On 11 September, Pavani Parameswara Rao (popularly known as PP Rao), Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India, noted Constitutional expert and a jurist per excellence departed from this mortal world after completing 50 years of a remarkable and distinguished journey in legal profession.
A multi-faceted personality with many achievements, an expert in Constitutional law, Service law and Election law, his outstanding contribution to the legal field was accepted and widely recognised by the bench, the bar, jurists, academicians and litigants, in acknowledgement of which he was bestowed the Padma Bhushan by the nation.
Rao was such an incredible human being and had so many dazzling facets that it becomes very difficult to offer a fair tribute. There is always a fear of emphasising some aspects, yet unconsciously leaving some others out. He is known, foremost, for his work ethic and tremendous sense of discipline. He was able to score over his opponents by the sheer power of logical reasoning, careful analysis and clarity of thought.
PP had this remarkable gift of making his argument sound so simple and communicated it so well that the judges were completely spellbound. He was never seen to be agitated and his appearance in the Court prominently exhibited his calm and cool. He used to quote, “Law is a jealous mistress but a faithful wife. Mr. Rao appeared in the historical Ashoka Kumar Thakurs case (2008) before a five Judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court pro bono, refusing to accept any other brief till his arguments were finished. He said, The paying client is our Annadata (provider of food) but the non-paying client is our Bhagya-vidatha (maker of our destiny). I am just justifying the advent of my bhagya-vidatha.
Punctuality was the hallmark of his character; he was always three minutes before time, never after time and went to great lengths to remain punctual, whatever the occasion. Once, when a junior colleague got delayed in reaching the Court due to the breakdown of his old car, he remarked with a grim countenance, Mark my words an old man and a young wife and a young man and an old car make a deadly combination. I cannot do anything about the former, but you jolly well change your car. Mr Rao had an encyclopaedic memory of reported judgments of the Supreme Court since its inception in his fields of expertise and knew at least one leading judgment pertaining to a proposition rendered in each decade since India’s independence. This enabled him to “think out of the box” and come up with ingenious solutions which invariably found favour with the Judges.
These stand substantiated by his novel arguments before successive Constitutional Benches in A.R. Antulay’s case (1988), wherein he successfully invoked writ jurisdiction under Article 32 to challenge a judgment rendered by a five-judge Bench; in S.R Bommai’s case (1994), wherein he propounded the doctrine of “Common Thread” which justified imposition of President’s Rule; P.V Narasimha Rao’s case (1998), wherein he was able to successfully invoke the “Parliamentary Privileges” doctrine, Unnikrishnan’s case (1993), wherein he argued against imposition of capitation fee; T.M.A Pai’ case (2002), wherein he argued for prevention of exploitation by private institutions in technical education; Ashoka Kumar Thakur’s case (2008), wherein of the bevy of Senior Advocates opposing reservation in technical education, his submissions alone were recorded in toto by the lone dissenting Judge; B.R Kapoors Case (2001), defending the prerogative of the Governor to appoint then CM of Tamil Nadu who was not elected to the State Legislature and had suffered conviction; Best Bakery (Zaheera Shiekh) Case, wherein appearing for the NHRC he persuaded the Supreme Court to intervene in exercise of power vested under Article 136 in the aftermath of the Trial Court acquitting the accused of Godhra riots; the recent Entry Tax Case (2016), wherein he defended the constitutionality of the taxing power of the States. The list could very well go on and on.
His works summarised the famous quote of Francis Bacon, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. Mr. Rao’s personal life was unconventional, yet inspiring. Coming from a traditional Brahmin family of rural Andhra Pradesh, he decided to be led by his heart in choosing to marry his wife Arnawaz – a Parsi colleague, when he was working part-time and pursuing LL.M in Hyderabad.
They were the living example of the famous quote of H. Jackson Brown, Jr. on love, Love is when the other persons happiness is more important than your own.
Rao’s chambers were the nurturing ground of advocates coming from diverse backgrounds, communities, gender, religions and ideologies. He considered his junior colleagues in the chamber as a part of his extended family and made it a point to host get togethers at regular intervals each year, celebrating some occasion or the other. William Wordsworth had said, “The best portion of a good mans life are his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.”
This holds true for Rao’s life. His greatness lay in the dignity, grace, affection and compassion exhibited by him in day to day life which included rising to greet any woman who entered his office, sharing his lunch fruit with all around him, responding to each invitation he received and replying to every single correspondence. He would never turn away a needy person from his chamber – especially advocates who fell on hard times.
Although he portrayed a tough exterior, he was compassionate and humane at heart. Rao was a voracious reader, maintaining a vast collection of books on philosophy, metaphysics and religion. This showed his inclination to impart value based legal education to students, advocates and judicial officers.
Even though he had left formal teaching for practicing law, he continued imparting knowledge to the future generations not only through words, but also through his own actions and deeds – a true hallmark of an enlightened and spiritual soul.
His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, This was a Man. Rao will always be remembered as an outstanding legal luminary and stalwart in the history of independent India’s legal fraternity. He was at par with the remarkable Motilal C Setalvad and Nani A Palkiwala.
We salute a man of brilliance, a man of great learning, a man of great erudition, a man of literature, but above all, a fine human being with the grand virtue of humility. We can proudly say that during our life time there lived a person like PP Rao !!