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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

K Parasaran: Trusted and the trustee

The Ram Janmabhoomi case had brought K Parasaran out of retirement after a period of 10 yrs. Now the 93-year-old is in the middle of all the action, from the Sabarimala case that is set to define the contours of right to religion, to the trust that will build the Ayodhya temple.

Written by Apurva Vishwanath | Updated: February 16, 2020 8:55:14 pm
Ram Janmabhoomi case, K Parasaran, Sabarimala case, Ayodhya temple, Supreme court verdict, indian express news 93-year-old K Parasaran is in the middle of all the action, from the Sabarimala case that is set to define the contours of right to religion, to the trust that will build the Ayodhya temple.

The first meeting of the Ram Janmabhoomi Theerth Kshetra Trust is scheduled on February 19. But the host, first trustee, jurist and senior advocate K Parasaran, has had a slight hitch in his schedule.

Senior Parasaran, as he is referred to in legal circles, will be on his legs (legalese for arguing in court) that day for the Sabarimala case before a newly constituted nine-judge Bench. The meeting that is to take place at his Delhi residence has been rescheduled for now to the evening to allow the 93-year-old time to hasten back.

Parasaran began his preparation for the Sabarimala case, which is set to make judicial history by defining the contours of the right to religion, while still back in home town Chennai — taking hardly any break since an eye surgery in January.

His inclusion in the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust to build the Ayodhya temple was not surprising. A go-to counsel for successive governments since Indira Gandhi’s time, the lawyer represented the winning Hindu side in the Ayodhya case, impressing as much with his legal expertise in Roman law and English case law, as his knowledge of Hindu texts.

As his double-duty day arrives, those who know Parasaran, and who point out that he rarely argues extempore, say he would be dipping into all of the above to make his case. Says a lawyer in his team, “Even at this age, he prepares like a lawyer setting out to argue for the first time. He makes handwritten notes for court.” The lawyer also attests to his “photographic memory”. “If you mention a case even from 1954, Senior Parasaran will tell you the page number and the line that contains the answer to the legal question.”

Others mention his equanimity even while arguing some of the most heated cases in court, ensuring that the atmosphere remains civil.

A senior advocate who worked alongside Parasaran in the Ayodhya case says, “Even though many lawyers have contributed to the case in the last 50 years and some have even framed significant legal arguments that helped win the case eventually, Parasaran will be remembered the most for his opening arguments at the final hearing.”

He had told court, “While the Muslims can pray in any mosque in Ayodhya, the Hindus cannot change the birthplace of Lord Ram.” He had also urged that granting the disputed land to the Hindu side would be correction of a historical wrong.

In the Sabarimala case, Parasaran has argued for retaining the ban on entry of menstruating women into the Ayyappa temple. For some, his arguments reflect his conservative view on aspects of women’s rights, with him even skirting the word menstruation in court.

His juniors say he doesn’t depend on “briefings” from them, like most senior lawyers, and reads everything himself. When in the middle of a case, he can go for days without an off, Sundays or holidays. “There is also the question of who can brief him on pure questions of law on religion really. He is the one usually briefing the other lawyers,” a junior jokes, calling him a “genius”.

The Sabarimala case and the trust duties mean the 93-year-old will be re-shifting base to Delhi for a while, to his office in “R-20, Greater Kailash Part-1, New Delhi”, which is also the address of the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust till a new location is decided. The address has been the home and office of his son Mohan Parasaran for decades. Parasaran, in an earlier interview, had said he was guilty of committing bigamy since he spent more time with the law than his wife Saroja Parasaran, who passed away in 2010.

Earlier, Parasaran had returned from a decade-long professional hiatus to fight the Ayodhya case in the Supreme Court.

Sources told The Sunday Express that before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the setting up of the temple trust in Parliament — just three days to go for a Supreme Court deadline — frantic calls were made to Parasaran to seek his consent to be named the first trustee.

A government lawyer says Parasaran was “felt to be the most agreeable choice for bearing the responsibility of the first trustee”. “Given his age, the role he played in the case and his scholarship, nobody could object to his nomination.”

Parasaran has been Attorney General of India twice, under Congress PMs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Seen as enjoying the confidence of Sonia Gandhi, he was in the race to be named for the third time to the post in 2004 when then AG Soli Sorabjee resigned (Milon Banerjee, who defended the P V Narasimha Rao-led government at the time of the Babri demolition, pipped him to the post at the time). In 2012, he was nominated by the UPA government as a member of the Rajya Sabha. Parasaran’s elder son Mohan was additionally the Additional Solicitor General of India and Solicitor General of India for the entire 10 years of UPA-I and II.

With Parasaran’s religiosity burnishing his credentials with the Sangh Parivar, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and RSS general secretary Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi visited him at his residence to personally thank him after he won the Ayodhya case. Later, the VHP held a grand felicitation for Parasaran and his team of lawyers in Ayodhya.

At the same time, what makes Parasaran a valued voice across the political spectrum is that, even as a quintessential government lawyer, he has never shied away from speaking his mind. Despite being a UPA nominee, he had defended NDA government’s National Judicial Appointments Commission Act in Parliament.

During the Ayodhya hearing, where at one point the court had told him he could sit and argue if he wanted, the 93-year-old had said that seeing the decades-old Ayodhya case conclude was his last wish. Clearly, those plans are in the past now.

As the Supreme Court convenes on February 19, and Parasaran walks in with facts and scripture on his fingertips, expect fireworks. In the other corner would be another court legend and veteran, Fali S Nariman, 91.

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