Updated: September 9, 2019 5:26:09 am
Ram Jethmalani passed away on Sunday after having more than a full life at the ripe old age of 95 years.
He was always a larger-than-life figure in the courts and in the country. He had the unique distinction of having completed 75 years at the Bar, having been enrolled at a very young age.
I had known him ever since I started practice in the early 80s. I had the privilege of accompanying him and many other senior lawyers of the Supreme Court on a peace mission to the worst riot-affected areas during the anti-Sikh riots after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
At one place, we were surrounded by a violent mob which was baying for the blood of the Sikhs. When they learnt that we were there to rescue the Sikhs who were being attacked, they started preparing to attack us. Mr Jethmalani bravely told the mob who he was (an MP then) and sat down in the middle of the mob, saying that if they wanted to attack anyone they should first attack him.
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At that, the mob became a bit wary and let us go. He was undoubtedly one of the bravest people that I have come across.
We together formed the Committee on Judicial Accountability in the wake of the impeachment of Justice V Ramaswamy in 1990 to take up the issues of judicial corruption and accountability.
He was never afraid to confront corrupt judges and to call them out. His fearless and outspoken voice is being sorely missed at a time when judicial misconduct and lack of judicial independence is reaching a crescendo.
In the midst of the Bofors scandal, when Rajiv Gandhi was in power and called him a barking dog, Jethmalani took it upon himself to write five questions for Rajiv Gandhi everyday, which were duly published in The Indian Express for the next several months.
I have no doubt that these uncomfortable questions contributed a great deal to bring about Rajiv Gandhi’s downfall. More recently, he become an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government.
Unfortunately, however, by this time his voice was no longer being heard by many people in the country.
He was not only an outstanding and perhaps the best and most feared criminal lawyers, but also had one of the deepest understanding of the Constitution.
He was faulted by many people, including me, for being ‘amoral’ in his choice of cases and willing to take up the cause of any corrupt person who was willing to pay his high fees. That, however, is the case with most senior lawyers who become amoral about the kind of cases that they are willing to take up.
This unfortunately is the legal morality that is taught to students in law schools, that they must never refuse the case of any person who is willing to pay their fees. He was a very personable and affectionate man and was always very kind and loyal to his friends, as he always was to me.
He will be missed by the Bar and the country alike.
(The writer is a human rights advocate.)
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