters challenging the constitutional validity of the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir came before the Supreme Court, the five-judge bench presided by him was halfway through the Ayodhya hearing. It was already 1.5 months into the hearing, he said. "On 30th September, I assigned the Kashmir cases to the bench headed by the next available senior-most judge. I did not let the Kashmir cases hibernate," Justice Gogoi said in his defence. "I allotted the cases to the next senior-most judge. The media says the CJI has no time for Kashmir cases. What they don't say is that the CJI assigned the Kashmir cases to the next available judge on the same day," Justice Gogoi said.

Justice Gogoi added that he didnt interfere with the workings within the Supreme Court because no judge likes that. Just like Executive interference in the judiciary is not appreciated, brother judges do not like interference in their work, he addd.

Also Read: Explained: One Year After Article 370 Revoked In J&K, What Changed

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