THE RAGING CONTROVERSY ON THE STAND-OFF between Justice C.S. Karnan and the seven-member bench of the Supreme Court, while causing embarrassment to the country’s higher judiciary, has also left a deep scar on the institution.The beginnings of the current controversy can be traced to the elevation of 65-year-old Chinnaswamy Swaminathan Karnan from the Bar to a judge on the bench of the Madras High Court on March 30, 2009, after he had served as a lawyer in the Madras High Court formore than a decade. He was made a permanent judge two years later.
Until then no one seemed to have heard about him. His elevation to the bench surprised many then. Justice Karnan, a Dalit hailing from a village in Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu, has been in the limelight since then for courting controversy.
In the view of many observers of the judiciary, only a thin line separated his unusual behaviour froman abnormality. The unpredictability in his character is too obvious to be missed. The latest was the claim of “mental frustration” in his letter to the apex court after he was transferred to Kolkata. Besides,when he appeared before the Supreme Court in person in response to a contempt notice, he told the bench that he “has lost his physical and mental balance”. And he has always used his caste identity to claim victim hood and intimidate fellow judges and extricate himself from embarrassing situations his actions created.
When he was serving on