Former Gujarat Chief Minister Suresh Mehta has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of trying to undermine the judiciary’s independence.
In a letter to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Mehta pulled up Jaitley for remarking that the judiciary was destroying the edifice of India’s legislature “step by step, brick by brick”.
“It is not the judiciary which is seeking to undermine the executive or the legislature,” Mehta, formerly in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said in the letter.
“Rather, it is the executive, led by Modi, which is doing it on purpose, seeking to destroy the independence of judiciary in order to remove all the hurdles which he believes are coming in the way of establishing his autocratic rule.”
Mehta quoted Modi as telling a gathering of chief ministers and chief justices of high courts that courts “need to be cautious against perception-driven verdicts” and that “perceptions are often driven by five star activists”.
Mehta’s letter to Jaitley said that Modi’s efforts were to drive home the point that the judiciary should not go by the perception held by activists and others critical of the government.
He also alleged that the government does not appear “very keen to allow a smooth functioning of the Supreme Court collegium, which has the powers to appoint judges”.
Mehta said these were some instances where the Modi government was trying to undermine the judiciary’s independence.
Saying Jaitley may be finding the atmosphere under Modi “suffocating”, he said: “I have personally suffered such suffocation in 2002 when I was industries minister under Modi (in Gujarat).”
Once a leading BJP leader in Gujarat, Mehta was the chief minister from October 1995 to September 1996. He quit the BJP in December 2007 after opposing then Chief Minister Modi.
He joined the Gujarat Parivartan Party but quit that too when it merged with the BJP in February 2014.