21 January, 2021

The Scale Tilts

Nothing five-star about Modi’s speech at the judges’ conference

Illustration by Saahil
The Scale Tilts

At the recent Chief Justices Conference, while Chief Justice of India (CJI) H.L. Dattu made the reaching-out comment that the Supreme Court was a constitutional sibling of Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to make some adversarial remarks. “Five-star activists”—wounding words these are, coming from a prime minister, and they are frightening too if interpreted as a war cry against social activism. These aren’t per se words that bind down activism, but they evoke disturbing premonitions. Already the conference was mired in controversy: Justices Kurian Joseph and Vikramjit Sen had protested the scheduling of the event on Good Friday and the CJI had justified his decision.

Modi had two targets: Teesta Setalvad, who has taken up the cause of victims of the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat; and Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace activist whose freedom to dissent and to travel was valiantly restored by the Delhi High Court. Some lawyers are thinking of filing a contempt of court petition: Modi’s remark about “the issue of bail of (sic)...



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