The Supreme Court of India has weathered many a storm, so it is likely to overcome the present troubles too. Yet each crisis only serves to chip away at the credibility of what many believe is the only remaining institution in the nation to retain an element of pristine glory. And the one in which the people continue to repose much trust and confidence.
Without seeking to comment on the merits of the unsavoury allegations now flying around thick and fast, it is perhaps necessary to remind their Lordships to remain “sober as a judge” and rise above emotional outbursts and what appear to be knee-jerk reactions. Strong words, hasty summoning of top officials of the CBI, IB and Delhi Police only add to the popular conception of there being “no smoke without fire”.
The actions of the court suggest a rash of bruised egos, a feeling of hurt, and an inability to ride with the punches. The seemingly threatening tone to “inquire, inquire and inquire” till it gets to the root cause of the problems does create an impression that some of the ugliness of the prevailing political discourse has infected the language of the only entity which was believed to be immune to such unhealthy influences.
It is true that allegations of sexual harassment cannot be taken lightly, but the importance of due process cannot be ignored only because a high dignitary is the alleged victim of what is contended to be a false complaint. An internal committee is a poor solution ~ people who sometimes share a bench will never be accepted as unbiased. And to whom would that panel report? Possibly a case of acting in haste and repenting in leisure ~ at least that is what the unfavourable reaction would suggest.
Since there was no outcry (beyond the court, that is) a more balanced panel could have been formed ~ the legal profession does have several members with impeccable credentials whose conclusions would have commanded widespread respect. There is, inevitably, some sympathy for a woman who complains about sexual harassment ~ the court cannot be ignorant of that. When “transparency” is the buzzword in such matters any internal inquiry is bound to attract criticism.
What is even more disturbing is the subsequent development that fixers are at work, and yet again the “no smoke without fire” theory casts an ugly shadow over the court. The alleged involvement of a none-too-reputed corporate house with deep pockets adds to the gravity of the situation ~ as does the silence of the law ministry. Again there is need for a broad-based probe: personal pique must have no place in the process. The legal system, not just the court, owes at least that to the people who still hold it in high esteem. Enhancing that esteem is the need of the hour.