What makes former Supreme Court judge Justice Cyriac Joseph so special to the Congress? The party has been trying hard for the past year to give him a post-retirement position, fiercely opposed by the BJP which perceives it as yet another minority appeasement gesture.
The latest effort by the government to promote the retired judge has been the move to reconsider his name for the post of the Chairman of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).
This is insurance, in case the BJP’s opposition results in stymieing his appointment as a member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Among various other reasons to have generated controversy is the fact that Kerala Congress leader K M Mani, the “political voice of Indian Catholics”, is pushing his case, which has boosted Justice Cyriac’s chances.
The NHRC selection committee, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is likely to meet this week where the government would be mooting the name of Justice Cyriac who retired on January 7, 2012.
Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley are members of this committee and the latter has openly questioned the move to nominate him for the NHRC.
“The government has already decided to accommodate him in a plum position despite the BJP opposition. If it fails to make him an NHRC member, his name may be again considered for the post of TDSAT chairman,” a source said. If this happens, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal will have to eat his words and accept Justice Cyriac as the head of TDSAT.
Sibal had been steadfastly opposing the recommendation and had written to Chief Justice Altamas Kabir on February 21 requesting him to refer to an IB report which has references to the “style of functioning” of Justice Cyriac.
It apparently also had mentioned about the “delays” on the part of Justice Cyriac in delivering judgments.
Sibal had even met the CJI to discuss the matter though the IB report did not have anything that questions Cyriac’s integrity as a judge.
According to a government source, the UPA is keen to send out a “minority-friendly message” this election year.
The BJP had earlier scuttled the judge’s chances when his name was proposed for the post of Karnataka Lokayukta last year - and the Congress does not want a repeat. Though the Centre, through Karnataka Governor H R Bhardwaj, had tried to appoint him as Lokayukta, the BJP Government in Karnataka had opposed his name giving the reason of “over-identification” with a particular religion. Religion is something Justice Cyriac, a Catholic, has always worn on his sleeve.
“If his religious identity has helped him in career growth, it has also earned him brickbats,” said a source aware of the developments.
He was alluding to the controversy about his involvement in the sensational Sister Abhaya murder case, which had projected the Catholic Church in a bad light.