Mr. Ram Jethmalani, you have taken off to argue before the lord’s court, but we will miss you on earth! September 8, 2019, Sunday, 7.45 am, Mr. Jethmalani, you took off to argue before the lord’s court from the lower court of earth, on many occasions, to me and many others, you said that you will speak freely and frankly as you were sitting in the waiting lounge of life’s airport, and the flight will take off any moment, you said this being full of candour, a quality that has endeared you to many who have interacted with you since the age of 17, when you obtained your law degree and began fighting your first case before the court of law. At that time, the minimum age for becoming a lawyer was 21, but Mr. Jethmalani was allowed to enroll at the bar as a special exception after he filed a petition in the court regarding the minimum age and was allowed as an exception.
After Mr. Jethmalani shifted base to Bombay (now Mumbai) due to partition of India, he had a tough time as he had to sleep in refugee camps, but by the dint of his hard work, intelligence, grit and determination, times changed and he shot into fame arguing the famous KM Nanavati case, which was recently adopted in reel life in Akshay Kumar-starrer movie Rustom.
Addressing an audience of over a 1000 students at Symbiosis Law College a day after erstwhile Congress politician and Andhra Pradesh governor ND Tiwari had been caught with three women in this official residence at Rajbhavan, he mischievously said, “Seeing at audience of all you young students, I am fully charged, mentally as well as physically, but I cannot claim to have the energy of ND Tiwari”, the whole hall of students erupted in laughter, after getting the audience’s full attention, he went on to give a serious speech. That was classic Jethmalani for you, his one-liners caught the attention of everyone in the room, and then he went across to make his point.
Mr. Jethmalani earned worldwide fame and respect for the stand that he took against the Emergency, when close to 1.5 lakh people were detained in jails without trial. In the hearing of the ADM Jabalpur v/s SS Shukla case, also known as the habeas corpus case, Adv. Niren De, then attorney general, told the court that rights to life and liberty, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, the court no longer or be recognized even by the Supreme Court, those detained under the emergency powers have no locus standi, and their writ petitions have to be dismissed. Justice HR Khanna, asked, “Life is also mentioned in Article 21, and would the government extend it to it also?” to which De replied, “Even if life was taken away illegally, courts are helpless”
Addressing the court, after the arguments in the ADM Jabalpur v/s SS Shukla came to an end, Ram Jethmalani said, “Never has this court dealt with a case so momentous as this one, a case on which the survival of the freedom of all except the ignorant and the sycophant depends. It is almost right to say that democracy is already in the coffin. The government wants the court of slam shut its lid- something so dirty that it would rather want to do it for them. You will be locking up the door of your own sepulchre for all time to come. The free world is watching to see how a great court reacts and conducts itself in the case of supreme tragedy. You may afford to be contemptuous of contemporary opinion but long after your identity as judges if forgotten, posterity will read your judgement and draw its own conclusions.
You will bequeath to it an image of glory or of contempt, is the choice before you. Do remember that the Emergency can be made permanent by those who are determined to make themselves permanent………it may sound a little bizarre, but I speak even for members of the court, once the restraints are gone and free institutions buried, there is no knowledge on whom the Frankenstein of naked power will turn. It will not spare even those who shun the race for power. It may even turn on its erstwhile friends and admirers.”
Mr. Jethmalani, thereafter went into self-imposed exile to Canada, after the emergency was lifted, he came back and contested the Lok Sabha elections from Bombay North West Lok Sabha constituency and won. His political career saw him become law minister twice, but there was another side to his life, he liked to teach and was instrumental in the establishment of National Law Schools. As chairman of the Bar Council near four decades ago, he told NR Madhava Menon, then reaching at Delhi University’s faculty of law, to pioneer a new experiment in Indian legal education, following which Menon took a three year sabbatical from Delhi University and joined the Bar Council of India, who then proposed a new model of law schools to the states, the first one which was set up in Karnataka, known as National Law School, Bangalore.
I always told my friends, the only person who can address senior BJP leader and former Deputy Prime Minister of India Lal Krishna Advani as “Lal”, is only Mr. Jethmalani, in a private conversation that I know via a very senior politician, Ram Jethmalani told his friend Lal (Lal Krishna Advani), you don’t like wine or cigarettes, nor do you have a taste for women, how can you live life like this, upon hearing this Mr. Advani smiled at his old friend, as we all know that Advani is a teetotaller, a frugal eater, and a committed family man. Mr. Jethmalani is also known to have successfully defended Lal Krishna Advani in the famous Jain hawala case, the duo also used to visit revered said Dada JP Vasvani in Poona (now Pune) in Maharashtra, once also accompanied by senior BJP leader, the Late Arun Jaitley.
Once when I was interviewing him at his residence, I asked him, you said that you admire King Solomon a lot, to which the then 91, replied with a mischievous eye, “Young man, I must tell you, the older a man gets, the younger must be his company” and he gave me a big smile. According to me, Ram Jethmalani is a man who lived a full life, he never shied away from expressing his love for the wine, money, and women, whose company the gentleman greatly cherished and had women friends and admirers across the globe. The interactions that I had with him over the years are a treasured memory which I will always cherish.