Senior Advocate Vivek Tankha has written to President Droupadi Murmu and Attorney General R Venkataramani seeking action against a “troll army presumably sympathetic to the interest of the ruling party in Maharashtra” which has launched an offensive against Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud.
In the letter to President Murmu, which has also been endorsed by 13 Opposition leaders, Tankha says “filthy and deplorable” words have been used against the country’s top judge who was hearing the case pertaining to the Maharashtra Political Crisis. “The words and contents are filthy and deplorable, which has garnered views in lakhs on social media platforms,” the March 16 letter said. The letter further suggested that such “despicable conduct” was only possible “if such people enjoy the support of the ruling dispensation.”
Constitutional and Statutory authorities are duty-bound to protect the dignity and decorum of the Indian judiciary, the letter added. “This is also a brazen case of interference in the course of justice,” the letter said in conclusion.
The letter also has screenshots of tweets by right-wing YouTuber Ajeet Bharti, and Twitter users who go by the names Rahul Arya, Kabir Babar, and Ravi Agarwal.
A five-judge bench led by CJI Chandrachud on Thursday reserved its verdict on ex-Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s plea against the government formed by incumbent CM Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena. The top court is also considering the validity of Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari’s decision to call for a floor test which triggered the fall of the Thackeray-led government and split in the Shiv Sena.
Tankha said trolls presumably attacked CJI Chandrachud on social media for his comments during the hearing on the Maharashtra Political Crisis. The top judge had questioned Koshiyari’s decision to call for a floor test which triggered the fall of the Thackeray-led government.
“What happened overnight after three years of a happy marriage?”, CJI DY Chandrachud had asked on Shinde’s decision to break away from the coalition and assert his right to form a government under the Shiv Sena banner. “The governor has to ask himself this question”, CJI Chandrachud had said.
Trolls launch attack on top judge, take action: MPs to Pres, AG
MPs Vivek Tankha (Congress), Priyanka Chaturvedi (Shiv Sena), Raghav Chaddha (AAP), Jaya Bachchan (Samajwadi Party), and nine others have sought criminal and legal action against the troll army.
“We expect immediate action not only against the persons indulging in troll, but also against people behind it, i.e., supporting and sponsoring it. As law-abiding parliamentarians, we expect immediate action against the culprits, failing which the matter may have to be escalated to higher levels,” the letter to President Murmu read.
In a separate representation to Attorney General Venkataramani, the letter—which has also been marked to the Delhi Police Commissioner, Law Ministry, and IT Ministry—urged the initiation of strong and exemplary action against the trolls. The letter urges the Attorney General to use his office to seek a report from Delhi Police. The signatories implored the AG to “direct the Ministries of IT and law to demonstrably ensure visible action against the despicable trollers and their IDs” because the “majesty of the law”, “dignity of court” and image of our constitutional institutions is at “stake”.
Judges not new to online bashing
Judges have often faced flack on social media for decisions taken in court. Speaking at an event CJI DY Chandrachud spoke out against trolling “in an age when people are short on their patience and tolerance”. CJI Chandrachud said people's unwillingness to accept opinion and perspectives different from their own are key reasons that drive online abuse.
“Every little thing that we do - and believe me, as judges we are no exception to this - in everything that you do, you face the threat of being trolled by someone who doesn't share your point of view,” CJI Chandrachud had said.
CJI Chandrachud—a self-confessed feminist—has also faced ire from groups who do not like his orders and observation on marital rape, abortion rights, and same-sex marriage.
Speaking at an event in July 2022, Justice JB Pardiwala called for regulation of social media after remarking that people “possess only the half-truth” and use social media to “express personalised opinions, more against the judges, rather than a constructive critical appraisal of their judgments”. This could lead to a “dangerous scenario”, he had said.
In June 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, former CJI SA Bobde faced the troll army on social media for a picture of him astride a Harley Davidson which belonged to a BJP leader in Nagpur.
In November 2021, Andhra Pradesh High Court observed “judge bashing has become a favourite pastime for some people” while directing social media platforms to take down abusive content against judges.
“In a politically polarised environment, the Judges and the institution of Judiciary have become soft targets for the organised campaigns. Political rivals become active on social media, attempts are made to influence the proceedings and intimidate the Judges,” the high court had said. Vilification campaigns imputing motives to judges and maligning their image are orchestrated when orders are not as per liking, the high court added.
In 2018, Kashmir Files director Vivek Agnihotri questioned then Delhi High Court judge S Muralidhar's order granting relief to Gautam Navlakha, a Bhima Koregaon accused. He had tweeted that the judge, now Chief Justice of Orissa High Court, was biased and freed Navlakha on house arrest because he was apparently friends with Justice Muralidhar's wife. Shortly after, the high court initiated suo motu contempt proceedings against Agnihotri along with Anant Ranganathan, the magazine Swarajya and others.