Does the Justice Akil Kureshi saga expose Modi government’s anti-Muslim biases?

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The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to put on hold the petition by the Gujarat High Court Advocates’ Association on the government’s delay in approving the Collegium’s recommendation to appoint Justice Akil Qureshi as the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court. The top court said that it will keep the petition pending till the government formally notifies Justice Kureshi’s appointment as Chief Justice of Tripura High Court.

Justice Akil Kureshi

Justice Kureshi, who was twice recommended by the Supreme Court to be made the new Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court, was later recommended to be the Chief Justice of Tripura High Court after the Collegium headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi modified its earlier recommendation.

While hearing the petition filed by the Gujarat High Court Advocates’ Association, the Supreme Court Bench of CJI Gogoi and Justices SA Bobde and S Abdul Nazeer said that ‘matters of appointment, posting and transfer of judges is an aspect of independence of the judiciary and any interference wouldn’t augur well for the institution.’

“Matters of appointments, transfers go to root of the administration of justice. Judicial review in such cases is severely restricted. Interference in system of administration of justice does not augur well for the institution,” the Livelaw website quoted the CJI as saying.

Meanwhile, Justice Akil Kureshi has denied speculations that are rife in a section of the Indian media that he had resigned in protest against his appointment as the Chief Justice of Tripura High Court. He told The Indian Express that he had not resigned even though he refused to take any more questions.

Justice Kureshi, despite being the senior-most judge of the Gujarat High Court, was abruptly transferred to the Bombay High Court amidst huge protests from the Bar Association. Many had seen this as a blatant attempt to stop Justice Kureshi from becoming the next Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court by virtue of being the senior-most judge.

The Collegium first recommended Justice Kureshi’s name as the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court on 10 May. The Collegium’s other recommendations included Justices DN Patel, V Ramasubramanian and RS Chauhan for Chief Justices of High Courts in Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Telangana respectively. The government cleared the appointment of Justice Patel on 22 May but kept the recommendations on other judges on hold. On June 19, the Modi government cleared the names of other remaining judges, Justices Ramasubramanian and Chauhan but refused to clear Justice Kureshi’s appointment as the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court.

While returning his file to the Collegium, the central government was believed to have attached some important ‘accompanying materials’ aside from two communications. According to the ThePrint website, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote to CJI Gogoi first on 23 August, objecting to the recommendation to appoint Justice Kureshi as the Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. Prasad, according to the website, said that Justice Kureshi was unfit to be a Chief Justice. Prasad sought to explain that some of Justice Kureshi’s judicial pronouncements reflected his ‘communal biases.’ Prasad, however, later relented and said that he would have no problem if Justice Kureshi was made a Chief Justice of a smaller High Court.

Many feel that the Modi government is punishing Justice Kureshi, known to be a very upright judge all through his career, since he had remanded Home Minister Amit Shah, who was then the junior Home Minister of Gujarat, to two days Police Custody in the infamous Sohrabuddin Shaikh murder case.

In 2012, as reported by the Livelaw website, Justice Kureshi had also upheld the decision of the Governor to appoint (Retd) Justice RA Mehta as Lokayukta in Gujarat without consulting the Council of Ministers.

If indeed Justice Kureshi is being punished for his judicial pronouncements against Amit Shah or simply being a Muslim, then it exposes the glaring biases of the Modi government against Muslims in India. This will be seen as part of a pattern to not just hound Muslims in India systematically but also deny them their right to legitimately occupy posts of eminence in government or the judiciary. The NRC, the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent crackdown on the predominantly Muslim population and now the explicit attempt to punish a judge for being a Muslim all appear to expose the Modi government’s deep-rooted biases against Indian Muslims.

The fact that the Supreme Court’s Collegium surrendered before the government is a more dangerous development than the glaring anti-Muslim biases of the Modi government.

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