Parliament was in uproar on Monday as the AIADMK and DMK — arch rivals in Tamil politics — protested over former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju's allegation that political pressure by the previous UPA government led to the elevation of a judge despite corruption charges against him.
The Rajya Sabha was adjourned briefly as AIADMK members demanded a probe into the allegation of political interference in judicial appointments while DMK members in the Lok Sabha questioned why Katju had been silent for such a long time. The incident took place in 2004.
Watch video: Katju is trying to please the government, says Congress
Katju had blogged that three ex-chief justices had extended a Madras high court additional judge's term due to pressure from a UPA ally in Tamil Nadu, an apparent reference to the DMK. Katju alleged there were eight "adverse entries" against the additional judge from his days as a district judge, but they were deleted by the acting chief Justice of the Madras high court. Katju, who is chairman of the Press Council of India, says he asked for an IB probe which found the allegations to be true.
The row has turned the spotlight on how judges are appointed to the higher judiciary in India, using a non-transparent ‘collegium system’ that has often triggered allegations of corruption and political interference.
BJP spokesperson MJ Akbar lashed out at the Congress saying, "What Justice Katju said confirms that the previous government of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh was possibly the most corrupt in the history of this country. It was corrupt either by filling in its personal pockets, filling in the pockets of its allies or in order to preserve themselves in power they were willing to sell the national interest down in any manner possible."
Katju became the chief justice of Madras high in 2004. Between 2006 and 2011, he served as a judge in the Supreme Court. He is known for his outspokenness, often stirring controversies with his remarks, both in the court and outside.
Watch video: Former CJ Katju says TN ally forced UPA to save corrupt judge
Opposition leaders demanded an explanation from the Congress. "Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress party should explain whether these allegations were true," said CPI leader D Raja, who is from from Tamil Nadu.
Some, however, suggested Katju’s remarks were aimed at warming up to the new BJP-led government at the centre. When a television channel persisted with questions about the timing of his revelation on Monday, Katju refused to answer and walked out of the interview.
"What was the judiciary doing at that time? If Katju was aware of any such thing and was really concerned about this, he should have raised his voice right then," said former law minister and Congress leader Veerappa Moily.
No Congress member came out in support of its estranged ally. Congress leader HR Bhardwaj, who was law minister at the time, confirmed the judge was backed by a large group of members of Parliament who complained about Justice Katju's opposition.
"Around 18 MPs met PM Manmohan Singh in 2004 and complained about injustice to the accused additional judge," Bhardwaj told NDTV. “Ultimately, the Chief Justice of India cleared the appointment.”