Satish Acharya Cartoon August 23
Image Credit: Satish Acharya

What can you say about a man who is unbending, gentle and kind? And, who happens to be a friend you respect hugely for not selling out - like many others have in new India.

Prashant Bhushan, 63, senior counsel Supreme Court, was prepared to be jailed for his beliefs about democracy and justice triumphing all else. Health and hygiene disclaimer. I repeat he is my friend and will be most embarrassed when he reads this profile.

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A half shrug followed by a quizzical smile would be the reaction.

Prashant is a hero of our times. Times that require every citizen to fight while a requiem is being said for democracy in India.

Cosmetically all the institutions are in place. Elections are held on time, the judiciary and other pillars of democracy like a free press exist. Yet, a fuzzy pall prevails over all institutions - the primal function to hold government to account for all citizens is not being adhered.

Prashant highlighted to the Supreme Court the breach of this duty. The court held him guilty of contempt of court for two tweets and asked him to apologise. Prashant refused and cheerfully said he was prepared to pay the penalty. The Supreme Court could have sentenced him to six months in prison.

Satish Acharya Cartoon-August-16
Image Credit: Satish Acharya

An outpouring of public support happened and the Supreme Court, which had painted itself in a corner, gave him a token punishment of a rupee fine.

Bhushan, whose practice comprises 80 per cent of public interest litigation, is a true defender of public interest. Speaking to me for Gulf News he said: “I would have gone to jail. What is the big deal? I would have had time to read and write. When Sudha Bharadwaj and Arvind Teltumbde are still in jail, me being jailed would not be an issue.”

Prashant in the past has fought lonely battles on human rights cases, environmental cases, big ticket corruption and right to information cases. He says the public support for him in the contempt case surprised yet gratified him.

Prashant is pugnacious and an exasperating person to argue with - he eats dinner with his father Shanti Bhushan who he lives with every day. Prashant does not have even a minor vice and as I once told him he was pretty much joyless.

Prashant briefly studied at IIT Madras and Princeton University before committing to law. Even now he says he has no love for the law except in the fact that it make a tangible difference to people’s lives.

Prashant says Modi’s India in many ways is worse than even the Indira Gandhi emergency period as all dissenting voices are sought to be snuffed out. “The Supreme Court then suspended habeas corpus (to have a body). This one simply does not listen to habeas corpus petitions such as in the case of detained leaders in Kashmiris.”

Read more from Swati Chaturvedi

“Democracy should be used to make governments accountable. The contempt law is outraging the king’s servants as it was originally envisaged by the British. In a democracy all institutions exist to serve the people. The Supreme Court in many ways has let us down.”

However, Prashant is hopeful in a very restrained way saying: “I still remain hopeful about the Supreme Court They have touched a nadir. The only way is up.”

Prashant admits to a rare mistake in trusting Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Chief Minister, in his brief foray into politics. “Electoral politics are not for me,” he says with zero regret.

And, yes he will pay the one rupee fine and keep fighting. Prashant like most difficult people does not tire.

Swati Chaturvedi, Special to Gulf News-1592296808900