If the Supreme Court decision to hold lawyer Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt for two tweets was meant to have a chilling effect and scare people in general and lawyers in particular into silence, it drew the exact opposite response on Friday.
The floodgates burst open. Within hours, the two tweets that had offended the court — one on the Chief Justice posing on a Harley-Davidson and the other on the role of the judiciary in the past six years — were dug out and re-posted by many not just in support of Bhushan but in a show of defiance.
As in the protests against the citizenship law, it was not the political class but the ordinary citizen who took the lead in voicing outrage at a judgment that many saw as an attempt by the apex court of the land to place itself above scrutiny. Many of these ordinary citizens were lawyers who are well aware of the risks they run in confronting the Supreme Court, but as one of them put it: “This is an attack on all lawyers.”
The irony of the verdict coming on the eve of Independence Day wasn’t lost on people either. Historian S. Irfan Habib tweeted: “…I don’t think even the British ever punished dissenting or even critical voices of lawyers, poets, writers and intellectuals this way.” Another historian, Ramachandra Guha, said: “Through this act, the Supreme Court has let itself down, and has let the Republic down too. A dark day for Indian democracy.”
Salman Anees Soz, son of former Union minister Saifuddin Soz, brought up the Supreme Court’s recent decision to dismiss a case against his father’s year-long house arrest because the Centre said he was not in detention. “The Supreme Court of India finds a citizen’s criticism contemptible but remains silent when the government brazenly lies to it. As a citizen, I find this situation contemptible,” he tweeted.
Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi waded in with a reminder: “When talking of contempt, can we forget that the criminal contempt case regarding Babri Masjid has been pending before the Hon’ble Supreme Court for nearly 28 years?”
Pune-based political scientist Suhas Palshikar said: “One may not agree with everything said in a tweet but that surely doesn’t deserve a 105-page essay resulting in a pronouncement of ‘guilty of contempt’.”But the BJP’s IT cell head Amit Malviya pulled out an old tweet of Bhushan’s where he had favoured contempt proceedings against a judge and gave the lawyer’s critics — he has many on both sides of the political divide — something to talk about.
The general mood though could be summed up in two tweets. One simply posted an old Hindi film song: “Jo tumko ho pasand, wahi baat kahenge. Tum din ko agar raat kaho, raat kahenge. I will say only what you want to hear. If you say it is night when it is day, I will say it is night.”
Another quoted Shakespeare: “And speak I will. I am no child, no babe.”