‘Opponents feared Ram, judges were in awe of him’
OBy Kapil Sibal
n Sunday morning at 7.45 am, Ram Jethmalani took a flight to his benefactor from the departure lounge of life. Born on September 14, 1923, he died a few days before his 96th birthday.
I remember Ram in his many avatars. He was an extraordinary lawyer with a razor sharp mind who stooped to conquer the many legal battles he fought. He was a voracious leader with a love for literature. His daily routine included a few games of badminton every evening and a drink thereafter, during which he chatted with his friends who came to be energised by his vigour and love for life.
He obtained his LLB degree at the age of 17 and started practising law in his hometown in Pakistan. With partition, he moved to Bombay as a refugee and began life afresh. With one paisa in his pocket, he stayed in a refugee camp for a few days and thereafter charted his own destiny. He came to the spotlight as a lawyer when he assisted public prosecutor C M Trivedi in framing arguments in the famous Nanavati trial. He never looked back thereafter.
It was a privilege for me when he approached me sometime in 1986 to argue a writ petition filed by him in a proceeding against Swaraj Paul. I remember him sitting by my side instructing me as I argued that case. Since then, we became close friends. He always treated me with great affection.
The quality that I most admired in Ram was his commitment to the cause that he took up and his ability to be fearless in defending that cause. Least concerned about what others might say, he always fought to win. He was indefatigable. His conferences as in the law, he was a political maverick. Since 1988, he continued to be in the Rajya Sabha. He could change sides based on his changing perception of political parties. One could have never imagined that Ram would be a candidate against Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the 2004 Lok Sabha election from Lucknow. He had entered politics with the support of the BJP and was very close to L K Advani. Because of his outspoken nature and his criticism of stalwarts in the BJP, he was eventually expelled from the party in May 2013. Eventually, BJP withdrew his expulsion realising that it is better to bewould start in the morning friend him than to be the oband he would sit through the ject of his wrath. day putting to shame young He never gave up in delawyers who found it tirefending his clients except on some. His mastery over facts one occasion as counsel for and the Evidence Act was legSanjay Dutt who was being endary. His forensic abilities prosecuted under TADA. He and originality of mind won made several unsuccessful athim admiration whenever he tempts to get him bail. One stood up in court. The oppoday, he held my hand and told nents feared him and me that may be, he is not lucky judges were in awe of for Sanjay and that it might be him. He later develbetter if someone else tried oped into a fine constihis luck. That is how Dutt Satutional lawyer. heb asked me to defend his
He also had the abilson. He always believed that ity to take up unpophis client deserved to get ular cases. He defended Afzal relief from the court and Guru. Despite public sentiwould seldom come to terms if ment, he continued to defend his client was denied relief. Manu Sharma in the Jessica That was the nature of his Lal murder case. He was uncommitment to the cause he fazed by criticism when derepresented. fending Harshad Mehta and He was a giant in the field Ketan Parekh in the stock of law. He charted his own market scams. Some of his course in life and stuck to the other famous clients included principles that he believed in. J Jayalalithaa, Jaganmohan He measured others by the Reddy, B S Yediyurappa, Ramyardstick of values that he dev and Asaram Bapu in the embraced. He was unconvenJodhpur sexual assault case. tional in every sense of the Very few know that he did a lot word. It is because he always of pro-bono work. fought against the tide that he
He had a mercurial temwas often misunderstood. He perament. He was a bundle of was a man with a golden heart affection for those who he who savoured each moment liked and a fierce life.enemyforofhis those who he thought harmed The writer is a senior him and his reputation. Just advocate and Congress leader ➤ Defended the assassins of former PM Indira Gandhi
➤ Defended the assassins of former PM and Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi
➤ Defended underworld don and smuggler Haji Mastan
➤ Defended the accused in the Jessica Lall murder case
➤ Defended Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin murder case
➤ Defended Lalu Yadav in the Bihar Fodder Scam case
➤ It was Jethmalani’s appearance in the Nanavati case that brought him into the spotlight