Maverick mind of Ram - Dedicated to Bar
I am eager to give farewell to a great maverick master. In a corner of this vast country if a wacko part time thinker says something about an iconic lawyer, it sounds silly. But I feel no shy to acknowledge the marvellous mind of this inscrutable lawyer . Shri Ram Jethmalani passed away last Sunday at the age of 96 , just a few years away from hitting a century. He had played an eventful long innings for 70 years as a lustrous lawyer.
Ram was born in Pakistan ( Shikarpur) in 1923. He was a outstanding student.
He could complete his Matriculation( class X) at the age of 13 and became a lawyer at the age of 17. At that time the minimum age to enrol at the Bar ( Bar for lawyers not the Bar for drinks) was 21. He himself pleaded to allow him to get the enrolment and he succeeded.
I don’t want to remember him as a politician or a Minister of the Federal Government, but certainly I would like to remember as an amazing lawyer who had mastered the art of sophistry and demagogy with full knowledge of the laws of the land.
Four years back in his own court ,the then Chief Justice of India TS Thakur in a lighter vein enquired Jethmalani ,when he is planning to retire; he shot back “ My lord is asking when I will die “.
What impressed me most is the selection of his cases- hopeless cases- where there were slim chances of winning. He knew the art so well ; perhaps he knew the loopholes in our judiciary ; perhaps he comprehended the law better than others ; perhaps he understood the system so well; perhaps his experience gave him more wisdom than anyone else ; perhaps the judges respect his standing in the Court and at the Bar. These might be the reasons of his success.
Ram Jethmalani asked 10 questions on Bofors ; Rajiv Gandhi the then PM just ignored them. When asked why he was not responding to the queries of Jethmalani, Rajiv Gandhi said that he does not respond to every dog that barks. Jethmalani retorted back “ Mr Prime Minister ,I am no ordinary dog but I am a watchdog of democracy.”
He stood for the assassins of Indira Gandhi; defended the assassins of Rajiv Gandhi; fought for Afzal Guru; defended Lalu, Ramdev, ,Harshad Mehta, Jayalalitha, Amit Shah; he stood for the underworld don Haji Mastan; he even fought for Arvind Kejriwal against Arun Jaitley, another great lawyer.
In many of these cases he lost but the way he argued to protect or defend his clients was outstanding. The students law ,those who are interested in criminal law must go through his cases.
“He charted his own course in life and stuck to the principles that he believed in. He was unconventional in every sense of the word. It is because he always fought against the tide that he was often misunderstood”, Kapil Sibal. “His brilliance, eloquence, powerful advocacy and sound understanding of law will remain a worthy example in legal profession”, Ravi Shanker Prasad. “He was witty , courageous and never shied away from boldly expressing himself”, PM Modi.
Perhaps the most important event in his professional life would be the ‘Nanavati Case’.In this case Commander Nanavati was accused of killing his wife’s paramour Prem Ahuja. “My role in the trial court as well as in the HC was to protecting the interests of the family of the deceased. I was therefore confined to helping prosecutor CM Trivedi and government pleader YV Chandrachud. But for some reasons everybody seems to think that I was responsible for both Nanavati’s conviction as well as his presidential pardon that overturned the Supreme Court’s award of life imprisonment”, Jethmalani narrated TOI in 2010.
“At exactly 7.30 pm he asked his help of four decades, Deepchand to pour him his customary single malt. He insisted that all of us have a drink and of course, every briefing counsel on the matter politely declined. Then he looked straight at me and calling me Sonny boy , if you don’t have a drink with me I will return this brief. I am not fond of drinking but…” Raghav Chadha. Actually Aam Adami netas were hiring the service of Shri Ram Jethmalani for defending Arvind Kejriwal and others in a defamation suit filed by Shri Arun Jaitley.
If you want to know more about Mr Ram Jethmalani you have two books rather memoirs of the lawyer himself - ‘Conscience of a Maverick’ (2007) and ‘Maverick Unchanged, Unrepentant’ (2014). Let us conclude with the mindful words from the inscrutable maverick master - A lawyer who refuses to defend a person on the ground that people believe him to be guilty is himself guilty of professional misconduct.
Many were jealous of his cerebrum, single-malt & sweeties. Me too.