Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar on Friday defended his comments on UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi's "delegitimise judiciary” remark, asserting that he would have abjudicated his oath and failed in his constitutional obligation had he not reacted.
Dhankar said he suffered an "allegation that he was part of a system to delegitimise judiciary" and the Chair cannot be allowed to be dragged on partition stance. The Rajya Sabha Chairman also said he made a subdued response to Gandhi’s remark in the Upper House after "massive homework" and it could not have been more "moderated and reflective of the highest level".
He said his response in the House was "the lowest level of reaction" and he could not have averted it. After the papers were laid in the House, senior Congress leader Pramod Tiwai raised a point of order on the issue, and his senior colleague and Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge said, "If a Lok Sabha Member (Sonia Gandhi) talks outside, it should not be discussed in Rajya Sabha. If the Chair comments, it is unfortunate. This has never happened.”
"...Several rulings have been quoted by him (Tiwari) and are against this procedure. Therefore, sir, whatever is said here should be removed and withdrawn. Kindly expunge it," Kharge said, adding if the Chair's comments are not expunged, it will set a bad precedent.
Union Minister and Leader of House Piyush Goyal said even though the UPA chairperson is a member of the other House (Lok Sabha), she chose to cast "aspersions" on the very high office of the Chairman. “It was very appropriate that response was given. It is the bound duty of the entire house to maintain the dignity of the Chair and high constitutional authority," he said.
Asserting that high constitutional authorities should be respected, Goyal requested Kharge to reflect upon whether the comments were made in good taste and were appropriate and required at all in the first place, whether in the House or outside.
Opposition members K Keshava Rao (TRS) and Tiruchi Siva (DMK) too made remarks on the issue. Dhankar said, "…The observations were with respect to what I said from this Chair on December 8. The observations were to that extreme degree as Chairman Rajya Sabha and Vice President can be enlisted by the ruling party to delegitimise the judiciary.
"...If I were to show an escapist route to such a statement, I will be creating a history that will shame me and shame this House," he said. Dhankar said had he not reacted, it would have had “demeaning consequences” and an impression sought to be imparted that this Chair would become a party to a "pernicious and sinister design" at the instance of the government to delegitimise judiciary.
"Delegitimising judiciary means the death knell of democracy. These partisan battles have to be settled inter se," he said. After "massive homework" with everyone “who know the subject”, Dhankar said, "...Then concluded that I will be abjudicating my oath and I will be getting away from my constitutional obligation if I do not react."
The UPA chairperson's remark that "a troubling new development is a calculated attempt underway to deligitimise the judiciary" was her perception and she is entitled to say in her domain, Dhankar said, adding this remark does not concern him. He, however, said he has objection to the other remark she made that "ministers and even high constitutional authorities have been enlisted to making speeches attacking the judiciary on various grounds."
"This office cannot be allowed to be dragged on partition stance. I cannot be enlisted either by you or them to delegitimise judiciary," he added. Dhankar said he suffered the allegation that he was part of a system to delegitimise judiciary. "This means sounding a death knell of democracy."
"Every word that I spoke on that particular day, I appealed to the members that you are more suited than anyone else to bring about congeniality between judiciary, executive and legislative," the Rajya Sabha chairman said. Dhankhar said he had indicated firmly that these institutions should work in togetherness and in tandem to blossom democracy.
He further said he "appealed with sovereignty across the political spectrum to all the leaders that they must keep high constitutional offices away from their political stances." On December 22, Dhankhar had termed “inappropriate” the remarks made by UPA chairperson Gandhi that the government is seeking to “deligitimise the judiciary” and urged political leaders not to subject high constitutional offices to partisan stances.
He had also said Gandhi’s statement was far distanced from his reflections as delegitimising the judiciary is beyond his contemplation. Gandhi, who is also the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party, had on December 21 accused the Centre of making a calculated attempt to “delegitimise” the judiciary, describing it as a “troubling new development”.
She had also accused the government of making an effort to reduce the standing of the judiciary in the eyes of the public. “A troubling new development is the calculated attempt underway to delegitimise the judiciary. Ministers and even a high constitutional authority have been enlisted to make speeches attacking the judiciary on various grounds," she had said.