Indian jurisprudence has bid farewell to one of its most celebrated practitioners. Advanced age ensured that Ram Jethmalani transited from the departure lounge to the ethereal arena (his own description of passing), yet his reputation will linger in court ~ trial courts in particular – as long as the term “majesty” is associated with the legal process. And his firebrand image progressed from the legal to the political sphere with equal aplomb and caustic edge, so much that he was admired, and feared, in both spheres for he was eternally blessed with the courageous capacity to swim against the current ~ sometimes allowing his politics to superimpose itself upon a “case” he was fighting, all to enhance the overall impact of his presentation.
At times he was accused of stooping low ~ he was roundly pillioried in Parliament for doing do when attempting to “nail” down the Bofors kickbacks, but at the same time he secured the admiration of many. For him there were no half-measures. Ram loved to fight for the underdog, so it was no surprise that he speciailised in defending in court people already “condemned” in public perception ~ be they the alleged assassins of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, underworld don Haji Mastaan or stock market scam accused.
Few other leading lawyers would accept such briefs, he did so with relifsh: and almost always made a genuine “fight” of it. Thus his political career was wayward, too much of “doing his own thing” to be shackled by what parties try to project as discipline. From serving as a minister in the Vajpayee government to contesting a Lucknow election against him ~ Jethmalani did it all. Yet he was no glory-hunting maverick: as couage of conviction always underscored his apparent waywardness. Yes, the BJP expelled him, but on the few occasions he spoke in the Rajya Sabha rhereafter the BJP benches were well occupied.
No wonder the Prime Minister bemoaned his passing. So did two well-known Congress legal-eagles, Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi. The “Gandhi Trio” were too petty to issue a condolence message. Not that Ram Jethmalani wanted such formalities. He was too honest and upright for any of that. From being part of the team that prosecuted Commander Nanavati to getting an alleged assasin of a prime minister off the hook, his was an eventful tale of a fascinating legal saga. Jethmalani spent much of his later life at the National Law School in Bagalore. It would be a fitting tribute if that institute compiled not just a series of eulogies but a selection of his myriad gems in and beyond the courtroom ~ they are too precious not to be preserved for future practitioners of the law. The Bar Council of India would do well to initiate the process.