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India: Former Chief Justice Talks Controversial Judgements, Humanizes Judges In Autobiography

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The autobiography of former Chief Justice of India and sitting Member of Parliament, Ranjan Gogoi, was recently released on December 08, 2021. The autobiography named “Justice For The Judge: An Autobiography” has been the center of discussions and sparking a lot of unnecessary disputes and contentions. In the words of the former chief justice, the book is not a tell-all. Towards the end of the book, he does mention that there are secrets, opinions, meetings, statements that he would be taking to his grave.

In his book, Mr Gogoi tells the dramatic story of his life, of that of young boy who rose from the city of Dibrugarh in Assam to become the Chief Justice of the largest democratic nation of the world.

Title Of The Book

Right from the title of the book, which critics have called out to be “a defense of his controversial tenure”, the book has been shrouded in controversies. In an exclusive interview, Ranjan Gogoi clears the false allegations and controversies around his book.

Speaking about the title of the book, Mr Gogoi says that he formerly thought of naming the book, “Justice For Judges” as his entire idea behind writing the book was to urge the public to see judges as beyond the offices they held; to humanize the person sitting at the desk. He says, “If anybody reads the book with a little amount of patience and care and caution, really means try and understand your judges, try and understand the nature of judicial office they hold, try and understand their compulsions, their norms of discipline, their ethics, their professional norms that are a little different from the ordinary, and if you do not understand your judges in the manner that is indicated, then they are likely to falter in the performance of their duties.”

Ranjan Gogoi and Not Chief Justice Gogoi

Briefly touching on his personal life, Mr Gogoi talks about how a young boy from Dibrugarh burned midnight oil and toiled hard to become a High Court judge in 2001, elevated to the Supreme Court in 2012, and the chief justice in 2018. He speaks of his struggles and quoting one of the instances, he writes how “to his horror”, he had to pay Rs 16 lakh to get his father’s property registered in his own name in 2015. The book calls him a family man and snippets of stories and instances give a sense of his modest upbringing and values.

Controversies and Judgements

In several chapters, Mr Gogoi questions and challenges his critics – from people in the judiciary, media and even in politics. In his words, the real threat to the judiciary does not come from the executive but from “self-proclaimed champions of human rights and free speech or such other public causes”.

Writing about NRC and the political willingness of the NRC exercised in Assam, Mr Gogoi quotes, “What was correct was not said and what was not correct was said.” He writes that NRC is a legally mandated issue under the Citizenship Act. He further says that NRC is only the identification of citizens from non-citizens. In the event you find non-citizens who are not eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Citizens, what you do to them is a political decision and it’s an independent decision. He clearly defines that vote bank politics, politics based on caste, religion is not the concern of the judge. He says that some people knowingly misconstrued a simple exercise of documentation into forced expulsion leading to unnecessary controversies for their own benefits.

In another part of the book, without naming a senior bureaucrat who came to visit him at his residence, he states that he remembers telling him forthrightly that he didn’t like interference with his judicial work.

Writing about another major controversy around the Ayodhya verdict, he says that if his retirement were not in November 2019, maybe the Ayodhya verdict would have come sooner. Mentioning about the about the marathon hearing of forty days in the Ram temple case, Mr Gogoi says that since he had other important cases to attend to before his tenure ended, the verdict got delayed otherwise it could have been delivered a little earlier. Also silencing the critics on the fact that he took his fellow brother judges out, loosely termed as ‘celebration’, Mr Gogoi said that he only felt like taking everyone out for dinner as they all had been under constant pressure and had been working continuously for three months.

Justice For The Judge - Ranjan Gogoi

While talking about the revoking of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir where the challenging of detentions was heard by a bench headed by Mr Gogoi, the former Chief justice writes in his book, “Slight deviations from the set procedure in larger public interest and in the pursuit of substantial justice would always be permissible and in fact expected, especially from the top court of the country.”

In one of the chapters, titled “The Many Firsts”, Mr Gogoi goes on to list the good things that resulted from his time at the bench but which were apparently never recognised. Gogoi cites a judgment of his that changed how senior advocates are appointed in the country. This, he contends, “is one of the most important judgments concerning the courts” but has not acquired the status of a “noteworthy judgment”.

Verdict

At one end, while it’s very interesting to get to know the man behind the desk who had the power to acquit or exonerate others, one cannot help but wonder the state of false accusations and media trials, that must have coaxed the man to tell his side of the story.. about allegations and his controversial decisions during his tenure. One cannot help but empathise with the man by trying to imagine themselves in his shoes through his book. Justice for the Judge: An Autobiography is a recommended read. People who hold the position of Judge and other similar desks never have the luxury of speaking on social media or simply holding a press conference. Justice For Judges upholds the rule of law and shows why India continues to champion the democratic value system. Yes, it marks the struggle of a chief justice, but it also cements the nation’s determination and faith in the judicial system.

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