Surprising Makeover

Jyotiraditya Scindia and Ranjan Gogoi, member of Congress and the former Chief Justice of India respectively are in the news for all the wrong reasons. They are now both in Rajya Sabha. The former changed the course after serving the Congress for around 18 years, and the latter accepted the sinecure position of a Rajya Sabha member from the President of India. Both have defended their decisions and received support from some expected quarters. Ranjan Gogoi believes, post–acceptance of the post, that the Legislature and the Judiciary must work in tandem for the larger good of the democracy. The decision of both will be and should be criticised heavily; because, primarily, and very shockingly, such U-turns are unusual even by the standards of the dark topsy-turvy world of Indian politics. Ranjan Gogoi’s is a first of its kind in terms of the small duration of time that passed from the moment of his retirement until he took a government sponsored position. What can one expect from other members of the judicial fraternity, who are way behind in the hierarchy of status and eminence, and may thus have greater reason to feel tempted by post-retirement government perks and privileges?

Deceptive Facial Expression

While Ranjan Gogoi is criticised for taking a sinecure position so soon after his retirement that it is unbecoming of a man of his stature, Jyotiraditya Scindia has received criticism for somersaulting from an apparent secularist to a communalist. Mr. Scindia switched on into saffron tunes after furiously defending the Congress ideology for a long time. The movement from the Hand of Congress to the Red of the Left is understandable, but a shift towards the Lotus is a bolt from the blue. These are polar opposites; and then what a time to change loyalties, when the contrast between the two ideologies cannot be sharper. At a time when the dominant talk is that of a crisis in the Indian constitutional system brought on by the aggressive march of the Saffron. Ranjan Gogoi took this position before the “cooling off” period could end after his retirement. Arun Jaitley had famously argued for a two year cooling off period post-retirement before a judge can take any government position. No doubt seats are reserved in Rajya Sabha for men of eminence, but what higher eminence will he get after becoming the Chief Justice of India? And what contribution will he make in the limited time allotted time to him to speak in the Upper House? There is very little time given to the nominated men of eminence in the Rajya Sabha; how many times has one heard Fali S. Nariman (the wisdom that comes from him when he opens his mouth!) speak in the House?! Same with other nominated members like H K Dua and others. Further, his decision has cast a shadow on the impartiality on the entire system. An absolutely wrong precedent has been set, one that will, hopefully, not be followed by the folks in the court. However, my main focus is a little different, and one which asks us to re-examine our position about the opinions and expressions of human beings.

There is absolutely no change in the facial expression on the two occasions; one, when Mr. Scindia spoke determinedly about the values of secularism and the second time when he decided to embrace the Saffron. First, he spoke of fighting the battle of truth with the Saffron until the end of his life, and then congratulating the PM and HM for giving him an eminent platform in the Upper House. There is the same tell-tale expression of sincerity and earnestness. Same is the case with Mr. Ranjan Gogoi. When he spoke of a fearless judiciary and independent journalism at the Ramnath Goenka lecture in 2018, he seemed very sincere and earnest. The expression was available when he spoke of coordination and collaboration between Judiciary and Legislature after taking the position. Not even a micro-expression was different. He was appreciated when he spoke of the need of defending a free judiciary, and in fact pleaded for fearless journalists and independent judges. No one worth his salt could raise a question about the sincerity and honesty that was exuded from the face. Now that he has occupied the seat in the House amid jeers and boos, he has shell-shocked many, and forced a re-look at all his judgements. How much training and practice does it take to maintain the same calm and poise on the face while speaking things exactly opposite of each other in essence? The gap between appearance and reality cannot be starker. The duplicity is explicit. The sacred cow of the system is unveiled to be a foxy character, and the sacred calves hosted by it are no less driven by self-interest and ambition than others outside their haloed halls. These are Iagos of the real world, who can call a person “a black ram” when they are not with him, and “my lord, you know, I love you” when they are with him; and on both occasions not batting an eyelid that might give an impression of an evil dual nature.

Hollow Future

In future whatever comes from the mouth of these characters, is there any reason to believe? That will certainly come with the same level of sincerity and honesty. Or will they add another level to make us believe in what they say? One thing is sure, whatever will be said that will sound hollow. The trust is built over a track record. They are the not the first, and certainly not the last who try to use facial expression to different ends. Eventually, the touchstone is the act not the word or the made up expression.