Markandey Katju: Ex-India Supreme Court judge stirs the pot

July 24, 2014

Comments by retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju had India’s parliament in uproar this week. In a blog post published by the Times of India, the chairman of the Press Council of India hinted at a connection between the government and the judiciary in the elevation of an allegedly corrupt judge in Tamil Nadu.

This isn’t the first time that the man heading India’s print media oversight body has stirred the pot. Katju was known among his peers as an outspoken judge who passed landmark judgements and made scathing remarks in several cases.

While what he said and did as a judge might have had a legal context, Katju’s recent statements seem to have gone beyond his brief as press body chief. Take, for example, his appeal to let off convicted Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt or his objection to India’s highest civilian honour being awarded to sportspersons or film stars.

Last year, Arun Jaitley, then an opposition party lawmaker, asked Katju to quit office over his criticism of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi. Jaitley, now India’s finance minister, had said Katju should quit his “quasi-judicial office” before airing his political views.

“To those who talk of the development of Gujarat under Modi, I ask this question: should the malnourished children of Gujarat eat the roads, electricity and factories, which Modi has created?” Katju said in a February 2013 column in The Express Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper.

In his defence, Katju says he speaks as a concerned citizen of India. Here are a few examples of Katju’s comments that didn’t go down well with his audience:

December 2012: “I say 90 percent of Indians are idiots. You people don’t have brains in your heads … It is so easy to take you for a ride,” he said at a seminar in New Delhi. This generated headlines, TV debates and even litigation. Katju apologised but not before he explained his remark, saying much more than 90 percent of India’s population could be fools because Indians are casteist, communal and believed in astrology.

March 2013: “I won’t vote because my vote is meaningless. Votes are cast in the name of Jats, Muslims, Yadavs or Harijans. Democracy is not meant to be run like this. Why should I waste my time in joining the cattle queue?” he told a TV news channel.

January 2012: “I have read some of Rushdie’s works and am of the opinion that he is a poor writer, and but for ‘Satanic Verses’ would have remained largely unknown. Even ‘Midnight’s Children’ is hardly great literature. Whole problem with the so-called educated Indians of today is that they still suffer from the colonial inferiority complex. So whoever lives in London and New York must be a great writer, while writers living in India are inferior,” Katju said in a statement after the Jaipur Literary Festival dropped the Booker-winning author from its list of speakers.

October 2011: “The majority, I’m sorry to say, are of a very poor intellectual level, media people, I doubt whether they have any idea of economic theory or political science, philosophy, literature, I have grave doubts whether they are well read in all this, which they should be,” Katju said in an interview.

December 2011: “I had also watched his (actor Dev Anand’s) films when I was young and also liked them. But the country is facing several socio-economic problems, there is poverty, price rise and incidents like farmers’ suicides. Isn’t all that more important? It is high time the media woke up to its role and corrects itself,” he said, criticizing widespread media coverage of Anand’s death.

December 2012: “The one and only solution to the Kashmir problem or the militancy problem in Pakistan is the reunification of India and Pakistan under a strong, central, secular, modern-minded government which just doesn’t tolerate bigotry,” Katju said addressing a seminar organized by the South Asia Media Commission. The following year, Katju described Pakistan as a fake country, declaring it would re-unite with India.

September 2012: When Mumbai police detained a cartoonist on sedition charges for drawings that satirized corruption in politics, a visibly upset Katju said the policemen should be punished.

“In the Nuremburg trials, Nazi war criminals took the plea that orders are orders so we were just obeying the orders of Hitler but that plea was rejected by the international tribunal, which held that those were illegal orders, you should have disobeyed those orders. And those defendants were hanged. So police officers who comply with these illegal orders of political authorities, those police officers must be given harsh punishment,” he told a TV news channel.

In the same interview, Katju had this to say about the chief minister of West Bengal: “This Mamata Banerjee should have been locked up for behaving like a dictator and a tyrant.”

September 2012: “We must spread English more for the country’s progress. At the same time, people in non-Hindi speaking States such as Tamil Nadu should learn Hindi, because it is the link language in our country,” he wrote in a controversial opinion piece in The Hindu. Katju responded to his critics in a separate column a week later.

It isn’t as if Katju does not realize what he is doing. He said so in a column he wrote for a newspaper in 2012:

“I wish to be uncontroversial, but at the same time I have a great defect, and that is this: I cannot remain silent when I am seeing my country going downhill. Even if others are deaf and dumb I am not. So I will speak out.”

(Editing by Robert MacMillan and Tony Tharakan; Follow Robert on Twitter @bobbymacReports, Tony @TonyTharakan and Shashank @shashankchouhan | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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