Just one year before the general election, Kiren Rijiju was abruptly replaced as Union Law Minister by Arjun Ram Meghwal today.
Less than a year after being elevated to the Law Ministry with cabinet position, Mr. Rijiju, who is regarded as one of the government’s most prominent ministers and a problem-solver, has been transferred to the comparatively low-key Ministry of Earth Sciences.
Arjun Ram Meghwal, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, will now be in charge of the Law Ministry on an independent basis. For the first time in recent memory, the law minister does not hold a position in the cabinet.
India now has a new law minister at a crucial moment when the Supreme Court and the government have frequently not agreed on the nomination of justices.
The numerous conflicts between the executive branch and the judiciary, as well as Mr. Rijiju’s outspoken criticism of the Supreme Court’s collegium method for selecting justices, made his brief tenure controversial.
A two-judge Supreme Court bench had expressed concern in February over the hold-up in clearing judge transfers and nominations, calling it a very serious issue and threatening “administrative and judicial actions which might not be palatable” in response.
Mr Rijiju had brushed off the warning, saying the country would be governed according to the Constitution and the wishes of the people. “Sometimes discussions are held in the country on some matters and in a democracy everyone has the right to express their opinion. But people sitting in responsible positions have to think before saying anything, whether it will benefit the country or not,” he had said at an event, stressing that “nobody can give a warning to anyone”.
When Mr. Rijiju declared last year that the collegium system is “alien” to the Constitution and had no public support, the conflict between the administration and the judiciary erupted. “How do you expect that the decision will be backed by the country,” he had remarked. “Anything which is alien to the Constitution simply because of the decision taken by the courts or some judges.”
He had also mentioned the National Judicial nominations Commission (NJAC) Act, which was repealed by the Supreme Court and was passed by parliament in 2014 and gave the government a bigger involvement in judicial nominations.
This morning, Mr. Rijiju’s transfer was announced in a brief statement from the President’s Office, citing the Prime Minister’s recommendation. Shortly after, Mr. Rijiju modified his Twitter bio.