On Sathya Sai Baba: Times of India, Ex-Chief Justice Interview. What Judge Would So Opine?
Posted by Barry Pittard on May 1, 2011
In his interview just conducted by the Times of India (on which he has long been a director, by the way), Ex- Chief Justice of India, P.N. Bhagwati (see picture), about to head the late Sathya Sai Baba’s Central Trust, makes a number of comments which cannot but alienate him from present and former Commonwealth judges, and, indeed, judges, lawyers and citizens far beyond.
One may hope that no view will succeed which is of the sort that: here is a very old man – entering his 90’s. Let him have his eccentricities about his God. What harm can Bhagwati do in his dotage? After all, he no longer presides over Indian Justice.
But Bhagwati was not in his dotage down all those years when, as he now tells us, Sathya Sai Baba has been holding the jurisprudential pen.
Let us remember, for one thing, that influence and mentorship of professionals – especially eminent ones – do not stop. Especially in a country like India, in which the elderly are venerated. One becomes aghast at the thought of how many younger judges and advocates in India see Bhagwati as a role model – not just in matters of precise legal craft – which may give no cause for alarm. But, rather, in the matter of interpretation of the legal job when passed through the distorting glass of a faith that says: Sathya Sai Baba is the Lawyer of Lawyers. And in a manner which gravely questions the professed secularity, as opposed e.g., to theocratic threats to democratic law, of Indian, Commonwealth, and, indeed, international law.
In this interview, among other points which cannot help but give concern in many quarters, Bhagwati has, without any shadow of a doubt, enunciated a principle so totally alien to a central tenet of justice in any of the democracies: namely, that because he believes Sathya Sai Baba to be God, there should be no police or judicial investigation into allegations against Sai Baba. Bhagwati shows not a moment’s thought for what this view implies for any other judge – or, indeed, any other citizen – who may think that his or her version of God is the right one, and therefore omit to hold that ‘version’ to be free from any judicial or police procedure. The thought is truly appalling ….. and one almost blinks in astonishment. There is a corruption of justice at the very core of his pronouncement.
What say if the case was of a Chief Justice who thought that Rajneesh, or Muktananda or the (recent) Nityananda – or any other eminence ochre or saffron or of whatever dye was holding his or her pen in the writing of judgements?
At a number of points during the interview, Bhagwati weeps. Is he weeping for the Justice that he has traduced? Perhaps he is weeping for the loss on 24 April 2011, when his guru died. (After saying saying, over the years, that he, Avatar of All Avatars, come to save the world before he left it a the age of 96. And that he would be fit and healthy into his old age. And that he would not leave until the world had fallen at his feet – except for some last tidying-up to be done by his next incarnation, Prema Sai Baba). But then, why weep so much given Bhagwati’s statement that, all down the years, Sathya Sai Baba has been the mystic pen in Bhagwati’s hand, writing the judgements?
Bhagwati’s hand, that has been in the grip of Sathya Sai Baba’s hand all these years, is a very wavering hand now.
He says, for example, that for long, in writing his judgements, he has been receiving guidance from Sathya Sai Baba. The account he gives sounds very like automatic writing. If it was not, he needs to have been clear about what he means. Judges are meant to be clear, are they not?
Bhagwati also shows some disconcerting lapses (???) of memory. Above all, the parents and families of those slain meters away from where Sathya Sai Baba was hiding on the other side of a locked door of his appartment on the blood-filled night of 6 June will surely want a better effort of memory from Bhagwati, once the lychpin of Indian Justice. A better effort of memory from a man who is now to head the Sathya Sai Central Trust, on which he has so long served as a key member.
It is a test of the maturity of Indian democracy and of its jurisprudence whether India continues to allow such forgetfulness.
Note: The sort of questions that I would like to be asking Ex-Chief Justice Bhagwati (ex-Justice, indeed!) are below, in blue highlight.
Times of India Interview With Ex-Chief Justice of India, P.N. Bhagwati.
‘Sai Baba, my god, dictated my every single judgment’
In relation to his expected installation as head of the Sathya Sai Central Trust, Bhagwati says:
No one will oppose my name. I have cultivated a reputation as the foremost legal luminary across the Commonwealth.
Barry Pittard: Judges throughout the world famously leave it up to others to assess their standing. Do you believe that any Commonwealth judge, other than yourself, has ever made a public statement in which he or she has asserted their own excellence?
- As a professional, each time I would sit down to write a judgment at 5 ‘o’clock in the morning, I was only writing what my god dictated. Bhagwan held my hand as I put pen to paper.
BP’s Question: First, do you know any Commonwealth judges who have made a public statement which only too obviously is open to interpretation that they are engaged in automatic writing? Second, do you cognise that many Indian citizens who refer to many gods and goddesses, and others to none at all are entitled to concern that judgements which affect them are ‘written’, in effect, by your own version of ‘God’ with which they may have serious concerns?
Everything that I have achieved in respect of the law, and people say I have achieved a lot, is owing to the guidance and inspiration of Sathya Sai Baba. There is no doubt on that score.
BP: Are democratic publics not entitled to expect of their judges – irrespective of their presence or absence of religious faith – the ability, under their own steam, to write excellent judgements?
An attempt was made on his life a few years ago. Some ashram inmates were killed.
I am not aware of this. I live in Delhi, so I have no knowledge.
BP: If you do not remember any salient facts of one of the two or three greatest crises to have faced the Trust on which you were, and have long since been, a prominent member, how can we rely on your memory when you tell us that you later say that you “have never told a lie in (your) entire life?
What is the total worth of the assets of the trust? Is it more than Rs 40,000 crore?
I do not know the present worth.
BP: You are in your 90’s now. Has it never occurred to you, prior to this, to check on such a salient matter?
Did you meet trust officials in Mumbai during this visit?
I cannot remember. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. I am not clear in my mind.
BP: First, is not a pre-eminent, expected quality in judges, the world over, clarity of mind? Second, how could you possibly forget main circumstances relating the 6 June 1993 four police killings in Sathya Sai Baba’s bedroom, and two other slayings outside? Third, do you not diarise?
Inmates of the ashram, particularly young boys, have levied charges of sexual abuse against the godman.
(Agitated) These are all baseless allegations. Bhagwan is a divine person, divinity personified. All these allegations come from interested quarters.
BP: Please, then, name those many individuals whose sworn testimony has convinced India Today, the BBC, and several other world standard investigative media, that a very serious prima facie case faced Sathya Sai Baba and certain of his leaders. You cannot? Of course you cannot. Learned legal counsel has them. They are often deeply gut-churning. Sometimes, they are, literally, tragic, since suicide has eventuated. At other times, one sees testimony to human courage.What is more, the BBC was able to discover still more testimony, which the assistant producer, David Saville, told me did not appear among our plethora of careful, worldwide documentation.
Major media and institutions such as UNESCO, Interpol, the FBI, and others have the documents. How do you dare to opine, Mr Bhagwati?
In that case, you have committed yourself to a statement that grievously lacks evidence, and, in doing so, you demean and defame the efforts of many aggrieved families around the world who have testified that Sathya Sai Baba engaged in very serious criminal abuses, including wide-scale, serial sexual abuse of boys and young men.
Alarmingly, you do not state the irrefutable fact: that many who have made the allegations about Sathya Sai Baba’s abuses, and about his official organization’s wide-scale dereliction of duty of care, were, for years, dedicated and respected workers in the Sathya Sai Organization. And that these now former devotees are, very typically, respected members of their wider communities, professions, trades, places of learning, and so on.
Interviewer: Several alleged offences committed by Sai Baba were never investigated.
What is the point of investigation? (Agitated) Bhagwan is divinity personified, he radiates joy; millions worship him. He is a teacher of mankind.
Most people in the world do not even know of him. Even if they did, in democratic societies, there is, as you know, but seem to have forgotten, the principal of Equality Before the Law – no matter a person’s finances, social status, or the political power. Why would you claim exemption for Sathya Sai Baba? Do you not remember the figure of Dame Justice Blindfold that prominently adorns Indian Court buildings.
Each, then, is fully entitled, in his or her own democratic jurisdiction, to make, or allow others to make, any untested assumption as to whether some alleged divinity or other notable figure is to be exempted from facing well-made charges. A judge is not permitted to do that. But you assert that it can be done, when you say: “What is the point of investigation?”
Your longtime close colleague, the past world head of the Sathya Sai Organization made to the Indian media a remark strikingly similar to your own when you said: “What is the point of investigation?” On 10 June 1993 The Hindu, reported:
“When press persons met Mr. Indulal Shah, chief functionary of the Sri Sathya Sai World Trust, he said, ‘the matter is purely internal and we do not wish to have any law enforcement agency investigating into it.’”
Article 7 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”
Do you think, then, that justice systems in the Commonwealth, or countries like the USA, would sanction such statements as these which you and Indulal Shah have made? You will be widely condemned for them within and far beyond your own legal fraternity.