2017 big and small borne perhaps of simple

2017 was a tumultuous year for Indian democracy. The beginning of 2018 saw a drift between the factions of the judiciary that appears difficult to heal. A fight to protect the democracy, as they call it. We pray and hope justice prevails and the tenets of democracy strengthened, making 2018 and beyond, better times to come. Allegations of fascism, judicial overreach aside and those of political partisanship notwithstanding, 2017 was a year which saw the very integrity of the Supreme Court, often thought of an incorruptible and lofty existence, being questioned, and now we have 4 senior highly respected Supreme Court judges in open ‘rebellion’ against the Chief Justice of India (CJI). Not to mention that this particular airing of dirty laundry was performed with all the flair and drama of a political organisation, this is definitely a first for our nation and for the Supreme Court.Supreme Court, as infallible as it has appeared in meeting the ends of justice, it has its own rigid structure which lacks transparency, with no mechanism to deal with internal differences. The appointment of judges, again an opaque procedure and impeachment, an extremely difficult one. Still, in a country of immense diversity on the basis of caste, creed, faith and languages, in a country of innumerable disputes and outright battles, both big and small borne perhaps of simple misunderstandings or millennia old habits and customs, our Supreme Court represents the last possible temple of justice for verdicts enshrining truth, justice and impartiality. If at all this act has caused damage to the credibility of this institution, it will have implications far beyond the courtrooms and media glare.While the allegations put up by the four honourable Judges reflect the urgent need to reflect upon the functioning of the democracy, they have managed to churn up debate on the internal workings of the Supreme Court. Legal rhetoric aside, the core point of the letter written by the four judges to the Chief Justice is one of the practices around the appointment and assignment of cases to the judges. The assignment of cases to the judges has been the prerogative of the CJI since the earliest days of the institution, and while people are currently realising the potential of impropriety in recent ‘headliner’ cases as they concern most deeply the current government, please note that there was ample potential to do so in the past governments as well.One must understand that Supreme Court judges, represent some of the sharpest, most hardworking and most ethical individuals the country has. There are no shortcuts to this post and an appointment represents the validation of decades of time and effort. Anyone who is acquainted with a Supreme Court judge will tell you that these are some of the most reserved and notoriously camera shy people. So to have a situation when not one but four judges (some of the most senior ones that too) felt compelled to come out to the media, is in itself a damning condemnation of the courts functioning, because it begs the question — if the court itself cannot regulate its functioning with fairness and equanimity how can they then pass judgement on some of the most fundamental or divisive issues our country faces?The other important concern is the issue of political intervention and hankering. While we can only speculate the when’s and how’s, but that each of us is forced to speculate erodes the credibility of the court. While BJP has admittedly said the right things (their position compels them to), opposition parties have in a typical fashion unnecessarily politicised the issue to further their political needs. Up until now even the mention of any political-court nexus has been dealt with subtlety and grace befitting such institutions. But now it has become dinner table conversation for every family and exposed to harsh scrutiny. More importantly the court has shown its soft underbelly to the political class, a chink in the armour has now displayed which every political party will hope to exploit in fact it may prompt the curtailment or encroachment of the courts jurisdiction especially considering the fact that the term ‘judicial overreach’ has been thrown about in more than one matter in the past year alone.A concerted effort by all stakeholders the Chief Justice, the judges, Bar association, etc., as is currently being attempted is the need of the hour. But this time perhaps without the grandstanding that has been affected by most participants since this matter has come to light. This matter concerns the entire judiciary and it is the judiciary itself which must come together and find a way to move forward and they must do so in a manner which befits the esteemed role these men and women play in our democracy.(Ishanee Sharma is an advocate, Delhi High Court)