BARELY three months after it held activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court, the Supreme Court’s power of contempt is back in the news. This time, it’s because of Attorney General KK Venugopal’s decision to give his consent to initiate criminal contempt of court proceedings against stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra for his tweets allegedly scandalising the apex court after it gave interim bail to TV channel owner Arnab Goswami last week. Going by Venugopal’s opinion, Kamra’s tweets are ‘in bad taste’, ‘highly objectionable’ and constitute criminal contempt of court as they clearly cross the line between humour and contempt of court. Even before the top court could take up the matter, Kamra has aggravated the situation by refusing to retract his controversial tweets or apologise for them, saying he believed they ‘speak for themselves’. The comedian has also raised the issue of ‘important’ petitions such as those on demonetisation, nullification of Article 370, the electoral bonds scheme and ‘countless other matters pending before the top court’.
It’s nobody’s case that the Supreme Court is always right and can’t be criticised at all. Some of the issues raised by Kamra are legitimate. But it appears that while attempting to push the boundary, the comedian has crossed it. He should know freedom comes with responsibility. The Supreme Court has two options available to it. First, it can hold Kamra guilty of contempt of court and send him to jail. Second, it can follow the House of Lords, which in the Spycatcher case spared Daily Mirror that had published an upside-down picture of three law lords with the caption, ‘You Old Fools’. The House of Lords said if one was a fool or not was a matter of perception.
In a democratic set-up, the dynamics of the relationship between citizens and institutions need not be governed by letters of law alone. Given the fact that Kamra is a comedian, expected to prick and provoke to elicit a good laugh, showing magnanimity is a far better option as it would enhance the court’s credibility as an institution. In any case, nobody takes a comedian seriously. Why should the Supreme Court?