After ensuring the complete subservience of the state administration, the police and the media, the Trinamool Congress has now turned its attention to the judiciary, which it feels is not playing ball with it.
The object of the Trinamool’s displeasure now is the acting Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, Justice Rajesh Bindal.
Justice Bindal incurred the displeasure of the ruling Trinamool Congress when he cancelled the bail granted to three Trinamool leaders, including two senior ministers and a Trinamool turncoat who were arrested by the CBI on 17 May in connection with the Narada sting operation.
The acting Chief Justice, in its late evening order on 17 May, came down heavily on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for storming and laying siege to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) office (where the arrested Trinamool leaders had been taken) and on state Law Minister Moloy Ghatak for mobbing the special CBI court which had heard and granted bail to the arrested.
What embarrassed and irked the Trinamool leadership in equal measure was Justice Bindal’s censure of the “manner in which pressure was sought to be put (on the CBI court, by the Chief Minister and the state Law Minister) do little to inspire confidence of the people in the rule of law”.
The acting CJ, in his order, observed: “Confidence of the people in the justice system will be eroded in case such types of incidents are allowed to happen in the matters where political leaders are arrested and are to be produced in the court. Public trust and confidence in the judicial system is more important, it being the last resort. They may have a feeling that it is not rule of law which prevails but it is a mob which has an upper hand and especially in a case where it is led by the Chief Minister of the state in the office of CBI and by the Law Minister of the state in the court complex”.
The Chief Minister’s conduct, the violent protests by Trinamool supporters outside the CBI office and the Raj Bhawan, and the Law Minister mobbing the CBI court on 17 May had come in for widespread criticism.
Justice Bindal now heads a five-judge bench which is hearing the Narada case. The bench had, on 9 June, disallowed CM Banerjee and Law Minister Ghatak from filing fresh affidavits to contest the allegations made by the CBI against them about their conduct on 17 May.
The two wanted to file affidavits after the CBI presented to the bench details of the events on 17 May in support of its argument that the chief minister had laid siege to the CBI office while the Law Minister had mobbed the court with hundreds of party supporters.
The Chief Minister and the Law Minister then approached the Supreme Court, which last week directed the Calcutta HC to accept the fresh affidavits that the duo wanted to file.
The Trinamool also blames Justice Bindal for assigning the case filed by CM Banerjee challenging the poll outcome in Nandigram to Justice Kausik Chanda.
Justice Chanda, the Trinamool feels, was associated with the BJP and would not be impartial. Banerjee’s counsel had, last week, requested Justice Chanda to recuse himself from the case.
The Trinamool holds that the Nandigram poll verdict case was initially filed and mentioned before a single judge bench headed by Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, but the acting CJ (who is the master of the roster) assigned the case to Justice Chanda.
Yet another sore point for the Trinamool is Justice Bindal’s meeting with Governor Jagdeep Dhankar, who is the Trinamool’s bete noire. The Trinamool feels that the acting CJ and Dhankar may be acting in collusion to embarrass the state government.
But what the Trinamool is very scared about is that with many victims of post-poll political violence in the state finally mustering the courage to file legal petitions, an ‘unfriendly’ judiciary may make adverse observations and pass adverse rulings.
Banerjee has repeatedly refuted and rubbished reports of post-poll violence in Bengal, and adverse observations or rulings by the HC would cause her and her party severe embarrassment.
A five-judge bench of the Calcutta HC headed by Justice Bindal has also, on last Monday (21 June), rejected an appeal by the state government to recall its earlier (18 June) order asking the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to institute a probe into post-poll violence in Bengal.
The HC bench had, on 18 June, directed the NHRC chairperson to form a panel and examine all cases of post-poll violence in the state. The HC ruling came on a bunch of public interest litigations (PILs) alleging attacks and murders of opposition (primarily BJP) activists and supporters by Trinamool goons who had also forced people to leave their homes and looted residences and business establishments of opposition activists.
The NHRC has already started probing all the 3,423 cases of post-poll violence and forcible displacement of people from their homes. Many more victims are also planning to approach the NHRC probe teams with their complaints.
The Trinamool fears that the NHRC probe report will be a very adverse one, and once it is submitted to the HC, the latter will definitely censure the state government and pass orders which can not only severely embarrass the Trinamool but also cast CM Banerjee in a very negative light.
That, the Trinamool fears, will be highly damaging to Banerjee’s image at a time when she is trying to project herself as a ‘national leader’.
And that is why the Trinamool Congress has targeted the acting CJ. Trinamool MLA Ashok Kumar Deb, who is an advocate and chairman of the Bar Council of West Bengal, wrote to the SC Chief Justice requesting the removal of Justice Bindal.
Deb, a six-time MLA, in his highly controversial letter that critics say is a blatant and diabolic attempt to browbeat the judiciary, alleged that Justice Bindal is “unfair, partial and biased” and whose continuance in office “interferes with fair and impartial dispensation of justice”.
The 26-member Bar Council, which enrols all advocates, is packed with Trinamool leaders, including a Rajya Sabha MP.
Citing Justice Bindal’s handling of the Narada case, Deb wrote that the acting CJ “did not have any regard for judicial propriety and has committed a mockery of judicial conscience”.
Deb also wrote: “We beseech your Lordship to take immediate steps for the removal of Justice Rajesh Bindal as a judge of Calcutta HC so that the majesty and sanctity of the HC is upheld and to ensure peoples’ confidence in the judiciary does not fall to pieces. Unless urgent steps are taken for the removal of Justice Bindal, we will be mute spectators to the continuous travesty of justice at the hands of a prejudiced, biased and skewed judge and justice will be denied to the unguarded citizens of this great nation”.
The Trinamool has, through its lawyers, thus opened an unprecedented and murky chapter of confrontation with the judiciary in an attempt to browbeat it into submission.
“If the CJI takes cognisance of the Trinamool’s complaint and acts on it, the Trinamool would have scored a major victory against the judiciary and that would act as a strong and chilling signal to other judges of the Calcutta HC to fall in line and become subservient to the state government and the ruling party. But if the CJI does not act on the Trinamool’s request, as he is most likely to, then also it works to the Trinamool’s advantage,” said a legal expert who did not want to be named.
The expert, who practices before the apex court, explained: “The Trinamool’s lawyers will embark on a constant confrontation with judges who they view as ‘unfavourable’ or ‘non-compliant’ and may even start boycotting these judges. The Trinamool’s lawyers may start asking Justice Bindal to recuse himself from all cases involving the party (the Trinamool) or the state government on the grounds that he does not enjoy their confidence. They may argue that since the Trinamool had complained against him, his (Justice Bindal’s) views will be biased against the Trinamool. This is a very clever but sinister plot”.
The only way out, said the legal expert who is a Constitutional lawyer, is for the CJI to not only firmly reject the Bar Council’s plea but also initiate contempt proceedings against advocate Deb.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) Rajya Sabha MP and advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya said that Deb’s letter amounted to “interference with the administration of justice”.
Bhattacharya, a former mayor of Kolkata, also opined that the CJI should suo moto initiate contempt proceedings against Bar Council Chairman Deb.
But the Trinamool is unfazed and maintains that its demand for removal of Justice Bindal is justified.
Justice Bindal was appointed as a judge of the Punjab & Haryana HC in 2006. In December 2020, he was appointed as the acting Chief Justice of the Common HC for the Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.
Justice Bindal was transferred to the Calcutta HC in January this year and took over as the acting CJ after Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan demitted office on 28 April this year.