Even a Mild Criticism of Judiciary on Twitter is Unacceptable in Today’s India. Prashant Bhushan Guilty of Contempt

Social Commentary

Even a Mild Criticism of Judiciary on Twitter is Unacceptable in Today’s India. Prashant Bhushan Guilty of Contempt

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

A few weeks ago, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan drew the ire of no less than the Supreme Court for his tweets on Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and the judiciary. On Friday, Bhushan was held guilty of the contempt of court charges levelled against him.

Bhushan had earlier commented on a photo of Chief Justice Bobde on a Harley Davidson that was shared widely on Twitter a few weeks ago. In another tweet, he commented on the proceedings of the top court over the past few years.

The advocate’s remarks, the court said, had “brought the administration of justice in disrepute”. It also added that the tweet “has the effect of destabilising the very foundation of this important pillar of Indian democracy”.

As it initiated contempt proceedings, the court also took note of another tweet posted by the advocate in June that was subsequently published in The Times of India.

Bhushan, on his part, said that he regretted part of what he tweeted, in an affidavit submitted on August 2.

“At the outset I admit that I did not notice that the bike was on a stand and therefore wearing a helmet was not required. I therefore regret that part of my tweet,” he said, before standing by the rest of his comment.

Criticism of a top judge, the advocate went on to argue before the court, “does not scandalise the court or lower its authority,” A three-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, however, disagreed with this view.

The court had also named Twitter India as a party in its original order, but dismissed those charges on Friday. “We accept the explanation given by it, that it is only an intermediary and that it does not have any control on what the users post on the platform,” the bench ruled.

The court judgement against the advocate, however, led to some dissent on Twitter. Historian Ramachandra Guha called it a dark day for Indian democracy.

Journalist Nidhi Razdan, meanwhile, questioned the court’s priorities, given how promptly a judgment was delivered in this case, while fellow journalist Shekhar Gupta said the court was letting itself down with these “thin-skinned” charges.

Journalist Nikhil Waghale called the contempt of court law archaic.

Contempt charges are usually accompanied with terms that may extend to six months, or a fine of Rs 2000, or both. The court will decide on Bhushan’s sentence by August 20.