Jeth­malani an­nounces re­tire­ment, but will ‘com­bat cor­rupt politi­cians’

Mint Asia ST - - Inside - BPY RIYANKA M I T TA L & N I K I TA D OVAL


Jeth­malani has never minced his words. So it came as no sur­prise that even as he an­nounced his re­tire­ment from the le­gal pro­fes­sion af­ter more than seven decades, he seized the chance to slam the gov­ern­ment, call­ing it a “calamity”.

It was at a func­tion or­ga­nized by the apex bar body, the Bar Coun­cil of India, to fe­lic­i­tate the new Chief Jus­tice of India Di­pak Misra that Jethamalani an­nounced his re­tire­ment. He added, how­ever, that he wants to “com­bat the cor­rupt politi­cians that have been brought into po­si­tions of power…”

Jeth­malani’s ca­reer has been marked by high-pro­file cases and run-ins with some of the most pow­er­ful peo­ple in the coun­try. Known as a crim­i­nal lawyer, par­tic­u­larly his tech­niques of cross-ex­am­i­na­tion of wit­nesses, Jeth­malani re­peat­edly proved his met­tle in the court-room, mak­ing him one of the high­est-paid lawyers in the coun­try. In 2015 Legally India— a le­gal news web­site—con­ducted in­ter­views with law firm part­ners and ad­vo­cates to de­ter­mine how much lawyers charge per hear­ing—jethamalani came with a hefty price tag of Rs25 lakh. Mint wrote at the time, “Jeth­malani can af­ford to price him­self out of the mar­ket for all but the most af­flu­ent clients be­cause a ma­jor­ity of the cases he does take up these days, he han­dles pro bono.”

Jeth­malani’s spec­tac­u­lar jour­ney be­gan, at least in India, in the 1950s when he be­came in­volved in the fa­mous Nana­vati mur­der case of 1962 —a love-tri­an­gle where a naval of­fi­cer was tried for the mur­der of his wife’s al­leged lover. But Jeth­malani wasn’t rep­re­sent­ing ei­ther one of the sides—he was a young lawyer, start­ing out at that point of time and had been picked up by Mamie Ahuja, sis­ter of Prem Ahuja, the man who had been shot dead, to look af­ter the in­ter­ests of her brother. This was a “watch­ing brief ”. It helped him es­tab­lish him­self in Bom­bay where he had moved from Karachi af­ter par­ti­tion (He was a part­ner in a law firm in Karachi).

The Nana­vati case put him on a le­gal jour­ney that would over­lap with pol­i­tics and events. From Haji Mas­tan to the as­sas­sins of Indira Gandhi and from Ra­jiv Gandhi to L.K. Ad­vani, Jeth­malani has rep­re­sented peo­ple from all walks of life, es­pe­cially those who would find them­selves on the wrong side of his­tory.

“He is an out­stand­ingly bril­liant man. His in-depth un­der­stand­ing of the phi­los­o­phy of crim­i­nal law, ev­i­dence, read­ing of the Con­sti­tu­tion and his abil­ity to dis­sect and an­a­lyse any sit­u­a­tion is ex­cep­tional. I don’t think that

New task:

we will have another Jeth­malani. I be­lieve he is the only lawyer in India who can cross-ex­am­ine in a trial court, ar­gue con­sti­tu­tional ques­tions of law in the Supreme Court and show his mastery in civil law on the same day,” said Sid­dharth Luthra, a se­nior ad­vo­cate spe­cial­iz­ing in crim­i­nal law.

Jeth­malani, who served as the Union min­is­ter for law in the Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee gov­ern­ment from 1999 to 2000, started dab­bling in pol­i­tics as early as 1971. He con­tested his first elec­tion as an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date from Ul­has­na­gar in Ma­ha­rash­tra but lost. As chair­man of the Bar As­so­ci­a­tion dur­ing the Emer­gency, Jeth­malani was strongly crit­i­cal of Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi, earn­ing him an ar­rest war­rant. In spite of large-scale protests by lawyers, Jeth­malani had to leave India (he went to Canada). But he didn’t give up on India.

Once the Emer­gency was over, he se­cured a Lok Sabha seat for him­self from Bom­bay in the 1977 gen­eral elec­tions.

Al­though a Bharatiya Janata Party mem­ber, in 2004 he de­cided to con­test against Va­j­payee from Luc­know—the de­ci­sion may have had some­thing to do with his re­moval as law min­is­ter.

It’s been a love-hate re­la­tion­ship with the party. It wel­comed him back in the fold in 2010 with a Ra­jya Sabha ticket from Ra­jasthan but ex­pelled him three years later for an­tiparty re­marks. Clearly the ac­ri­mony, as evinced by his re­cent state­ments, con­tin­ues.

“It was back in 1993, when Jeth­malani first ex­pressed a de­sire to re­tire from prac­tis­ing as an ad­vo­cate. De­spite this, he has con­tin­ued to be part of the le­gal sys­tem for the last 25 years. I won’t be sur­prised—and will be de­lighted—if he is back again to en­rich the bar and bench for years to come,” said se­nior ad­vo­cate San­jay Hedge.

Ram Jeth­malani.

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