Ram Jethmalani, Ace Lawyer Who Always Spoke His Mind

A student of the Karachi University before Independence, Ram Jethmalani got his law degree at the age of 17 and started practicing a year later. After Independence he had made a fresh start in Bombay.

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Ram Jethmalani, Ace Lawyer Who Always Spoke His Mind

Ram Jethmalani was a minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's cabinet in 1998 and then again in October 1999.


New Delhi: 

Veteran lawyer Ram Jethmalani - who died on Sunday at the age of 95 - was known as a doyen of the criminal law, defending not only the rich and the famous, but also scamsters and terrorists in some of the most sensational crimes. His choice of cases set him apart - most grabbed public attention for years, often becoming legal landmarks.

In his tribute, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "India has lost an exceptional lawyer and iconic public figure who made rich contributions both in the Court and Parliament. He was witty, courageous and never shied away from boldly expressing himself on any subject."

The young lawyer who made headlines with the well-known Nanavati case in 1962, had represented the killers of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Rajeev Gandhi, 1992 securities scam accused Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh, LK Advani in the Jain Hawala case and Lalu Yadav in the fodder scam. During the Emergency, he was also one of the lawyers along with advocate Shanti Bhushan to challenge the unlawful detentions.

A student of the Karachi University before Independence, Mr Jethmalani got his law degree at the age of 17 and started practicing a year later. After Independence he had made a fresh start in Bombay.

It was his contribution to the resolution of the Nanavati murder case in 1959 that catapulted him to the upper echelons of the legal system.

Naval officer Kawas Nanawati - nicknamed the "handsome" by the leading dailies - had been accused of murdering the man his wife was having an affair with. Though it was considered an "open and shut case", Nanawati had been acquitted by a lower court by overwhelming public sympathy and what Ram Jethmalani called in later years a corrupt jury. When the case went to higher court, Mr Jethmalani had managed to secure a pardon for him.

Ram Jethmalani had also defended Balbir Singh and Khehar Singh, the men who allegedly conspired to assassinate former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. While Balbir Singh was acquitted, Khehar Singh was sentenced to death.

He had defended Murugan, the man involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and argued that it was not a crime against the nation.

In recent years, Mr Jethmalani defended the death sentence given to 2001 Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru and represented Manu Sharma in the Jessica Lall murder case.

What brought him to political limelight was his stiff opposition to Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. His sharp criticism of the Emergency led to an arrest warrant against him. But rather than courting arrest, Ram Jethmalani had opted for self-imposed exile in Canada. His contribution at the time was also acknowledged by Prime Minister  Narendra Modi.

"One of the best aspects of Shri Ram Jethmalani Ji was the ability to speak his mind. And, he did so without any fear. During the dark days of the Emergency, his fortitude and fight for public liberties will be remembered," PM Modi's Twitter tribute to Mr Jethmalani read.

A six-time Rajya Sabha member, Mr Jethmalani had served as a Union Minister in the United Front and the BJP-led NDA governments. He was a minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's cabinet in 1998 and then again in October 1999. However, he quit the Vajpayee government in July 2000.

In 2015, at the end of a roller-coaster ride in politics, he had announced his break-up with the Narendra Modi government. At a function to mark his retirement two years ago, the former Union Minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government had said much like the Congress, the BJP government led by PM Modi had "let down" the nation.

Called a maverick lawyer by many, he had embraced the tag, titling two of his books 'Conscience of a Maverick', 'Maverick: Unchanged, Unrepentant'.



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