Eminent lawyer, ex-Union minister Ram Jethmalani dies at 95

Ram Jethmalani, funeral,
Family members and relatives carry the mortal remains of veteran lawyer and former Union minister Ram Jethmalani during his cremation at Lodhi Road Crematorium in New Delhi on September 8. Photo: PTI

Veteran lawyer and former Union Minister Ram Jethmalani died on Sunday (September 8) morning at his home in Delhi. He was 95.

His mortal remains were consigned to flames at the Lodhi Road crematorium at at 4.30 pm on Sunday.

Jethmalani served as the law minister and the urban development minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet. He had also served as the Chairman of Bar Council of India.

Jethmalani who was just six days short of his 96th birthday is survived by his son, noted lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani and a daughter based in the US. His other daughter Rani Jethmalani died a few years ago. Mahesh said his father’s last rites will be performed in the evening at Delhi’s Lodhi road crematorium.

Jethmalani was elected a member of Parliament in the 6th and 7th Lok Sabha on a BJP ticket. Jethmalani was also a member of the current Rajya Sabha. In 2013, the BJP expelled Jethmalani from the party for six years for making anti-party statements.

Born in Shikarpur village of Pakistan’s Sindh province in 1923, Jethmalani fought his first case before at the age of 17 at the Sindh bar council in Karachi.

Helping needy was part of his persona: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi mourned the death of eminent lawyer Ram Jethmalani on Sunday morning. “In the passing away of Shri Ram Jethmalani Ji, 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,” PM Modi tweeted.

In another tweet the PM said, “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. Helping the needy was an integral part of his persona.”

BJP remembers the “legend of Bar”

BJP leaders remembered Ram Jethmalani as a “legend of Bar” and great human being whose death has caused irreparable loss to the society as they condoled his demise.

Party president Amit Shah expressed his deep pain saying he was not only a distinguished lawyer but also a great human who was full of life while its working president JP Nadda hailed him as a legend of Bar.

“Saddened to hear the news of passing away of eminent lawyer & former union law minister Shri Ram Jethmalani. He was a legend of bar and inspiration for many lawyers. His vast experience and knowledge will be missed. His passing away is an irreparable loss to the society,” Nadda said. Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar called him an outstanding criminal lawyer and an outspoken politician as he offered his condolence. BJP ally and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan mourned the death of the former law minister as he praised his grasp of the Constitution and law.

The noted lawyer, who died on Sunday at the age of 95, was elected to both Houses of Parliament on the BJPs ticket a few times but he had a tumultuous relationship with the party as his outspoken and independent working style often put him at odds with its leadership, be it the Atal-Advani era or now under Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Shah.

India has lost its finest lawyer: Attorney General KK Venugopal

Attorney General K K Venugopal said on Sunday that with the passing away of noted jurist Ram Jethmalani, the country has lost its finest lawyer who was bold and handled the most sensational criminal cases and constitutional matters. “His passing away is a great loss not only to the Bar in the country but also to Parliament and the country as a whole,” Venugopal said. He added that Jethmalani’s boldness set him apart as one of the finest lawyers that the country had.

“According to me, he was a lawyer, was larger than life handling the most sensational cases, especially criminal cases as I, therefore, told him once that he is a leader of the criminal Bar of the country. His retort was, I am also the No. 1 Constitutional lawyer. This is because he was handling cases across the board. He was a very outspoken person and did not mince words even against the judiciary,” Venugopal said.

Jetmalani’s claim to fame

The case which brought him the limelight was his appearance in the KM Nanavati vs State of Maharashtra case in 1959 with YV Chandrachud, who later served as India’s Chief Justice from 1978 to 1985. The sensational case received unprecedented media coverage and inspired several books and movies. It was about Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati, a Naval Commander, who was tried for the murder of one Prem Ahuja, his wife’s lover.

Born in Shikarpur village of Pakistan’s Sindh province in 1923, Ram Jethmalani fought his first case before at the age of 17 at the Sindh bar council in Karachi. File Photo: PTI.

Nanavati was initially declared not guilty by a jury, but the verdict was dismissed by the Bombay High Court. Later the case was again sent to a bench for trial. The case was the last to be heard as a jury trial in India, as the government abolished jury trials after this case. The case had inspired a 2016, Akshay Kumar starrer ‘Rustom’, which is a fictionalised account of the case.

President Ram Nath Kovind, Union home minister Amit Shah, chief minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal, defence minister Rajnath Singh, and a few other leaders paid tribute to Jethmalani on Twitter.

“Deeply saddened to learn about the demise of Shri Ram Jethmalani… one of the brilliant minds of Bharat. In his passing away the nation has lost a distinguished jurist, a great intellectual & a patriot, who was active till his last breath,” Vice President Venkaiah Naidu’s secretariat tweeted.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi has extended her condolences on the passing away of Jethmalani and to his family and friends, a party statement said.

Manmohan Singh also condoled Jethmalani’s demise. “In his death India has lost an eminent jurist, an able administrator and a seasoned parliamentarian,” Singh said in his condolence message.

The Congress, on its official Twitter handle, said, “We are saddened by the loss of former Union Minister and veteran lawyer Shri Ram Jethmalani. Our thoughts & prayers are with this family today.”

Some of Jethmalani’s cases

Some of the high-profile clients he represented were, Harshad Mehta, Ketan Parekh (stock market scams), LK Advani (Hawala scam), Manu Sharma (prime accused in the Jessica Lall murder case), Lalit Modi (former IPL), defended Indira Gandhi’s killers, defended Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, underworld don Haji Mastan, he had also defended the death sentence given to Afzal Guru, Sanjay Chandra (2G case), Kanimozhi (2G case), Kulbhushan Parashar Bail (Navy War Room leak), YS Jaganmohan Reddy (money laundering), Yeddyurappa (illegal mining scam), Baba Ramdev, Asaram Bapu (Jodhpur sexual assault case), Lalu Prasad Yadav (fodder scam), Subrata Roy (Sahara-SEBI case), Jayalalithaa (disproportionate assets case), Arvind Kejriwal (defamation case).