In his colourful and chequered political career Subramanian Swamy has been described as “maverick”, “firebrand”, “irrepressible” ~ and a few other things too impolite to print. He has taken them all in swaggering stride. It will, however, not be easy even for him to live down the scathing strictures delivered by the Delhi High Court (the Bench of Justices S Muralidhar and I S Mehta) when dismissing his plea for a court-monitored Special Investigation Team to probe the much-publicised “mysterious” death of Sunanda Pushkar, wife of former minister and now Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
The court deemed his PIL a “textbook example of a political interest litigation” and noted that he had presented no evidence to substantiate his charge of a “botched up” investigation, or that the then minister was misusing his political position to “influence” the police inquiry. Though Swamy protested, the court junked his objections. It remains to be seen if he will move the Supreme Court.
Also chided was advocate Ishkaran Singh Bhandari for making “sweeping allegations”. Their Lordships went beyond finding fault with unbacked allegations and took exception to what it condemned as a “disturbing feature” that Swamy’s PIL and some other documents were published online even before they were considered by the court. “Where serious allegations are made, petitioners need to be circumspect about placing it on the net or social media before consideration by the court as it could have irreversible consequences”.
Moving from the specific to the more general, their Lordships stressed that courts need to be careful that the judicial process “is not abused by political persons for their own purposes”, saying that courts must be “extra careful” when dealing with matters in which allegations have been made by political persons against one another. Ignoring Swamy’s contention that he took full responsibility for the points made in his petitions etc, the Bench said “this court is left with a distinct impression that this is perhaps a textbook example of a political interest litigation being dressed up as a public interest litigation”.
While in the past PILs have frequently been slammed as “publicity interest litigation” this might be the first time that a High Court has flayed one as a “political interest litigation”. In an increasingly hostile and confrontationist political climate the caution by courts to “be careful” cannot be over-stressed. It is now not uncommon for political leaders (particularly those with limited “appeal”) to explore judicial avenues to “push” the line they are trying to project.
The courts are often being accused of over-reach, encroaching upon the domain of the executive, so there is need to guard against the judicial system being sucked into the political quagmire ~ tempting though that might superficially appear. As for Dr Subramanian Swamy, his next salvo will be keenly awaited.