A veritable furore took hold of the national discourse last week as the country’s second highest law officer, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, spewed a barrage of appellatives for journalists, civil rights activists, a section of the legal fraternity and anyone critical of the Union government’s handling of the coronavirus-induced lockdown. He alluded to journalists reporting on the miseries of common Indian citizens—particularly migrant workers and the poor—as “vultures”. Rights activists, lawyers or political leaders concerned over the escalating humanitarian crisis were, according to the outburst, “armchair intellectuals” and “prophets of doom who only spread negativity, negativity and negativity”. The high courts, at least 19 of them, which have passed a slew of directives to state governments for redressing grievances of citizens, weren’t spared either. Those courts were “running like parallel governments”, Mehta said.
The SG’s tirade came during a virtual hearing by the Supreme Court’s bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, S.K. Kaul and M.R. Shah that had taken up a suo motu reference on the problems faced by migrant workers. While the controversy stoked by Mehta’s comments was still raging, the SG landed in another storm after the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government agreed to have him, and two other central law officers—Additional Solicitors-General Maninder Acharya and Aman Lekhi—as special public prosecutors representing Delhi Police in a case linked to the Northeast Delhi riots of February. The Delhi government’s acquiescence to the Centre’s choice of Mehta as counsel was singled out by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s critics, mainly the Congress, as evidence of the AAP being a “B Team of the BJP”.