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Kapil Sibal and Sitaram Yechury, the men who drove the CJI removal motion

While Sitaram Yechury convinced opposition parties of the need to move forward on the issue, Kapil Sibal played a key role in mobilising opinion both within the party and with allies

india Updated: Apr 24, 2018 07:43 IST
Chief Justice of India,CJI,CJI impeachment
Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal addresses the media regarding the removal motion of the Chief Justice of India, at AICC, in New Delhi, on Monday.(Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)

The notice for the removal of Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra was largely driven by two opposition leaders, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal.

Yechury was quite vocal about the plans. On January 23, six days before the commencement of the budget session of Parliament, he said: “We are discussing with Opposition parties the possibility of an impeachment motion against the chief justice in the budget session.”

Yechury’s initiative came at a time when his political line of a broader understanding, including with the Congress, was facing resistance in the party. (Yechury’s line was eventually upheld at the party congress, the highest-decision making body of the CPI(M) in Hyderabad last week).

Yechury convinced opposition parties such as the Nationalist Congress Party of the need to move forward on the issue.

The Trinamool Congress, after showing initial interest, didn’t sign the petition. In fact, its leaders such as lawyer Sukhendu Sekhar Roy vehemently opposed the move.

The DMK too stayed away. The Rashtriya Janata Dal took the position that its members would be the last to sign since their leader Lalu Prasad faced serious legal challenges and their support for the motion could be construed as being driven by a desire for vengeance (they eventually did not sign).

“Soon after the four Supreme Court judges held a press conference, I spoke to both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi on the need to move an impeachment motion,” Yechury said.

His reference was to the January 12 conference of the four senior-most judges of the apex court after the CJI.

The four raised objections to the CJI’s style of functioning, including his choice of judges to whom key cases would be alloted.

There didn’t seem to be too many takers for Yechury’s suggestion. The CPI(M) leader said Rahul Gandhi conveyed to him the divide within his party on the issue the day former President Pranab Mukherjee hosted a dinner on the launch of his foundation on March 15.

That’s where Sibal came in. Several members of the Congress, especially lawyers, were opposed to the party supporting the move.

Former law ministers Salman Khurshid and Ashwani Kumar — neither are MPs — were opposed to the move. Congress spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Abhishek Manu Sanghvi initially had reservations but eventually toed the party line.

In the face of the internal division, Sibal played a key role in mobilising opinion both within the party and with allies, said a leader familiar with the development. “He was regularly in touch with Rahul Gandhi on the issue,” added this person who asked not to be identified.

Sibal, with his grasp over legal affairs, presented the strongest pro-notice viewpoint and laid out the scenarios if Congress went ahead. To keep the option of going ahead with the notice open, the Congress, during the post-recess budget session, got the signatures of over 50 MPs — but held back from giving it to the chair.

Former PM Manmohan Singh and ex-finance minister P Chidambaram were deliberately kept away from the process. While Singh was not involved being a former Prime Minister, Chidambaram’s signature was not sought in view of the cases pending against his son.

On the morning of April 19, the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, called up Yechury to inform him that the Congress was going ahead, and to invite him for a meeting the following day. Yechury, in Hyderabad at the time, said he couldn’t attend the meeting but fully backed the move. The process eventually ended with the man who had started it.

First Published: Apr 24, 2018 07:37 IST