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Several lawyers of the Madras Bar have distanced themselves from the recent statement issued by Chairperson of the Bar Council of India (BCI), Manan Kumar Mishra congratulating the Modi government on its decision to scrap Article 370 of the Constitution.
Signed off by 81 advocates from the Madras Bar, the statement issued on August 7 states,
“We, the undersigned advocates of the Madras Bar wish to make it clear that the opinion expressed by Mr. Mishra is not the collective one of the entire legal fraternity as it claims to be.”
Hours after the Constitution (Application to Jammu & Kashmir) Order, 2019 was introduced on August 5, Mishra had issued a congratulatory statement, lauding the Government on its move to take away the special autonomy granted to Jammu and Kashmir in certain respects.
Mishra’s statement, stated to have been issued by the “Statutory body representing the entire legal fraternity in India [BCI]” expressed open admiration for the Government and signed off on an ingratiating note that the “Nation will remember Modiji and Amit Shah ji for all times to come.”
The signatories have now registered particular objection to Mishra’s decision to issue this statement in his official capacity as BCI Chairman, terming it an abuse of his office. In this regard, their letter states,
“The press release issued by Mr Manan Kumar Mishra, as the Chairperson of the Bar Council of India applauding the action of the Government scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution is shocking, undemocratic and a misuse of his official position…
We place on record that the opinion expressed by Mr. Mishra, therefore, does not reflect that of the entire legal fraternity and can at best, be called his person option that he is entitled express, in his individual capacity.
The office of Chairperson of the Bar Council cannot be abused in this manner and Mr Mishra ought not to have issued a statement expressing his personal and political views in his official capacity. Use of official letter head and affixing his signature as the Bar Council Chairperson is improper and intended to create an incorrect impression that he speaks for all members of the Bar.”
Notably, the letter also refers to a clarification issued by Bar Council Member, Manoj Kumar, that there was no meeting held to discuss the issue and no resolution passed prior to issuing the controversial BCI statement.
“The press release is therefore misleading and has not been authorised by the Bar Council. In any case, the powers of the Ba Council has statuary limitations and the Bar Council does not have the authority or mandate to express any political views, much less on behalf of the entire legal fraternity of the country.”
The letter also takes a critical view of the Government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 stating,
“We are deeply disturbed by the undemocratic manner in which Article 370 has been effectively abrogated and the repressive preventive measures adopted in Jammu and Kashmir, including arrest of all political leaders, cessation of all communication and stifling of freedom of the press in order to silence all voices of dissent. The constitutional status of a State has been changed without any consultation with the elected representatives of the State. In the absence of a State legislative Assembly and a situation where a democratic participation is not even possible, the decision to dismember the State of Jammu and Kashmir smacks of authoritarianism and a complete disdain for all democratic processes.
As lawyers, owing complete allegiance to the Constitution, we are extremely distressed by the disrgard shown by the Union Government to the Constitution and the law, by bringing about a constitutional amendment through a Presidential order!”
In view of the same, the signatory lawyers have called on the BCI to issue a clarification that the congratulatory message signed off by Mishra does not reflect the views of the entire Bar.
“We request you to immediately issue a statement to the press clarifying that the statement of Mr. Mishra does not reflect the views of the entire legal fraternity and was not preceded by a resolution of the Bar Council.”
It also calls on the BCI to ensure that the office of Chairperson “is not abused to advance any personal or political agenda.“
This is not the first time that Mishra has run into controversy by issuing statements on public issues in his official capacity. In May this year, Mishra was slammed by several lawyers for misogynistic, irresponsible, generalised, regressive, legally and statistically uninformed statements made by him in the wake of sexual harassment allegations levelled against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
An open letter endorsed by over 200 lawyers, including senior litigators and law firm partners stated,
“…we have lately watched with deep concern, as you have made several reprehensible public statements which demonstrate a serious lack of principled leadership of the Bar, and a glaring lack of commitment to basic constitutional values of equality and non-discrimination, not to mention a glaring violation of your duties, as a lawyer, towards the pursuit of justice.“
Formally signed by the Women of India for Collaboration and Empowerment (WOICE) in Law, the letter had gone on to demand that Mishra retract his retrograde statements and issue a public apology.
[Update at 20:16]: BCI Chairman Manan Kumar Mishra has issued a statement in response to the letter signed by lawyers of the Madras Bar. The following are excerpts of his statement:
“The letter written by me and press release regarding appreciation of abolition of Article 370 has been ratified by the full house of the Bar Council of India in its meeting held yesterday…I request you to kindly clarify this matter. Legal fraternity shouldn’t be misled by a handful of politically motivated people. There was nothing political in my view. It was/is the decision of the Union government and not of a particular political party. The Bill was passed by both the Houses of Parliament. It has become a law now.
I fail to understand as to how and why such frivolous and scandalous letters are highlighted by few electronic media.”
[Read the letter signed by 81 lawyers of the Madras Bar]