NEW DELHI: Activists and lawyers have attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his remarks that “five-star activists” were driving the judiciary, saying the remarks were unacceptable and sought to question the legitimacy of activists.

Rebel AAP leader Prashant Bhushan, whose petitions led to several important interventions by the Supreme Court on issues ranging from 2G scam to coal scam and Radia tapes, said, “It is a bit rich for a PM who gets Rs 6,000 crore loans for his crony Adani (industrialist Gautam Adani) to call us five-star activists.”

He said most activists like him worked pro-bono (without payment) to save the country from corruption, crony capitalism and environment degradation. “The gentleman who cozies up to crony capitalists, wears 1,000 dollar suits has the gall to call us five star activists? He even takes credit for bringing back Rs 1 lakh crore to the country which was the result of our petition on coal block allocation,” Bhushan said, referring to the petition filed by his NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL).

Senior Supreme Court advocate and legal advisor to the Karnataka government, Brijesh Kalappa, said it appeared that Modi was referring to environmentalist Priya Pillai, who was offloaded by immigration officials, and Teesta Setalvad, who got bail from the Supreme Court recently. “Both cases involve women where the might of the states is being employed to crush the constitutionally provided rights. Judiciary will always stand up for this,” said Kalappa.

Activist Shailesh Gandhi said the Prime Minister’s statement automatically presumed that activists were not a legitimate voice. “In any democracy, activists have overall played a fairly important role by bringing to the fore issues that have often been ignored,” he said. However, Gandhi also said that there was an element of truth on the issue of the judiciary being swayed by perception. “It’s something the judiciary should do some soul searching over,” he said. In his address to judges on Sunday, the Prime Minister had asked the judiciary not to be swayed by perceptions created by activists.