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Wary Cong in mild rap

New Delhi, Sept. 1: The Congress today reacted with caution to the proposal to appoint former Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam governor of Kerala, the restrained response probably shaped by similar political improprieties on its part earlier.

“It is not necessary to comment on these issues and restraint is the best policy,” spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said in response to a question, after the party did not take up the matter on its own. “Also, no appointment letter has been issued so far.”

Singhvi did express mild disapproval but limited himself to saying: “It is not appropriate for the appointing authority and the appointee as well. Neither good for the giver, nor the taker.”

The response was surprisingly timid, considering that the former CJI had demitted office barely months ago and the proposal has raised suspicions of a possible quid pro quo, apart from the questions about political correctness.

But what is more surprising about the response is that the Congress has been hunting for even minor excuses to attack the Narendra Modi government and its decisions.

The Congress, however, may not be in a position to view the development through the prism of political morality. It had traversed the same path when it brought former chief election commissioner (CEC) M.S. Gill into the Rajya Sabha and then made him a minister in Manmohan Singh’s UPA I government.

Earlier, in 1997, the United Front government supported by the Congress had appointed Justice M. Fathima Beevi, the first lady judge of the Supreme Court, governor of Tamil Nadu.

The same government had also appointed Justice Sukhdev Singh Kang, former chief justice of Jammu and Kashmir, governor of Kerala.

Congress leaders from Kerala have now discovered issues of propriety in the proposal to appoint former CJI Sathasivam as governor. But making a former CEC, who is directly responsible for holding elections in the country, a minister appears to be a greater violation of the “separation wall” principle.

The trend started with former comptroller and auditor general (CAG) T.N. Chaturvedi, who was made governor of Karnataka by the BJP-led NDA government in 2002.

Chaturvedi was the CAG between 1984 and 1990 and Congress leaders have often said he was rewarded for giving trouble to the Bofors-scarred Rajiv Gandhi government.

The tendency of political leaders to reward bureaucrats and judges sympathetic to their cause is not new. BJP veteran L.K. Advani had publicly revealed that he wanted Justice K.S. Hegde, one of the judges in the famous Keshavanand Bharti case that had rattled Indira Gandhi, to be the President of India.

Then Prime Minister Morarji Desai preferred Neelam Sanjiva Reddy as President because he had earlier lost to Indira Gandhi’s candidate V.V. Giri in the presidential race. Justice Hegde was accommodated as Lok Sabha Speaker.

Hegde, who was Speaker between 1977 and 1980, could also have been the Chief Justice of India had an embattled Indira Gandhi, as the Prime Minister, not ignored seniority to promote Justice A.N. Ray.

There is also the example of Justice K. Subba Rao, who resigned as Chief Justice of India in 1967 to contest the election for President against the Congress candidate, Zakir Hussain.

Rao was the consensus candidate of the united Opposition.

Another judge, Justice M. Rama Jois, who was chief justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, was made governor of Jharkhand and Bihar by the Vajpayee government. Jois was later brought to the Rajya Sabha by the BJP.

Gen. V.K. Singh’s decision to join the campaign against the central government barely weeks after his retirement as army chief was also criticised by purists. Singh not only contested and won the Lok Sabha election, he also became a minister in the Modi government.

Although there appears to be a greater of level of tolerance for such cases, more such appointments could affect people’s faith in the sanctity of the “separation wall” theory that has sustained Indian democracy for so long.