The average Andhra citizen is beset with many questions with Chief Minister YS Jagan Reddy making public his serious allegations against the next Chief Justice of India. Some of his supporters, including Telugu media outlets, portray national coverage as a positive response to the CM’s purported righteous struggle.
CM Jagan Reddy runs the risk of being held in contempt under Articles 121 and 211 of the Constitution. These prohibit legislative discussions on the conduct of the Supreme Court or High Court judges in discharging their duties. Though this wasn’t done in the legislatures, it violates the dictum ‘what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly.’
Many have lamented how the CM’s letter is a ‘concerted attempt to weaken the legitimacy of the higher judiciary’ among the people. It is being perceived as an ‘obstacle’ to development and not as an enabler of justice. In coastal Andhra, the Kanaka Durga Varadhi connects Krishna and Guntur districts across the River Krishna. In September 2020, one could see posters along the bridge that are walking the tightrope between constitutionalism and populism – warning anyone who dares to question the huge mandate of the people, and asserting the righteousness of the YCP supremo.
Ever since YSR Congress gained power in May 2019, the HC struck down or put on hold some of Jagan Reddy’s key decisions through more than 100 reprimands or orders.
It came to be the de facto Opposition in AP. From the perspective of the ruling party, these interventions were perceived as an unnecessary check on what they see as a historic mandate. We put this development in the context of judicial interventions in the AP government’s policies and decisions.
The first and most visible was the case of the panchayat and government buildings being painted with YCP colours (green, blue and white). In one instance, even the tri-colour was painted over. The High Court ordered their removal as panchayats are constitutional bodies, and questioned ‘YCP glorification’ at public expense running into thousands of crores. The Supreme Court reiterated this. The government tried to bypass this by painting an extra brown colour over their colours, but the High Court ‘ensured’ that status quo ante was restored.
Another crucial case was that of the shifting of executive power from Amaravati to Vizag, conforming with the government’s championing of ‘three state capitals’.
Two bills were passed – one, repealing the Amaravati CRDA (Capital Regional Development Authority), and another envisioning three state capitals. Their implementation was put on hold by the High Court pending its hearing of petitions by farmers of Amaravati and various other bodies/individuals. The government is shifting headquarters of its many departments from Vijayawada (close to Amaravati) to Vizag, claiming that they are ‘branch offices’. But the size and rent paid for these branches tells us otherwise.
Andhra Govt’s ‘Inaction’ In Probing ‘Cases Of Contempt’
Another critical case concerned reinstating Ramesh Kumar as the State Election Commissioner (SEC). In March 2020, he postponed local elections in light of the COVID pandemic. This was vehemently opposed, with Jagan Reddy himself insinuating this decision was linked to the ‘SEC’s caste’.
Later, when his government attempted to change the rules of the SEC’s tenure and replaced him, the HC struck this down and reinstated Ramesh Kumar. This again went to the Supreme Court before being implemented.
Several other cases also led to conflict. One was making English the language of instruction in all public schools. Some cases involved law and order in which the DGP himself was made to testify. Currently, Jagan Reddy is fighting the HC’s stay over the distribution of millions of land pattas to the poor due to allegations of unfair land appropriation.
When the government faced reversals in the High Court this past year, the concerned judges became the victim of vicious social media abuse, some of the accused being linked to YCP. Despite being quick to arrest those posting negatively against the government, the police failed to apprehend anyone accused of abusing the judges. A few days ago, the HC handed over this case to CBI. The government’s months-long inaction in investigating such cases of contempt implicitly signals its acceptance of such abuse of the judiciary.
Did Reddy Govt Really Want ‘Reforms’ In Higher Judiciary? What’s The ‘Real’ Deal?
Reflecting India’s polarisation along the fault lines of religion and caste, Andhra Pradesh itself sees the ‘blaming’ of particular castes by Jagan Reddy, other ministers and YCP leaders, when faced with reversals in implementing their policies. MPs and MLAs of YCP have openly ‘threatened’ the judiciary. The Speaker himself remarked how the ‘Kamma virus’ was ‘worse’ than the coronavirus. Unfavourable judgments were ascribed to caste or to being beholden to TDP.
Reddy’s letter to the (potential) future CJI is a culmination of this campaign to create an ‘atmosphere of intimidation and delegitimisation’.
If Jagan Reddy wanted reforms in the higher judiciary, he would have waited for the Supreme Court’s in-house inquiry as part of its established procedure.
His allegations in the letter aren’t on steady ground either. His accusation about some judges being malleable to Chandrababu Naidu and the future CJI simply do not hold. For example, one particular HC judge was accused by Jagan Reddy of unjustly staying proceedings with regard to certain governments orders. These government orders were passed to form a Cabinet Sub-Committee and an SIT to investigate land deals in Amaravati. In his confidential letter to the CJI revealed by Jagan, the potential future CJI himself raises serious doubts regarding this judge’s honesty, integrity, and abilities, also noting allegations of sexual harassment.
Nor does the timeline of buying land in Amaravati indicate any insider-trading. With bifurcation imminent, Mangalagiri, Vizag, Vijayawada, Ongole, Tirupati, etc, were speculated as potential capitals, attracting land investors even before the elections in 2014. In September 2014, the Andhra Pradesh Assembly passed a unanimous resolution declaring Amaravati as the capital. In December 2014, the CRDA was constituted. It was in June 2015 that the future CJI’s daughters “bought land from a local property dealer like thousands of others... in Amaravati.” They did not need any inside information.
The judges accused by him were elevated at different times and under different governments. Perusing their judgments indicates their distinct ideologies and interpretations of justice.
Jagan Reddy exhibits a willing suspension of disbelief regarding how cases and decisions are determined. His ‘baseless accusations’ in turn erode people’s faith in the courts as fair arbiters of truth and justice.
As we pointed out earlier, the future of YCP depends on Jagan Reddy’s ability to escape convictions in his 31 cases, or run a proxy government.
Is CM Jagan Reddy Trying To Create ‘Straw Dragons’ To Defeat?
If his conviction is certain, it is in his interest to question the legitimacy of the higher judiciary in the eyes of the people. By alleging the hand of Chandrababu Naidu in all the cases he lost, does Jagan Reddy accuse the Supreme Court itself to be in his defeated opponent’s thrall?
This comes at a time when the Supreme Court is struggling to match its own standards of institutional independence and rights-focused jurisprudence.
Jagan is ascribing immense power to a lone Supreme Court judge who can apparently ‘influence’ the selection of judges, rosters, and decisions of a High Court. By doing this, he strives to create straw dragons for him to vanquish. Questioning the judiciary and its decisions furthers his populist narrative that the people’s mandate, represented by him, is being dismantled.
(Naga Sravan Kilaru is the founder of the youth advocacy organisation Yuva Galam in Andhra Pradesh. He tweets @knsravan_. V Vamsi Viraj works with covidwire.in, a COVID-19 news aggregator, and with Yuva Galam. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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