The curious case of Prashant Bhushan

Prashant Bhushan, a public interest lawyer in The Supreme court of India. He is one of the founding members of ‘Swaraj Abhiyan’ and ‘Sambhavna’ founded in 2015 after dissenting from the Aam Aadmi Party, where he played a key role in implementing the ‘Jan Lokpal’ bill alongside Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, and many others. He has been tirelessly working in the field of human rights, environmental protection, and accountability of the public servants. He is associated with various organizations including the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and Transparency International (India). Due to his family background, he is able to take cases pro-bono and for paid cases, he charges only 5% of what other lawyers charge. He also claims that he does not take cases until he feels his client is “morally right”. Being “morally right” is objective but looking into his past activities one can feel he is being moral. He represented the petition which became the first one in which an IAS(Indian Administrative Service) officer was convicted of corruption charges. He criticized governments for waging wars against Naxals and is of the idea is that the hidden agenda behind “Operation Green Hunt” was to clear the tribal lands for mining and industrialization. In order to de-escalate the situation in the Red Corridor government should suspend arms in the /Naxals region and instead focus on providing foods and infra to the tribals. He assisted Narmada Bachao Andolan activists opposing the Sardar Sarovar Dam. Bhushan advocated revoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Jammu and Kashmir and is of the opinion that the government should try to persuade people of the valley to align with India but should be allowed to separate if one wishes.

Recently he has been found guilty by the Supreme Court of India on contempt for derogatory tweets against the judiciary. Why? How one can find a tweet so offensive that in the midst of a pandemic the Supreme court of India arranges a bench to hear for a case so trivial when so many questions persist of state’s response to the pandemic, when crucial cases have continued to drag on for years like-

  • Challenges to Article 370
  • Electoral bonds
  • Citizenship Amendment Act
  • Habeaus corpus petitions
  • Fundamental rights of people of Kashmir

Acts like these reflect the growing intolerance in the top authorities. Even 1500 lawyers from across the country have spoken against the decision and urged the top court to “take corrective steps to prevent miscarriage of justice”. Even the Supreme court itself has said that “The ignition of contempt should be substantial and mala fide interference wit fearless judicial actions, not fair comment or trivial reflections on judicial process and personnel”. Fair comment has not been defined but could be implied by various judgments of the court that fair criticism is criticism by a person who is competent enough to speak on the topic, has a good record, and doesn’t has the intention of demean the office of CJI or judiciary. Top authorities should remember that criticism is the basis of democracy, anyone can stand against them, not to hinder the judicial process but to have their opinion. If people are to be punished for their tweets and comments over social media, then it is a warning alarm for a democratic country. People should realize the severity of the situation and try to bolster the democratic institutions and protect them from those who are trying to undermine its sanctity. Its high time to realize how our institutions are getting biased, for making derogatory and hateful remarks regarding a particular community the responsible have not been tried, but a person with so clear record is been found guilty within 12 days of making a tweet.