Despite all his achievements why Ram Jethmalani wouldn't be immortal in the history of Indian Law system
By Rahul Kotiyal
It was year 2009. A book - Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence - authored by a prominent leader of BJP Jaswant Singh was to be launched. Many famous personalities were present at that event and the famous Indian advocate Ram Jethmalani was one of them. At this event, he made a statement that startled everyone, "Jinnah was not the cause of India's partition, It was the old Hindu miser Harichandra." Even the historians were unable to figure out who this Harichandra was and how did he become the reason for partition. But we will discuss that later. Let's first talk about this attitude of the veteran to amaze and shock others.
Expect the Unexpected
His attitude remains as it is for probably as long as his career. All of a sudden, out of no where, despite being the biggest name in Indian courts, he would make a statement about quitting the profession. Or, when he would put a board outside his residence saying, contact me only for important cases of national interests. And he startles you even more, when after doing all of that, he would stand in the battle for the main accuse of Jessica Lal murder case. When almost everyone seems convinced that Manu Sharma is the murderer, Ram Jethmalani comes forward and says, "Jessica wasn't killed by Manu Sharma, she was murdered by a tall sikh young man. I have concrete evidence of it and I will soon revel his identity."
His style of defending his client and ofcourse his unique statements are what made him the most famous, most saught and the costliest advocate of India. It made him the 'Ram Jethmalani'. An advocate of Supreme Court tellls on the condition of annonymity, "Many a times I have heard Jethmalani Saheb telling the justices, 'Not only I am older than you, even my experience of advocacy is too', and noone takes it otherwise." In a way, it's true as well. Any justice of Supreme Court can only be as old as 65 years, where as Ram Jethmalani's professional experience is about 74 years now, and it's still ticking.
The beginning of his journey is as exciting and interesting as his career have been. In an interview he says, "When I was in 3rd standard, there was a program held at my school. Many schools have participated at that event. My teachers called me on stage and challenged other teachers, ask this kid anything about Mughal history. My performance was so excellent and people were so amazed that they showered the stage with currencies and gold coins."
Now you can definitely doubt the 'gold coins' part of the tale was an exaggeration, but you will have to admit, he indeed was a person of great talents since his childhood. He was advanced to next standard twice in his school time due to his extra-ordinary mind and he passed the matriculation at the age of 13. Ram Jethmalani's father and grandfather too were an advocate but they didn't want Ram to be an advocate. In an interview Ram Jethmalani says. "My father wanted me to be an engineer. He even got me enrolled in science. But advocacy was in my blood. I was in good luck that the government came up with a rule under which anyone could have gotten admission in law by passing just one test. I appeared in the test and earned the first place." Just at the age of 17 where many are confused about their next steps, Ram Jethmalani had completed his law-study.
Going against the will of his father, this 17 years old young man had one more challange ahead of him. According to the bat council rules, no lawyer younger than 21 years used to be given the licence for advocacy. With this rule, Ram Jethmalani was supposed to wait for another 4 years to start his practice even after completing his law degree, but he didn't bow down. He wrote a petition to the Chief Justice of Karachi High Court. In that petition he sought one opportunity to meet the chief justice and explain his side of the story. Fortunately the Chief Justrice allowed him to meet. In a TV interview Ram Jethmalani says, "I told the Chief Justice that when I was enrolled there was no such eligibility criteria for the license to be given, therefore this rule shouldn't apply to me." The Chief Justice was so impressed with the 17 years old young man that he wrote a lettter to the bar council and asked them to consider making an exception for Ram Jethmalani. Later on the rules were changed and an exception was made. Ram Jethmalani became the first and the last ever Indian to have started advocacy at the age of 18.
Ram Jethmalani started his advocacy from Karachi. He had a friend called AK Brohi. After the partition, while Ram Jethmalani became famous in India, Brohi earned name and fame in Pakistan. It's also a rare coincidence that both lawyers became the law ministers in their respective country later on. In February 1948, when riots occurred, upon Brohi's insistence Ram Jethmalani left Pakistan. He spent several days of his life at the refuge camp in Mumbai. According to him, a barrister had provided him space to put his table at 60 rupees in those days where he used to meet his clients.
Ram Jethmalani's fame staretd in 1959 when he got a chance to prosecute in the KM Nanavati case that drew a lot of media attention. This is considered to be the biggest milestone of Ram Jethmalani's career. He had killed his wife's lover and his friend. That time judgement used to be made by a jury too. Juri had found Nanavati innocent. Later on this case was restarted at the order of Maharashtra High Court. Ram Jethmalani had prosecuted against Nanavati. After that case not only Nanavati was punished with life imprisonment butalso the jury system was abolished. Ram Jethmalani became popular countrywide.
The Devil's Advocate!!
His fame continued to prosper, but this popularity went on to be controversial as well. Since the beginning of 1960s Ram Jethmalani's image started getting stains as he was known to be the devils' advocate, more specifically smugglers'. This went on for long. He defended many including the underworld don Haji Mastan, the accused of Share Market scams Harshad Mehta, Jesicca's murderer Manu Sharma, Killers of Rajiv Gandhi, Killers of Indira Gandhi, accused of sexual assault Asaram, accused of illegal mining Yediyurappa and accused of disproportionate assets Jayalalitha. He was asked about the same on several occasions but he always gave the same answer, "Whether someone is guilty or not, it is to be judged by the court, an advocate doesn't get to decide that." He also believes that defending a stained character is not immoral, rather refusing on ground of your own reputation is immoral.
Ram Jethmalani and his controversies are not just confined within the boundaries of court. His political activeness, personal lifestyle, his statements, almost everything about him has been into controversies sometime or the other. Most of his life, he is been associated with the BJP, but many a times he passed anti BJP statements too. He was the Law Minister under AB Vajpayi's rein and also the only one to be rusticated from the cabinet. It is also said that Vajpayi was never in favour of keeping Jethmalani in his cabinet but he had to because Ram Jethmalani was very close to Lal Krishna Adwani. In 1999 he indulged in controversy with the then Chief Justice, after which he was removed from the cabinet. In 2004 he contested in the LS polls against Atal Bihari himself. Later on sometimes he called himself an eligible contender for the president post, and once he even came up with a political front.
"Lord Rama was a irresponsible husband. I don't like him at all." Many a times he created controversies by passing statements like these. And sometimes he made the headlines by kissing Dharmendra and sometimes Kishor Kumar's wife Leena Chandavarkar in public. His closeness with alcohol and women was also one of the reason that kept him controversial. But he always admitted it bluntly. He goes on to say that if he is so active at the age of 92, the credit goes to wine and women. Whenever someone raised fingers on his personal life and lifestyle, he shunned the questioner. In a TV show 'Aap ki Adalat', when Rajat Sharma asked him about his two wives, he answered, "yes I have two wives. And my both wives are happier than your one wife."
Despite all these controversies, it's a fact that Ram Jethmalanai is one of the most successful advocates. It is believed that his fees for one hearing starts from 10 lakhs to 30 lakhs. His career began at 18 that still continues. He was the youngest advocate of India, and today at 91, he is the oldest advocate of the India too. And therefore He is the only advocate to have an experience of 74 years. But even after all these achievements, Ram Jethmalani's name will probably never be recorded in the history of Indian Law making. This is the one aspect of his journey that has seldom been discussed, but he himself is clearly aware of it. In an interview he says, "For any advocate, the biggest achievement would be debating over any big constitutional matter or matters of other laws that bring significant change in the law itself. But this opportunity hardly goes to a criminal lawyer."
To understand it better, let us look at this way. Ram Jethmalani had never been an advocate in a case that could have been proven a milestone in Indian law system. For example Keshavanand Bharti case, Shah Bano case, UP state vs Raj Narayan, Menka Gandhi vs Union of India, Golaknath vs Punjab state, Minarva Mills case etc; These are cases that brought major changes in the laws and their interpretation. Therefore names like Fali S. Nariman, Nanabhoy Palkhivala and Soli Sorabjee will never be forgotten in Indian law history. Whenever a debate on important law matters will take place, their arguments will be used as reference.
A Supreme Court advocate says, "This is true that Ram Jethmalani's name won't be that important in Indian Law history. Criminial lawyers often pay this price. A criminal lawyer doesn't focus much on the nuance of laws, he/she focuses on the nuance of facts instead. And when it comes to the art of turning and twisting the facts, no-one can compete Ram Jethmalani."
....and the tale
This is the very art of twisting the facts that made Ram Jethmalani India's biggest advocate. You have already read in the first para of this story how he had startled everyone in the event at a book launch where he mentioned that it wasn't Jinnah behind the partition of India, it was an old Indian miser Harichandra. According to jethmalani, when Muhammad Ali Jinnah completed his law study, he reached Karachi. He (Jinnah) applied in a law firm called 'Harichandra and co'. Firm's owner Harichandra Interviewed him and Jinnah succeeded. When it came to salary, Jinnah asked for 100 rupees a month and Harichnadra wasn't ready to go beyond 75. Telling this tail, Ram Jethmalani says, "If that old miser had given 25 rupees more, partition would have never happened."
Originally published in Hindi on Satyagrah