CHURUMURI POLL: Judge vs Union minister

The case involving the Madras High Court judge who reportedly received a call from a Union minister on granting anticipatory bail to two persons is remarkable for the u-turn it has taken—or has been forced to take.

On June 29, the judge R. Reghupathy, without naming anyone, said a Union minister tried to influence him to pass orders favouring the petitioners. According to this report, in which the reporter also mentions an off-the-record briefing by the judge after court, the minister is categorically reported to have spoken to the judge: “A Union minister talked to me. He influenced me to release this petitioner on anticipatory bail.”

The disclosure saw the usual to-and-fro from the political parties, with the BJP and Left united in their condemnation. Although the judge had not named the minister who talked to him, the BJP’s Arun Jaitley demanded that he be sacked.”The minister is not ‘a raja’ who was not accountable to anyone,” Jaitley, a Supreme Court advocate said, in a thinly disguised attempt to name the minister.

Kapil Sibal, a former Supreme Court lawyer now a serving cabinet minister, joined former atttorney general Soli J. Sorabjee, in demanding that the judge make the name public.

After the AIADMK leader J. Jayalalitha named A. Raja as the minister who spoke to the judge, the DMK chief M. Karunanidhi sought a clarification from the telecommunications minister. Meanwhile, MDMK chief Vaiko, an electoral ally of Jayalalitha, has suggested that Raja could have used another minister to pressure the judge. (The film star-turned-politician-turned Union minister D. Napoleon hails from the same area as Raja.)

A day after the incident became public, the chief justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, said “if the Minister had spoken to the Judge [as stated by him] then really it is an interference with judiciary.” Now, in an extraordinary turnaround, Justice Balakrishnan has said the judge did not really talk to the minister and that the counsel of the petitioners had held out a phone.

Clearly, there has been some hectic backpedalling. Who do you think is telling the truth?