The judiciary is undergoing its gravest crisis yet: Kapil Sibal in “Shades of Truth”

23 September 2018

Kapil Sibal, one of the Congress’ lawyer-spokespersons, who held three portfolios under the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government, is now a sitting Rajya Sabha member of parliament from Uttar Pradesh after losing the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Despite being busy with responsibilities of the party and his legal practice, he wrote yet another book. His previous books include two poor attempts at writing poetry collections. For the first time he has written prose, Shades of Truth: A Journey Derailed, which has been launched this month. Since he fancies the idea of himself as a poet, Shades of Truth, too, opens with a poem, “There Hangs A Tale,” which Sibal says, “encapsulates everything that has gone on in the last four and a half years.”  

At the launch, the former prime minister Manmohan Singh said the book is a highly researched, comprehensive analysis of the functioning of the Modi government. Sibal made an impassioned plea for coalition governments and against the myth of the need for strong leadership that brought in Modi. “The great leader gave us demonetization… he gave us flawed GST,” he said. With the arrogance of the UPA days not visible, he was far more convincing. It was clear the book is Sibal’s contribution to the Congress’ 2019 arsenal. On the stage were Chandan Mitra of Trinamool Congress, Sitaram Yechury of CPI-M and Sharad Yadav of Samajwadi Party, which prompted the journalist Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV, the moderator, to joke whether the event was a book launch or a mahagathbandhan—grand alliance.   

The first half of the book attacks Prime Minister Narendra Modi—who Sibal writes does not understand democracy—the NDA’s tenuous relationship with institutions, the failures of foreign policy, and what he terms “the infiltration of RSS-minded people and ideologues” in key posts of power. The second half is about defending the Congress and UPA by portraying the 2014 trouncing as the UPA’s inability to resort to the same tactics and “art of manipulation” as the BJP. 

In the following extract, Sibal analyses the Indian judicial system. As a senior advocate who specialises in constitutional law, Sibal trains a highly critical eye on the process of judicial appointments, which he asserts is seriously flawed. He describes the upheavals in the judiciary—over the collegium system—during the NDA regime as possibly the “gravest crisis yet” to face the judicial system.

Of late, concerns have also been expressed about the inability of the court to stand up to the government. On 21 March 2018, Justice [Jasti] Chelameswar charged the government with being selective in accepting recommendations of the Supreme Court collegium for the appointment of judges to the high court. He said that the government, wherever it wished, ignored or deferred consideration of names it was uncomfortable with. This, he said, negatively impacted the independence of the judiciary. In the letter, Justice Chelameswar demanded a full court sitting on the judicial side to discuss the turn of events. This letter was perhaps in the context of the communication sent by the Ministry of Law to the chief justice of the Karnataka High Court, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, stalling the elevation of a district session judge, P Krishna Bhat, to the high court, despite reiteration by the Supreme Court collegium.

Keywords: Sohrabuddin Law Kapil Sibal Congress UPA Supreme Court BJP NDA collegium Jasti Chelameswar Karnataka High Court P Krishna Bhat Dinesh Maheshwari Ishrat Jehan