‘Bhishma Pi­ta­mah’ of In­dian law is no more

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Front Page - Dhanan­jay.Ma­ha­p­a­tra

India’s most fa­mous crim­i­nal law prac­ti­tioner, Ram Bulc­hand Jeth­malani, passed away on Sun­day just six days short of what would have been his 96th birth­day, bring­ing the cur­tain down on a ca­reer that recorded and an­a­lysed al­most all significan­t de­vel­op­ments in In­dian crim­i­nal jurispru­dence since in­de­pen­dence.

Jeth­malani is sur­vived by lawyer-son Ma­hesh Jeth­malani and US-based daugh­ter Shobha. Daugh­ter Rani and

son Janak died before him. He was cre­mated on Sun­day af­ter­noon at Lodhi cre­ma­to­rium here. President Ram Nath Kovind, PM Naren­dra Modi and home min­is­ter Amit Shah con­doled the death while pay­ing homage to the out­stand­ing lawyer, con­sid­ered a hu­man en­cy­clo­pe­dia on crim­i­nal law.

Born in Sindh prov­ince’s Sikharpur (now in Pak­istan) on Septem­ber 14, 1923, Jeth­malani dis­played bril­liance by com­plet­ing his bach­e­lor of law at age17. He got spe­cial per­mis­sion start prac­tis­ing at 18, when the min­i­mum age was 21.

As a par­ti­tion refugee, he ini­tially strug­gled to find his foothold in Bom­bay. Some 65 years later, then CJI H L Dattu in 2015 re­ferred to Jeth­malani as “Bhishma Pi­ta­mah”, to bend rules and al­low him to make a re­quest for an ad­journ­ment before a five-judge con­sti­tu­tion bench.

Jeth­malani ex­celled in con­vinc­ing ju­di­cial minds in favour of clients through wit, knowl­edge and repartee, all in a rich bari­tone. Th­ese traits stood him in good stead as he taught law stu­dents across In­dian uni­ver­si­ties.

For the last two years, his vision had dimmed, pre­vent­ing him from prac­tis­ing. For some time now, he had put up a big board out­side his 2, Ak­bar Road res­i­dence declar­ing that he was not taking any fresh cases. But the man was amenable to per­sua­sion. Since 2016 till he stopped prac­tis­ing, he had a com­mon re­frain in court, “I am in the de­par­ture lounge wait­ing for the flight to God’s land.” He took the flight on Sun­day af­ter two weeks of age-re­lated illnesses.

Jeth­malani, who mar­ried twice before the cod­i­fi­ca­tion of Hindu law banned sec­ond mar­riage, was a reg­u­lar bad­minton player, a sport he cred

ited for his youth­ful­ness, al­low­ing him to run from court to court till his late eight­ies. He was open about what he said was his “west­ern­ised” life­style and so­cial life.

His ca­reer in law and pol­i­tics saw him make foes and en­e­mies with equal fer­vour. He fell out with BJP, whose found­ing vice-president he had been, but rec­on­ciled to­wards the end. For­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral Mukul Ro­hatgi has writ­ten that this came about through the efforts of Arun Jait­ley, a lit­tle known fact as Jeth­malani of­ten tar­geted the late BJP neta with sharp ver­bal barbs.

Af­ter set­tling in Bom­bay, “the most im­por­tant mile­stone” of his pro­fes­sional ca­reer came in the mur­der case of 1950s in which Com­man­der K M Nana­vati was ac­cused of killing his wife’s lover Prem Ahuja. “My role in the trial court as well as in the HC was of protecting the in­ter­ests of the fam­ily of the de­ceased. I was there­fore con­fined to help­ing (pros­e­cu­tor C M) Trivedi and (gov­ern­ment pleader Y V) Chan­drachud. But, for some rea­son, everybody seems to think that I was re­spon­si­ble for both Nana­vati’s con­vic­tion as well as his pres­i­den­tial par­don that over­turned the Supreme Court’s award of life im­pris­on­ment,” he had told TOIin 2010.

Jeth­malani had a pen­chant for de­fend­ing the most de­spised, such as the con­victs in cases of as­sas­si­na­tions of Indira Gandhi and Ra­jiv Gandhi, and Afzal Guru of the Par­lia­ment attack case. He suc­ceeded in saving death row con­vict Bal­bir Singh by get­ting him an ac­quit­tal in the Indira Gandhi case. In the 1960s, he had rep­re­sented smug­gler Haji Mas­tan.

While de­fend­ing Tamil Nadu gov­ern­ment’s 2014 de­ci­sion to com­mute sen­tences of Ra­jiv as­sas­si­na­tion con­victs, whose death sen­tences were com­muted to life terms by the SC, Jeth­malani had created a flut­ter by ar­gu­ing that the sui­cide attack to kill Ra­jiv was not a crime against India.

He loved the chal­lenge of rep­re­sent­ing ac­cused in cases that were con­sid­ered “open and shut” by the pub­lic, took plea­sure in ril­ing the prose­cu­tion and mostly came good before the courts, as he did with aplomb in the Bo­fors case by get­ting the Hin­duja broth­ers dis­charged. No won­der he was the high­est-paid lawyer in India.

Full re­port on www.toi.in

PM Naren­dra Modi pays his last re­spects to Ram Jeth­malani in New Delhi on Sun­day

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.