Ram Jethmalani’s demise has been mourned very widely as his circle of friends was vast and varied. Jethmalani lived a full life with all the best the system was able to offer him. His death has caused a void that can never be filled. An eminent lawyer and an authority on India’s criminal justice system, Jethmalani will be remembered by a wide group of people in India and Pakistan.
Jethmalani had settled in India for good after his migration from Sindh (Pakistan) and he was a thorough Hindustani. But then, he had assiduously nourished relationships all over the subcontinent including Pakistan. He was always welcome there, not only in Sindh but everywhere in Pakistan. There were occasions when he invited friends to join the celebrations often around his birthday parties. He was always cheerful and at his best. On occasions, he recited verses, particularly by Faiz. He knew quite a lot on Iqbaliyat. He could, if he had chosen to write, done a comprehensive critique on the subject. He remembered many verses of Iqbal’s Shikwa and Jawabi Shikwa, too. Once he had surprised many Indian and Pakistani guests who had assembled in good numbers to celebrate his birthday at his Krishna Menon Marg residence: He interspersed his conversations with verses not only of Iqbal and Faiz, but of many others such as Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi, Ahmad Faraz, Parveen Shakir, Bashir Badar and others. Jethmalani was an exceptional human being and a great friend — he could go to any lengths to maintain friendships.
Once I went to him with a personal problem: The Union minister for urban development, Buta Singh, wanted me to quit my Humayun Road residence and settle for a residence at South Avenue. It was a question of entitlement for a residence. My plea was that the same residence was being used by a businessman earlier, and after my election to the Lok Sabha, I was genuinely entitled to the residence. Jethmalani directly took up the matter with the then President of India. When he was 94, and he thought any more of his appearances in the Supreme Court would not be to his liking as he thought the court’s decorum could be impaired, he flabbergasted the judges by saying “adieu!” Until then the lordships had been earnestly requesting him to argue cases while sitting in the chair. He had emphasised that he would stand on his feet and argue the cases that way until his last breath. And that is what he did.
Sometime in 2016, when I visited his home, he broke the sad news to me that he would not be able to play his favourite game, tennis. He was 93 then.
Ram had many pursuits in life. One of them was his interest in Kashmir. He was sad that his pursuit of the resolution of the Kashmir problem remained unfulfilled because of political one-upmanship, which spoilt the atmosphere in India. Ram had a considerable knowledge of Kashmir’s history, and more importantly, of the development of the constitutional relationship between the state and India.
When Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Mani Shankar Aiyar, O P Shah and myself attended a meeting with Ram on April 17, 2017, he had explained to us in detail that Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula was best suited to forge a friendship between India and Pakistan.
He had surprised us by narrating a story. He had gone to visit Atal Bihari Vajpayee soon after the Agra Summit and told him that he (Ram) would not even have changed a comma of what Musharraf had proposed for an abiding friendship between India and Pakistan. Why, then, had Vajpayee not moved to take the final step? Ram told us that Vajpayee chose to remain silent. But, then, Ram explained that Vajpayee’s real difficulty was the party not getting along with him on what Musharraf had proposed!
This article first appeared in the print edition on October 5, 2019 under the title ‘A formidable friend’. The writer is a senior Congress leader and former Union minister.