A FEW MONTHS AFTER HE RETIRED from the Supreme Court, in November 2019, Ranjan Gogoi, the forty-sixth Chief Justice of India, became a parliamentarian. The Narendra Modi government hustled him into the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, as a nominated member. Gogoi received a sour welcome. As he began reciting the oath of office, on 19 March 2020, an irate opposition walked out, crying “Shame! Shame!” His bureaucratic esteem also sank. As the CJI, Gogoi had ranked sixth in the national warrant of precedence, India’s ceremonial ordering of public offices. As an MP, he occupies a lowly twenty-first step.
The nomination unleashed a maelstrom of criticism. Appointed for their eminence in the sciences, arts or social service, nominated MPs are often dismissed as political cronies. Madan Lokur, Gogoi’s sometime colleague in the Supreme Court, posed: “Has the last bastion fallen?” The judiciary, he implied, had succumbed to the executive.
Others alleged a quid pro quo. While a judge, Gogoi had handed a basket of critical victories to the Modi government. He deployed sly methods—accepting government affidavits in sealed envelopes, for one—that undercut litigants’ access to equal justice, and he stalled hearings in key cases, letting ministerial actions evade juridical scrutiny. Many decoded in his appointment a signal to sitting judges: conform, and thou too shalt profit.