Supreme Court of India: Balancing Power and Politics in Challenging Times

India's Supreme Court faces a delicate balance between constitutional authority and political pressures. Recent decisions challenge the ruling party, yet concerns persist about selective intervention and judicial independence.

India’s Supreme Court has recently made headlines with bold decisions that challenge the government, but behind the scenes, its power is constrained by political pressures. In a country where the judiciary is constitutionally powerful, the court's role as a check on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is being closely scrutinized. While the court has shown willingness to intervene in certain cases, it has also been accused of shying away from confronting the government on contentious issues.

The Court's Recent Judgments

On February 21st, the Supreme Court overturned the result of a mayoral election in Chandigarh, alleging rigging by a BJP official. Prior to that, it ordered the Modi government to reverse a rule diluting protections for forestland and struck down electoral bonds, a campaign-finance instrument benefiting the BJP. These decisions underscore the court's authority to challenge the government, but they also reveal a complex relationship between the judiciary and the ruling party.

Constitutional Power vs. Political Influence

India's constitution grants significant authority to its Supreme Court, positioning it as one of the most powerful in the world. However, its effectiveness as an independent arbiter has been questioned in the face of political pressure. The legacy of the Emergency declared by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975, during which the judiciary's autonomy was compromised, still looms large.

Judicial Activism and Selective Intervention

Despite its constitutional mandate, the Supreme Court has been accused of selective activism, choosing to intervene in some cases while avoiding others. Landmark rulings on decriminalizing gay sex and affirming citizens’ rights to privacy reflect progressive strides, but the court has been less assertive on politically charged matters. For instance, it upheld the government's decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and clear Prime Minister Modi of complicity in deadly sectarian riots.

Political Pressures and Judicial Avoidance

Political pressures, including delays in judicial appointments and allegations of judge manipulation, have cast a shadow over the court's independence. Critics argue that the government strategically influences sensitive cases by influencing judge assignments. The court's tendency to postpone hearings, as seen in cases related to the Citizenship Amendment Act and the delayed bail plea of activist Umar Khalid, raises concerns about impartiality.

Challenges and Constraints

While India's Supreme Court has thwarted attempts at blatant court-stacking, concerns about its ability to resist political influence persist. Despite its constitutional mandate, the court's effectiveness in safeguarding democratic principles is under scrutiny. Its handling of high-profile cases, such as the Ayodhya land dispute and the electoral bond controversy, reflects a delicate balance between constitutional duty and political realities.

India's Supreme Court occupies a unique position in the country's democratic framework, wielding considerable power to uphold the rule of law. However, its ability to serve as an effective check on the government is contingent upon its willingness to confront political pressures. As India navigates complex challenges to its democratic institutions, the role of the judiciary remains pivotal in safeguarding democratic principles and ensuring accountability.

Moving Forward: Upholding Judicial Independence

As India grapples with evolving political dynamics, the Supreme Court's commitment to judicial independence and impartiality becomes increasingly critical. Strengthening institutional safeguards, promoting transparency in judicial appointments, and fostering public trust in the judiciary are essential steps toward upholding the court's constitutional mandate and preserving the integrity of India's democracy.