New Delhi: Narendra Modi is big on claiming historic firsts, even if some do not survive a vigorous fact-check. On November 25, however, he is believed to have indulged in a genuine first – visiting the Supreme Court, something no prime minister is known to have done in the 60 years since the court’s current premises were inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru.
Then, according to people present, he took Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi by surprise, and asked to see Court No. 1, over which the CJI presides.
That room is where key cases involving the Union government are to be adjudicated. They include the allegation of corruption in the Rafale deal leveled by former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan, and the legality of the midnight coup staged by Modi and his top advisers in the Central Bureau of Investigation in October. The court has reserved judgment on the Rafale issue, and hearings on the CBI matter will conclude soon.
Chief Justice Gogoi had invited the prime minister to attend a dinner he was hosting on November 25 for judges from the BIMSTEC countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand.
Modi reached the Supreme Court premises after 8 pm. He reportedly chatted with several of the judges over dinner. By 9:30 pm – the scheduled time for the dinner to end – his security began looking at their watches. But sources told The Wire that the prime minister was in no mood to call it a night.
This is when, according to people present, he asked Gogoi for a tour of his courtroom. Perhaps he wanted to see the ‘battlefield’ where the Centre is being challenged, or more benignly, to see where his friend, finance minister Arun Jaitley, used to argue in his avatar as a Supreme Court lawyer.
Modi’s request prompted a frantic search for security attendants. Keys were rustled up and lights switched on after a perplexed but courteous Gogoi told his guest that he would take him to the room.
Modi, sources told The Wire, walked up to the court room and sat in one of front row seats, where senior counsel sit and rise for arguments. He then made numerous inquiries about the traditions of Court No. 1. The CJI reportedly asked if he would care for a cup of tea, and Modi agreed. He left the court after 10 pm.
Throughout his political career, first as chief minister of Gujarat and now as prime minister, matters related to Modi’s role and rule have come up before the Supreme Court. Even now, Zakia Jafri’s petition seeking Modi’s prosecution for the communal killings that shook Gujarat in 2002 is before the apex court, though before a bench other than the CJI’s.