Vijay Tendulkar, the renowned playwright and author, described a true story in his article for a Diwali number of a reputed Marathi magazine. He was stunned when he discovered that a teacher, critically ill, called his student, a girl several years younger than him, and sought her pardon. The teacher’s offense? He had secretly desired her which was in breach of his role as her teacher. She was not at all aware of it, but teacher was very repentant and said that unless she pardoned him he would not die peacefully.
Tendulkar, in his inimitable style, explored the world of temptations and penitence.
I remembered the story as I read the so-called apology of ex-Chief Justice PN Bhagwati. There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that Mr. Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati was one of the most outstanding and brilliant judges of the Supreme Court. He concurred with M/s Beg, Chandrachud and Ray in ADM Jabalpur case to declare that The Government could suspend all fundamental rights during Emergency.
Here is an excerpt from Fali Nariman’s book ‘Before Memory Fades’ which tells what it meant :
During the hearing of ADM Jabalpur in the Supreme Court, the then attorney General of India was specifically asked by Justice HR Khanna – one of the judges on the bench – whether there would be any remedy if a police officer, because of personal enmity and for reasons which had nothing to do with the state, too into detention a law-abiding citizen and even put an end to his life. The answer of the attorney general was unequivocal….”It may shock you conscience, it shocks mine, but consistently with my submissions no proceedings can be taken in a Court of Law on that score during Emergency.” [Justice HR Khanna was the only judge who delivered a dissenting judgement, and was punished by Indira Gandhi when he was superseded by a junior judge. His portrait hangs in Supreme Court’s Court room 2.]
Ex Chief Justice Mr PN Bhagwati [now approaching 90] has recently said, “I was wrong. The majority judgment was not the correct judgment. If it was open to me to come to a fresh decision in that case, I would agree with what Justice Khanna did. I am sorry. I don’t know why I yielded to my colleagues. Initially, I was not in favour of the majority view. But ultimately, I don’t know why, I was persuaded to agree with them. I was a novice at that time, a young judge…I was handling this type of litigation for the first time. But it was an act of weakness on my part.”
Chandrachud too had declared that it was a wrong judgement, but several years later. Popular view is that the judges were lured by the possibility of becoming Chief Justices of Supreme Court.
There is a vital difference between the old teacher in Tendulkar’s story who confesses and redefines ‘offence,’ and PN Bhagwati. The teacher was uncomfortable with having wrong emotions and desires about his lady student. He had a remorse filled heart. And we have Bhagwati who not only fell prey to temptations, but going by his own admission, to influence of his brother judges, and he defends it by saying ‘I was a novice at that time, a young judge.’
No remorse here, no penitent heart!
This is a case of dishonest apology! It is a case of corrupt mind!! A brilliant mind, but corrupt one. Bhagwati, who is considered as the ‘Father of Public Interest Litigation’ a concept which has delivered justice to several Indians, and whose judgements in many cases were trend setters, unfortunately showed petty weaknesses.
Not just then but even today in his apology too.