Is Justice A.P. Shah the best judge the Supreme Court never had?

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In 2010, when the Congress-led UPA was in power, Delhi high court chief justice Ajit Prakash Shah, then 62, was overlooked by the collegium for elevation to the Supreme Court, while promoting judges junior to him.

Justice Shah was known for his pro-poor, progressive and transparent approach.

He hit the national headlines for legalising gay sex, bringing the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI), and for taking up the causes of the jailed and disabled.

Justice Shah would not have gone on to become the CJI had he been elevated. In an excellent interview to Anuradha Raman of The Hindu today, he shows that the loss was entirely Supreme Court’s—and ours.

# “Today, in India, we do not talk of inclusive nationalism. What we have is a situation of enforced cultural nationalism. It is a culture of hate that is being perpetrated in the name of nationalism.”

# “Rabindranath Tagore said, when the nation becomes powerful at the cost of the harmony of social life, that day is an evil day for humanity. What do we have today instead? People speak of removing the thoughts of Tagore from textbooks!”

# “If we allow territorial identity to overwhelm our narrative, we may regress into a situation where people become blinded by a nationality driven by irrationality, which in turn may have extreme consequences.”

# “We are in a situation today where any criticism of certain offices is branded as anti-national and sedition…. We are also acquiring a reputation of being singularly humourless, where even a parody is not tolerated!”

# “The response to criticism is not to shut it down, but to engage with, and respond to, the speaker. Free speech must be countered by more speech, not by acts of moral vigilantism. Such acts have absolutely no place in our constitutional polity and democracy.”

# “The right to free speech and expression also includes the right not to speak or express ourselves. However, under the guise of “law”, the [Supreme] Court has now restricted our fundamental rights [with its order on the National Anthem].”

# “Making something compulsory, like standing up when a national anthem is sung, undermines the very meaning of that action, and the respect that is normally accorded to it. It is a form of what I would call “conscripted nationalism.”

# “It is unimaginable to expect that a country as diverse as India can be expected to lead a homogenised existence, with a single ideology or monochromatic way of living, or a standard diet.”

# “Enforced nationalism cannot promote true culture. People and cultures, regardless of belonging to a particular class or geography, can truly grow and evolve only if they can transcend all social and territorial limitations.”

Read the full interview: Today, we do not talk of inclusive nationalism

Photograph: courtesy The Indian Express