Cameraperson: Athar Rather
“The PM himself propagates all kinds of nonsense. That there is no such thing as climate change, that Lord Ganesha’s trunk was fixed by plastic surgery, where his ministers say, 'Go Corona Go'. That this would make Corona go away. This is a whole scale assault on our society. There was nothing comparable to this prior to 2014, nothing. This is the most evil government that we have ever seen in this country or perhaps, anywhere in this world.”
After being convicted and sentenced for a fine of Re 1 for criminal contempt by Supreme Court, advocate-activist Prashant Bhushan speaks to The Quint about judiciary, state and the need to not give up hope.
(To watch the full interview click the link below.)
So lets start with the most recent thing that has happened. You were sentenced to pay a Re 1 fine. There were lots of people who felt that you would either not pay this fine or you would not want to. Did the thought cross your mind at all?
No it did not, because I was not itching to go to jail. I said I was prepared to go to jail if that was the sentence, but the sentence was Rs 1 fine, so I decided to submit to the fine.
We have seen a very defiant version of you in the Supreme Court. How has it been for you and your family to cope during this time?
So some members of my family were a little worried as to what would happen, especially by the prospect of my being sent to jail. But my father was not worried and I was also not worried. I had looked at the possibility of going to jail, and I said alright, so many people go to jail. My grandparents have gone to the jail for more than a year during the Independence movement. All these Bhima Koregaon people are in jail for two-two years.
So I thought that I’ll use those six months, that is the maximum sentence that they could send me to jail for, I will use it to read, maybe write a book about the judiciary, I will see what the conditions are in jail. Meet some people there. See what kind of people are there.
So, it is safe to say it would be trouble for them as well with you being in jail?
Yes, possibly they felt that sending me to jail would cause greater trouble.
You’ve also said there have been serious problems before 2014, so why do you take the line that there has been an attempt to destroy democracy only after 2014?
So, before 2014 there were various problems, all kinds of problems, but what we have seen after 2014 is of a different order altogether. There are lynch mobs who have been let loose on the streets, there are lynch mobs on the social media that threaten you with rape, with killing you etc.
The mainstream media has been taken over and used to spread communal hatred, used to spread falsehood, so that people cannot distinguish between what is true and what is false. There is an assault on scientific temper and reason. The PM himself propagates all kinds of nonsense. That there is no such thing as climate change, that Lord Ganesha’s trunk was fixed by plastic surgery, where his ministers say ‘Go Corona Go’. That this would make Corona go away.
This is a whole scale assault on our society. There was nothing comparable to this prior to 2014, nothing. This is the most evil government that we have ever seen in this country or perhaps anywhere in this world.
Should young lawyers, journalists and activists who look towards the Supreme Court as a ray of hope to bring balance and ensure rule of law, do you feel that the time has come for them to stop looking at the Supreme Court for hope?
No, I do not think so at all. If that was the case I would have also given up hope. My criticism about the judiciary is only in the hope that there will be reform. We can’t give up hope. We can’t become cynical. We have to keep working at it. Especially young people and young lawyers who are the main stakeholders as well. See, their whole life and their career is before them and it is going to be before this judicial system. So this judicial system is non-functional, corrupt etc, everybody will suffer, most of all, they.
Recently some of the high courts have given some judgments through which people have started to get that hope. In the sense that with Kafeel Khan in the Allahabad high court, or Delhi high court with Devangana Kalita, her bail. Do you think the SC should play an important role here in setting the precedent to protect the right to dissent or leave it to the high court?
No, I think they (the Supreme Court) need to play a very important role and one of the things the SC needs to do is to re-examine the consitutional validity of UAPA. In my view, it is a totally unconstitutional law. Unfortunately they held it to be constituional but I think that judgment needs to be re-examined.
You are often viewed as a troublemaker, a serial PIL filer, now even part of a ‘lobby’ which seeks to influence the judiciary. Given the sheer number of cases you have been involved in over the years, don’t you think there’s some truth to any to these claims
These kind of statements are made by those who are at the receiving end of my PILs. See, unfortunately we are seeing such high levels of corruption in our society that it calls for a lot more public interest cases. I can only take up those that are in my capacity, and I try to prioritise them and take up what I consider to be the most important. I do not think I have taken up any matter which was not worthy to be taken up as a PIL.
Retrospectively, when you look back at them. Are there any cases, the important ones, like the Sahara-Birla case or the medical bribery case where you think you could have put in much more work before going to the Supreme Court for recourse?
No, in fact, in both Sahara-Birla as well as the medical college case I had more information than anybody could have had because some whistle blowers within the system had provided me access to information which normally people cannot get. So, therefore that kind of information comes only once in a while, this kind of information comes to me because whistle blowers feel that I would take up the matter in a proper way.
At the end of it, the judgment, because you were found guilty, is this judgment an opening of a new issue or the closure of the issue?
If you take the judgment by itself, it certainly makes speaking out against the judiciary much harder. But because of the intense debate and public discussion that this case provoked, I think that discussion in the long run will help in loosening the law of contempt.
Ok, so there has been a certain sense of awakening, or a certain positive energy in the society. How do you plan to channel this energy, sir?
This has focused attention on me, therefore I am seen by some people as somebody who can lead some movement etc. I will try to channelise the energies of people by saying what I feel should be done. So whatever roles, I am not a person who is cut out for electoral politics. I am not going to get into that.
And your former colleague Ashish Khetan said that you were a selective idealist, a selective crusader for democracy. Is he right?
So Ashish Khetan is vice president legal, or was till very recently, of Essar group. The Essar group has been the subject matter of at least three PILs of mine. So for Ashish as vice president legal of Essar, to attack me, it was a stupid attack, but he should have at least disclosed his conflict of interest in this matter.