Justice Katju: How I was saved by Atal Bihari Vajpayee

By Justice Markandey Katju-

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

Today, 25th December is not only Christmas Day but also the birthday of former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ( 1924-2018 ).

I have never met the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But I wish to narrate an incident where he came to my rescue.

I was then a Judge of the Allahabad High Court when this incident happened in 1998.

At that time the BJP was in power both in the Centre as well as in UP. Atalji was the Prime Minister, and the ‘Loh Purush’ ( L.K. Advani ) was the Dy. Prime Minister. Kalyan Singh was the Chief Minister of UP.

A case, Mohd. Sharif Saifi vs State of UP, writ petition 43403 of 1998 came before a bench of the Allahabad High Court presided over by me. The petitioners were some Muslims, and their grievance was that they were not being allowed to construct a mosque on their own land.

Many Muslims in UP had that grievance, and they had often to say their Friday prayers on public roads or public places as they were not permitted by the authorities to construct mosques.

The stand of the respondent govt was that no permission had been obtained from the District Magistrate for building a mosque. However, no law was shown to us which said that the DM’s permission was required for building a mosque.

In our judgment, delivered on 28.1.1999 we held that this is a free, democratic and secular country, and so Muslims had a right to construct a mosque on their own land, or even on someone else’s land if the latter permits. For this no permission of the D.M. was required, as there was no such statutory requirement.


This judgment created a furor in UP, and the matter was reported, as I learned later, to the then-powers in Delhi. I was told that the ‘Loh Purush’ was furious and was adamant that I should be shunted out of the Allahabad High Court and dumped in Sikkim or some other remote place. If that had been done my career would have been blasted.

But then Prime Minister Vajpayee came to my rescue. He said that though one may disagree with a Court verdict, one has to respect the independence of the judiciary.

Apart from that, Atalji had an astrologer in Allahabad, whose surname was also Vajpayee, whom my wife, who has great faith in astrology, would often consult.

Atalji telephoned the astrologer and enquired about my reputation. The astrologer spoke in my favor, and this further prevailed on Atalji’s mind, and he thereafter took no action in the matter.

Consequently, I remained in Allahabad.

This story was told to my wife by the astrologer, who died some years thereafter.


Related posts