Justice Karnan May Have Served India Well

By: R. Veera Raghavan

What would happen if, instead of Justice C S Karnan, some other High Court judge was acting so funnily and passing such ‘orders’ like Karnan? And if that other judge is not a Dalit? He could not have carried on with more than 5 per cent of what all Karnan did or said or ‘ordered’ atrociously. He would have been tackled within the judiciary early on, which would be right. He would have been sternly criticised in public by all around, which would be justified. If Karnan was given a long rope that is understandable too.

The Indian public which followed Karnan news was clear about one thing, while Karnan did not grasp another. All including Dalits knew over time that Karnan did not inspire anyone, not even an ant, with his appalling statements or ‘orders’.  Second, Karnan wrongly believed Dalits would rally around him and agitate uncontrollably if law and judges stood up to him and so he could go on saying or ‘ordering’ anything against other judges, even those of the Supreme Court. By projecting himself as a Dalit amidst his horrible conduct he was hurting poor Dalits, not espousing their cause.

In a letter to the prime minister, Karnan had named twenty judges, a few in the Supreme Court and many in High Courts, as being corrupt in office, but offered no proof against any of them.  This chiefly led to a contempt-of-court action against Karnan in the Supreme Court, before a bench of seven senior most judges of that court. He appeared once before the Supreme Court in that proceeding and spoke irrelevantly.  Then he was granted time to submit his reply to defend himself, but he neither filed a reply nor turned up at following hearings.  Meanwhile he began issuing laughable ‘orders’ against the seven judges who were trying him.  In the end the Supreme Court adjudged him guilty on 9th May.

Before ruling that Karnan was guilty of contempt, the Supreme Court did well to direct his medical examination to know if he was of sound mind and had the capacity to understand what all he was doing, from a legal point of view. Karnan declined to take a medical examination, claiming he was all well in his mind. Still, however, he continued with his outrageous ‘orders’ against those seven Supreme Court judges, asking for their medical examination too, unseating them from the Supreme Court, calling them to appear in his ‘residential court’ at Kolkata and announcing a five-year jail term for those judges. But none of Karnan’s ‘orders’ like these had any force since much earlier, at the beginning of the contempt action against him, the Supreme Court had stripped him of all his judicial and administrative powers.

If some thought Karnan was perhaps deficient in mind in legal terms – to be issuing such kinds of orders nonstop – they must look at this.  When the Supreme Court finally held Karnan in contempt and punished him with a six-month imprisonment, he did not issue one more tit-for-tat ‘order’ holding the seven Supreme Court judges in contempt of his ‘court’.  He did not also call them before his ‘court’ anymore. Instead, he approached the Supreme Court – that is, the same seven judges whom he earlier ordered as removed – to recall the judgement and punishment they handed. This shows Karnan was never legally out of his mind. All along he had carried on with his monstrous‘orders’ and defiance because he believed even the Supreme Court judges would not dare to punish him when he was taking cover under his Dalit status. But when the highest court confronted him with restraint and dignity, and punished him in the end, he realised that his hollow audacity had not shielded him. Then he quickly went into hiding to evade arrest – he is yet to be traced – and applied to the Supreme Court through his lawyer for recalling its judgement on some pleas.

Don’t you see, the moment the Supreme Court held him guilty and ordered jail for him he began acting like anyone faced with a court order, who wished to follow court procedures for lifting that order. So let no one imagine that a person out of his mind was insensitively punished by the Supreme Court.  And we should also know: By law, a medically recognized insane person is excused and let off when tried for an offence done out of such insanity.  But when mere immaturity, foolishness or arrogance are behind an offence, the offender is not excused and he must take punishment.

The Supreme Court was really lenient on Karnan. The ‘orders‘ he issued against the seven judges of the Supreme Court even as they were trying him were also acts of contempt of court.  But here the Supreme Court rightly ignored Karnan and did not launch actions against him on those fresh acts of contempt.

Some may still have a question if the Supreme Court was right in giving a long rope to Karnan, and in being so lenient on him. Yes, the court was right. It is true that poor Dalits suffer injustice in many ways in several parts of India. When the country is addressing this complex issue, Karnan was falsely crying out that he was being victimised because he was a Dalit. The judiciary had to give a clear and undoubted impression to all concerned – many of whom would not know the full facts surrounding Karnan – that Karnan was not singled out or victimised in any way and that he was himself all at fault. As several judges of the Madras High Court and of the Supreme Court patiently bore his lengthy onslaught, Karnan scaled new heights of stupidity through his successive ‘orders’, to the point no one would want to defend him.  Many in public life did not wish to speak against him so they are not misunderstood. All hoped that the judiciary should check him, and the Supreme Court did it. The court cannot do a Karnan to Karnan, and had to act slowly and soberly as we witnessed. This is a moment of quiet pride for our judiciary in doing a self-cleansing act with courage and dignity. Give a big salute to the Supreme Court and to those seven judges.

Karnan will surely be remembered for one thing. No other high ranking individual had dared to humiliate and defy the judiciary so publicly and so nonchalantly.  When the Supreme Court brings such an offender to justice and sends him to jail, it is a message to all little brothers in public life or government service who freely break laws for personal gains, that they should watch themselves. Here, though not intending, Karnan has helped showcasing the prowess and majesty of our laws and law courts, whatever the status and background of the man before the court. That way, he may have served the nation well.

{ Note: This article originally published HERE.

A comment to this article was posted by Shreepal Singh there. The edited comment is given here:

There are three elements to the Karnan saga: One – his acts as a person; Two – his acts as a Dalit; and Three – his acts as a judge. As a person Karnan gave an impression to the general public that he was daring person to challenge the established system for a good national cause (fighting corruption at high places); that notwithstanding his courage, he was the man with a disturbed personality who was unable to understand what he had undertaken to accomplish, where he had landed himself in his venture and at that point what he should do to absolve himself of any blemish. As a Dalit, he has caused more of a loss to that community by his acts than garnering of any public sympathy by creating a false general impression that Dalits – and their symbol as he was sitting at a high place like a judge of a High Court – are unreasonable people as a group. As a judge, Karnan has given a very poor impression of his knowledge of law where-under he accuses someone – his brother judges – without offering any semblance of proof whatsoever, passes allegedly judicial orders while he is divested of his judicial powers by the Supreme Court, tries his own cause by making the concerned Supreme Court judges accused before himself for committing offense against him and sentencing those accused with imprisonment. It is the height of ignorance of law. He is almost certain to go to jail as the President of India (seeing that no action is taken for so many days on his clemency petition) is not likely to pardon him. Still, by his bizarre acts he has shaken to the core the the dignity or the majesty or the credibility (in the way one likes to look at it) of the Indian judicial institutions. If you look at this episode from any angle, you will find that he has given a sever jolt to the present system of making appointment to the higher judiciary in India.  He will be remembered for a long time in the judicial history of India.}

Justice Karnan, Quite Wrong Again

By: R. Veera Raghavan

Justice C. S. Karnan is in the news, for wrong reasons again.  He made  a statement unrelated to his functions as a judge of the Calcutta High Court.  That made him look really sorry.

Seven judges of the Supreme Court sat together to enquire into a charge of contempt of court against Justice Karnan after summoning him. When he remained absent at the hearing without justification, the judges issued a bailable warrant of arrest to secure his presence in court.   Learning about the warrant he said publicly, as a party called to court, that he was being targeted since he was a “Dalit”, i.e., one belonging to certain caste groups which some other caste groups might look down upon.  Of course, no one becomes anyway low in status by birth, but that is a different issue.

Justice Karnan’s accusation against the seven Supreme Court judges is plainly unimaginable.  It can only be untrue.  He says, in effect, two things:  one, the contempt-of-court charge brought against him is groundless; two, he has been spitefully charged because he is a Dalit.

Justice Karnan has no quarrel with the law of contempt  of court, and he accepts it as a desirable law.  All he says is that he was slapped with a charge of contempt of court for dishonourable reasons even as he committed no contempt.  As one trained in law and legal procedures, he should know that first and foremost he should explain himself to show that he did not commit any contempt.   He could do that only by coming to court, and that is the way to go about for anyone similarly charged.  If he is not keen to answer the charge and merrily makes counter charges against judges who try the case, he will not convince anyone.  Assume you are driving, a traffic policeman stops you and he asks for your driving licence.  Without producing your licence if you yell at him, “You are checking my papers because of my caste!” what can anyone make out?

Look at another scenario.  A judge, also a Dalit, issues notice to someone to answer a charge of contempt of court.  The person summoned belongs to a different caste group, he refuses to answer the charge and says publicly, “The judge calls me to court out of ill will since I belong to a particular caste group”.  Here, that man is unconvincing as Justice Karnan.

I am sure there are millions of Indians who are not Dalits and who don’t feel any superiority over Dalits.  That is the reality, showing that many men and women anywhere in the world are generally good to fellow human beings.  Not to risk being misunderstood, many such good souls in India are not expressing their opinions on Justice Karnan’s reaction to Supreme Court’s move.  Their silence would not mean that Justice Karnan faces less opposition to his utterance.

Dalits who face oppression or other misfortune in life are mostly uneducated and poor, usually residing in villages.  Among them if one acquires some university education and gets to do well in life – especially if he shifts to bigger cities and works there – he will not stick with others of his group who are not so well-educated or well-placed.  He will keep more distance from them as he gets more affluent, privately relishing his good fortune among the less fortunate.   The less fortunate would also naturally shrink from the more fortunate in their group, feeling a little scared.  This happens between an affluent person and a poor person in any caste group, Dalit or non-Dalit.  This is a common human trait all over the world, in every walk of life.  This is because affluence creates a class of its own, and earns a respect of its own.  Like the Americans and the Saudi Arabians have it in the eyes of poorer nations.

So when Justice Karnan has come up in life, holds the high status of a High Court judge and is fairly affluent, it is impossible – for a worldly reason – that he will suffer discrimination or hatred at the hands of others. Certainly not from seven judges of the Supreme Court at one go.

With a false and fanciful accusation, Justice Karnan might induce some Dalits to guess a contempt action is brought against him because he is a Dalit.  He might also leave some others wondering if his brazen disrespect to Supreme Court’s authority points to a flaw in India’s public policy on appointments to high posts.  Both these lines of thinking are incorrect for different reasons, in different measures.  In any case, in the present controversy India’s poor innocent Dalits are not being helped though they are mentioned.  The consequence is as grave as any contempt of the Supreme Court. But, sadly, no remedial action can be taken by anyone in the cause of the unfortunate Dalits.

(This article is originally published HERE)

Demonetization: Modi or Manmohan Singh: Who is Credible?

By: R. Veera Raghavan, Advocate, Chennai

Did you read  Manmohan Singh’s  newspaper article  on the recent demonetization of 500 and 1,000 rupee notes?  If not, please flip through The Hindu of 9th Dec. and have a look or view it at


The government’s initiative is important, and so is the writer who was India’s prime minister for ten years before Narendra Modi assumed that post.

Manmohan Singh quotes Modi on the primary reasons for demonetisation, viz., one was to check “enemies from across the border …. using fake currency notes” and the other was “to break the grip of corruption and black money”.   He agrees saying, “Both these intentions are honourable and deserve to be supported whole-heartedly” and adds, “Counterfeit currency and black money are as grave a threat to India as terrorism and social division. They deserve to be extinguished using all the firepower at our disposal”.  So far so good.

The former prime minister faults Modi on an assumed underlying premise behind demonetisation, viz., Modi’s “false notion”, as he put it, that “all cash is black money and all black money is in cash”.  Anyone who is 18 would not believe that all cash is black money.  Did Manmohan Singh really think that Modi held a false notion that “all cash is black money”?  No, the former governor of Reserve Bank of India could not have honestly believed what he wrote.  If one imagines that “all cash” is black money, it means he thinks Reserve Bank of India routinely prints and issues black money!

Manmohan Singh could not also have believed, as he wrote, that Modi held a “false notion” that “all black money is in cash”.   Anyone who is a little older than 18 will not have that notion, and Manmohan Singh cannot be naive to think that Modi hoped all black money to be in cash.  Not just Modi, his peon and cook too should know that blackmoneywallahs gain nothing by keeping their entire illegal cash incomes in not-to-be-used bundles of paper currency.  They would enjoy enough of that income by buying gold, land, buildings or other assets and by splurging.  Some have also been caught keeping their black money in bank fixed deposits.  So Manmohan Singh was wrong in imputing these false notions to Modi.  But more than that, the former prime minister has damned himself severely.  Here is how.

Manmohan Singh writes  further: “Black money is a menace to our society that we need to eliminate. …… This is wealth that has been accumulated over years by those with unaccounted sources of income.  Unlike the poor, holders of black money have access to various forms of wealth such as land, gold, foreign exchange, etc. There have been various attempts by many governments in the past decades to recover this illicit wealth through actions by the Income Tax department, Enforcement Directorate and schemes such as Voluntary Disclosure.”  And he adds: “Evidence from these past attempts has shown that a large majority of this unaccounted wealth is not stored in the form of cash”.   What an unconscious confession!

Without saying it, but clearly implying it, Manmohan Singh admits that it is mostly during past Congress or Congress-led regimes at the Centre that black money in India was “accumulated over years”.   He admits too, indirectly, that attempts by those governments to unearth black money in the country and book offenders yielded no good results. What follows? When his party ruled the central government, people could freely generate and acquire black money, coolly convert it into other forms of assets and merrily keep that wealth, and they would not be traced and booked at any of those stages.  This showcases the sheer inefficiency, unwillingness, and possibly more, of the ruling governments of those times in battling black money.

We know that the 2G spectrum scandal at the central ministerial level, storming around minister A. Raja, heaping a huge revenue loss on the government and involving massive kickbacks – God knows how much it was, and how much of it was black money – was enacted when Manmohan Singh was prime minister.  We know too that his minister for communications and IT, Kapil Sibal, certified that the scam caused “zero loss” for the government.  Time magazine knew more.  In 2011 it gave that scandal its pride of place in its all-time list of “Top 10 Abuses of Power”, and put it second in the list behind the Watergate scandal.

Manmohan Singh implies this too, though he feels shy of saying it explicitly.  He would like us to believe that it is impossible to curtail the never-ending generation and growth of black money in the country, that no action such as demonetisation can be effective against that menace and that all any government can do is lament it like what he does.  He takes that stance by implication, so he can portray all the past Congress or Congress-led coalition governments at the Centre as doing their best to contain black money – and hope that no one may accuse those governments of inaction.  A futile hope.

Many advanced nations do not  permit  black money to be continuously generated and spread in their economies, like India does.   Those countries do not witness so much of free-wheeling corruption.  Their top government officers who have to watch over and report or act against corruption are themselves not corrupt, and that checks corruption down the line. More important, ministers who run governments in those countries are largely clean and so they inspire officers on integrity at work.  A few exceptions can always be tackled.

If a ministry is not perceived  to be clean in its dealings with businesses, many government officers will take the cue and benefit themselves financially in illegal ways.  That ministry will have no mind or energy to take serious and imaginative actions against governmental corruption and its byproducts like black money.  Officers of such a government cannot also check or go after black money.  Modi has given the impression that he is honest and determined, and so long as that impression stays many government officers would feel inspired to implement his drive against black money.  Reports coming in every day since demonetisation that unaccounted old currency notes, new currency notes, gold and other assets worth in crores are being seized from every nook and corner of the country are a testimony to Modi’s moral leadership in India’s fight against black money.

After 2014 elections, the prime minister and his ministers changed, while officers of the central government remained. How come the same officers now uncover hidden black money and suspicious wealth in large chunks through their raids and inspections across the country, while they did just a little of that under decades of previous governments, mostly Congress-propped or Congress-led?  The reason is, they derived no inspiration from those governments to go on a mission mode and act boldly and honestly in searches and seizures.

Economists and other experts have expressed varying degrees of approval or disapproval on Modi’s demonetisation and allied measures for their worth in producing results.  So, for the layman theses conflicting opinions cancel out themselves and he has to go by what he sees around and senses. India’s common people seem to see the difference between years of previous central regimes and Modi’s government now scrapping high value notes and acting against black money.  That is why, while queuing up before banks and ATM’s to withdraw small amounts of cash in a regulated post-demonetisation period, and putting up with other hardships, they have backed the party headed by Modi hugely in civic polls in three States and in Chandigarh, all held after demonetisation was announced.   This is also an answer to a good part of other comments of Manmohan Singh in his article.

Sure, swift legal action against the corrupt and the blackmoneywallahs is a warning to them, and others wanting to emulate them.  It will hold them in perennial fear that they could be caught anytime, shamed and brought to justice, and will keep most of them largely contained. That is how it works in advanced countries, and not because angels live there. So the present demonetisation and its follow-up actions will have a good preventive effect on corruption and black-money holding, and that is a huge national benefit.  That will last as long as we have a central government that shows a clean image and acts tough on corruption and black money.  Manmohan Singh has not also acknowledged this national benefit.

Wikipedia  introduces  Manmohan Singh as  an “Indian economist and politician”.   Viewing him as an “economist-turned ordinary politician” would be closer to reality.  Manmohan Singh will know it.

(More articles of R. Raghavan, Advocate, Chennai may be read at the following site)


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