Judges, like Caesar’s wife, should be above suspicion, said Lord Bowen in 1889. Indeed m’lord; most of our judges are.
In 62 BC Julius Caesar’s wife Pompeia hosted a ladies-only feast where Clodius was caught sneaking in with the intent of seducing her. He was acquitted after a trial where Caesar gave no evidence, yet Caesar divorced her saying, Caesar's wife must be above suspicion.
Fine, but does a judge have to remain like Ceasar’s wife after he ceases to be a judge? That’s the point being debated after Abdul Nazeer’s appointment as Andhra governor. Is there a quid pro quo?
Earlier too, ex-judges have been sent to Raj Bhavans, the Rajya Sabha, and even cabinets. Nehru made Fazl Ali governor of Odisha within days of his retirement from the top court. M.C. Chagla had an illustrious judgeship before he became a Union minister. Former CJI T.S. Thakur’s father, D.D. Thakur, joined Sheikh Abdullah’s cabinet after he resigned from the J&K high court, and was made deputy CM in another Sheikh cabinet. V.P. Singh sent him as governor to Assam and Arunachal. Congress-backed United Front put Fathima Beevi in the Chennai Raj Bhavan in 1997, five years after her retirement. The Congress got Ranganatha Misra, who had given its leaders a clean chit in the anti-Sikh riots, a Raj Bhavan and then a seat in the Rajya Sabha. Narendra Modi made P. Sathasivam governor of Kerala five months after his retirement. Ranjan Gogoi got a nominated Rajya Sabha seat four months after he retired under a cloud.
Reverse migrations―from political posts to the bench―have been equally common. M.C. Mahajan left the Punjab High Court to become PM of Jammu & Kashmir and chalk out its merger with the Union of India, and was then sent to the Supreme Court. V.R. Krishna Iyer was a minister in Kerala’s first communist government, was made a high court judge during the second, and later lifted to the Supreme Court. Rama Jois, who shared an Emergency prison cell with Jan Sangh leaders, was made a high court judge by the Janata regime in which they were ministers. He resigned when overlooked by a Congress regime for Supreme Court judgeship; the NDA later gave him governorship of Jharkhand and then Bihar.
Congress’s Baharul Islam shuttled between Parliament and courts. He resigned his second Rajya Sabha term to be sent to the Gauhati High Court in 1972. Months after he retired, he lost a Rajya Sabha election, but was compensated with a judgeship in the Surpeme Court. He cleared Bihar CM Jagannath Misra of forgery charges, and soon quit the bench for a Congress ticket to the Lok Sabha. The polls could not be held due to political turmoil in Assam; the party gave him a Rajya Sabha seat.
No such odium hangs around Nazeer, except that he was part of some of the benches that decided cases in favour of the government. Every judge would have. He has otherwise been a Daniel when it came to judgment, and it would be preposterous to assume he had delivered decrees expecting posts or pelf.
All the same, one wishes judges had maintained the standards set by men like P.B. Gajendragadkar or M. Hidayatulla. The former refused L.B. Shastri’s offer of high commissionership in London. The latter refused to take any post-retirement post, seat or commissionerate till all parties came together to make him vice-president.
M’lords, the learned and the wise may not suspect Ceasar’s wife, but bazaar gossips can still cast shadows on sacred thrones and temples of justice. That was why Caesar, who knew his wife was chaste, divorced Pompeia, and Lord Ram performed a painful parityaag on Sita Mata.