12 - 12 - 2019

Court or Parliament, Jethmalani was a class apart

As we are saddened by the demise of Ram Jethmalani, his non-existence will be felt like a huge void in the legal field. ‘Ace’ is the word that comes to mind to describe the legendary lawyer and public figure. The eminent lawyer entered his profession at the age of 18 and, as we know, he was unstoppable. 

He was a man of paradoxical traits, difficult to define but casting a spell on people whom he came in touch with. A man whose wisdom continues to enlighten generations through the indelible ink of the Supreme Court’s landmark rulings.

A man of sincere efforts and an easy approach, Ram Jethmalani was a person wearing different hats with ease: of a friend, a mentor, a legal luminary par excellence, a seasoned parliamentarian and a sharp, yet humble, human being. With a legal acumen of mammoth proportions and the inquisitiveness of a child, every interaction with him would leave one with a feeling of awe for his towering presence. Considering the simplicity and ease of his approach, Ram Jethmalani would be deeply missed by all of us.

In courts, he always used to be observant, calm and composed and, at the same time, witty with a constant smile on his face even in perverse situations. He often denoted himself as a student of law.

Famous for his daily game of badminton, which he would religiously follow despite his age, his colleagues at the Bar had an open invitation to join him for a game whenever they wanted.

I can recall one such incident when he had to travel to Maharashtra to meet Anna Hazare. The convenient flight was the one in the morning, but he decided to take an inconvenient route by flying to Mumbai in the evening and then driving up from there so as not to miss his morning game of badminton.

I interacted with Ram Jethmalani for the first time as a young member of the Bar and was struck by his warmth and kindness and, moreover, his ability to reach out and speak to persons of all age groups, be it young or his colleagues. 

Over the years, we appeared in a number of matters together. I remember one time when we both were appearing in a service matter regarding a senior government officer. Being my senior, he would have naturally led the arguments. However, he sat along with me and asked me to argue the matter saying that the subject was not his forte. He however, sat through the entire arguments to show his concern towards the client. 

These little things made him a man apart from anyone else in the legal profession.

In court, he always wanted the judges to know how much he cared for his clients, since he was very certain about doing justice towards them. As a fearless parliamentarian, he would never mince his words in even criticising his own party when he thought it was necessary to do so. His critique was always issue-based and relevant and never without reason. It was for this reason that politicians across the political spectrum respected and adored him and would respect his take on the issues of the day.

He was also deeply concerned with the current happenings in the judiciary and was a keen observer of the same. He often conveyed to me how impressed he was with my unflinching statements on issues concerning the judiciary.

He also fought for several causes without taking money into consideration as almost 80 per cent of his cases were pro bono for nearly 20 years. He surely touched many souls with his kindness and uplifted the underprivileged and shaped the lives and careers of several lawyers. He was the chief patron of the Delhi Foundation of Deaf Women. That was his commitment to the cause of the physically challenged even at this age.

For the past five-six years, he was trying to retire, but some high-profile cases or the other made him come back to the profession. In a function organised by the Bar Council of India to felicitate Justice Dipak Mishra, Jethmalani announced his retirement from the legal profession and during his speech, he strongly slammed the government, calling it a ‘calamity’ and that he wanted to “combat the corrupt politicians who have been brought into positions of power.”

A staunch supporter of the welfare of the Bar, he always had the greater interest of the Bar at heart and would not miss an opportunity to help his colleagues irrespective of their age or political leanings. His house was always open for us to drop by and meet him over a cup of coffee and discuss the issues of the day. 

He would be the one who would never turn anyone down and despite his gruelling schedule, would always take out time and talk to whoever would need his help. He always said that whatever stature, fame and money we earn is all because of our fellow members of the Bar.

I have learnt a great deal from him, professionally as well as personally. Most important what would remain with me is his sentiment towards the welfare of the Bar which I have inculcated in myself too, during the year as an office-bearer of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and even thereafter. I have lost a senior, a good friend and a mentor. I would miss the friendly tap on my shoulder in the Supreme Court corridors, followed by his usual words of concern and warmth.

The staunch and vigorous attitude of Jethmalani will inspire generations to come. He surely was a legend and an icon of the law, lived a king-sized life and his versatility, humility, compassion and utterly captivating character will be cherished forever in our hearts. He will be remembered as an epitome of selflessness, a virtue which everyone should imbibe.

Vikas Singh
Senior Advocate, Supreme Court