There are some exceptional persons who become legends in their lifetime. Arun Jaitley was one of them. He was a colossus. He strode across and covered almost all spheres of life with dignity and grace coupled with determination and commitment.
He was a student leader and was elected as President of Delhi University Students Union. Due to his political affiliation, he was under detention during Emergency in 1975. His detention and arrest were turning points in his life and he became a political leader. He pursued law, and in the years to come went on the become among the most celebrated senior counsels in the country. His broad shoulders successfully carried the twin weight of his law practice and politics.
In 1990, politics took precedence over other activities and he became the most visible, articulate, pleasant and knowledgeable face of BJP. After that there was no turning point. He became Minister of State, Leader of Opposition in Parliament, senior cabinet minister and leader of the House. All these achievements are well known.
What possibly may not be in the knowledge of the public and even the legal fraternity is Jaitley’s contribution in the field of strengthening the legal profession, legal education, providing facilities and opportunities for the growth of young lawyers. He recognised the role of the Bar Associations and other similar institutions of professionals in the country.
During the period 1990-2010, the Bar Association of India (BAI), under the presidentship of Fali Nariman, invited Arun Jaitley as Chief Guest to all the events, conferences, seminars, discussion and meetings with delegations from American Bar Association, Law Society of England and Wales etc. I had the privilege of serving as the General Secretary of the Association during that entire period.
In 2000, Jaitley inaugurated an institution — the first of its kind — named Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) in the distinguished presence of Ms Diana Kempe President of International Bar Association and Fali Nariman. He was Minister of State for Law & Justice. He realized the potential of SILF and expressed the fond hope that sooner than later Indian law firms will be second to none in the international arena and would be able to face the challenges from established foreign law firms. SILF and its members have not failed him.
SILF is now recognised by the Government of India, Parliament, the Judiciary and international and regional Bar Associations all over the world.
BAI and SILF are indebted to Jaitley for allotment of two plots of land in the institutional area on Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, New Delhi where the two buildings are under completion. Jaitley had laid the foundation stone. These 2 buildings would have state of art Arbitration & Mediation Centre — both arbitration and mediation were close to his heart as alternate dispute resolution mechanisms.
Arun Jaitley was not happy with the system, quality and nature of legal education in India. Both BAI and SILF provided him with a platform to interact with universities law schools, faculty and students.
His illustrious wife Sangeeta Jaitley also takes keen interest in the field of legal education.
Jaitley supported SILF by his gracious and significant presence when SILF introduced for the first time a Law Teachers’ Day celebrated in the first week of September every year. He presented the first Law Teacher Award to Prof. Madhava N Menon, who passed away about two months ago, in the year 2009 at the Inaugural function.
He enjoyed meeting vice-chancellors, deans, directors and faculty of law schools during the Law Teachers Day functions. He stressed upon them to make legal education more contemporary and to introduce the latest technology without compromising on history, ethics and values of the Indian legal profession.
Jaitley was conscious of the fact that the Indian legal profession had opposed the entry of foreign lawyers to India since early 1990. At the same time, he felt there was a requirement of international business that legal support of its choice should be available in other jurisdictions wherever investments are made.
By 2014, Indian law firms had developed the expertise, knowledge and technology to face the foreign challenge. Responding favourably to Jaitley’s suggestions BAI and SILF both conveyed their acceptance to government’s proposal to allow foreign lawyers to practice in India in a phased manner.
Jaitley was a firm believer in maintaining, strengthening and promoting the rule of law. He was not just a lawyer, he was a political thinker and above all a great citizen of India. The legal fraternity has lost its mentor.
Lalit Bhasin is president of the Bar Association of India and president of the Society of Indian Law Firms.