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National Opinion

Hypocrisy Much, Mr Venugopal?

“We need open democracy and open discussions,” Attorney General KK Venugopal said in an interview to NDTV. Though his preachings are not seen in the approvals he gives for contempt proceedings against individuals. 

In an interview to NDTV, Attorney General KK Venugopal said freedom of speech on social media should not be curbed and any move to do so may invite litigation. This statement comes just a week after Mr Venugopal granted consent to a law student for initiating contempt of court proceedings against a comic illustrator Rachita Taneja, for her illustrative tweets depicting Supreme Court being hand in glove with the ruling party, BJP.

Constantly in the news in recent days for his spree of approval to contempt proceedings against comic Kunal Kamra and illustrator Rachita Taneja, AG Venugopal told NDTV that the Supreme Court does initiate contempt cases but only in the rarest of rare cases.

“For a healthy democracy, open discussions on social media should not be curbed. The Supreme Court normally does not react to criticism unless lines are crossed,” Mr Venugopal was quoted as saying by NDTV. “To curtail this would be unnecessary and the government should not bring any move to curtail this freedom. We need open democracy and open discussions,” he further added.

In the spirit of “open democracy and open discussions” that Mr Venugopal himself upholds, it would not be too much to convey to Mr Venugopal that he contradicts himself with his actions. His “open criticism” and “open democracy” preachings are not seen in the approvals he gives for contempt proceedings against individuals.

On November 12, Attorney General KK Venugopal gave his consent to initiate criminal contempt of court proceedings against stand-up comic Kunal Kamra for his tweets against the Supreme Court of India.

On November 20, he again gave consent to initiate fresh contempt action against stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra for his “grossly vulgar and obnoxious” tweet with a photograph of two fingers meant to “deliberately insult” the Chief Justice of India.

On December 1, AG Venugopal gave consent to a law student for initiating contempt of court proceedings against a comic illustrator Rachita Taneja, for her illustrative tweets depicting Supreme Court being hand in glove with the ruling party, BJP. The first tweet against which the AG has given consent for contempt is an illustration of Arnab Goswami intimidating Supreme Court by stating that BJP is his “Father”.

Another tweet for which the AG has granted consent refers to the Supreme Court as “Sanghi Court of India” with a saffron flag instead of the tricolour in the illustration.

However, even while granting consent for contempt proceedings against different individuals, Mr Venugopal’s yardsticks probably tend to differ.

Mr Venugopal refused consent for initiation of contempt of court proceedings against rightwing Twitter user Shefali Vaidya, citing that her tweets were “published over one year ago.” The tweets cited by activist Saket Gokhale in his request to the AG were from November, October and March 2020. In one of her tweets, Ms Vaidya had said: “India doesn’t have a justice system, what we have is a joke!” In another tweet, Ms Vaidya had called former supreme court judge Kurian Joseph a ‘scum’ for his comments.

An image of the AG’s reply to the activist shows that he highlighted “Section 20 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, which bars the initiation of any contempt action either suo motu or otherwise after the expiry of one year from the date of the allegedly contumacious conduct.”

However, the screenshots tweeted by Gokhale of Vaidya’s tweets against the judiciary show that the tweets were made well within the year and that one of them was posted as recently as last month.

Although I’m not a big fan of contempt of court myself and believe that it should be thrown back, along with sedition law, in the dark corridors of colonialism, it’s baffling that even while granting consent for contempt proceedings, there is hypocrisy.

The whole problem with Arnab Goswami getting bail was not that he didn’t deserve one, it was the speed with which registry enlisted his case in front of the apex court, while hundreds of important habeas corpus petitions remain unheard.

The problem with contempt proceedings is not only that it is an outdated law for a 73-years old democracy. But it is also a mockery of our democracy when it is used selectively to punish only those who speak against the government.

While Ms Rachita Taneja faces the contempt music for referring the Supreme Court as “Sanghi Court of India” with a saffron flag instead of the tricolour in the illustration on social media, there was an actual incident when activists of right-wing groups unfurled a saffron flag at the entrance of the District and Sessions court in 2017 in Udaipur. There were sadly no contempt proceedings held against these activists.

 

Activists of right-wing groups unfurled a saffron flag at the entrance of the District and Sessions court in 2017

 

 

In a democracy, people should have the right to criticise all four pillars of democracy. After all, it’s not of the Judiciary by the executive for the legislative. It’s of the people, by the people and for the people.

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