Maverick untamed Ram Jethmalani passes away at 96

Everyone at court was waiting in bated breath for Ram Jethmalani to speak, as he appeared as the counsel of one of the country’s most controversial cases between RIL and RNRL at Bombay High Court in 2009.

Jethmalani was ominously quiet as he heard his opponent and famous advocate Harish Salve speak for hours at a stretch. When the court was adjourned, Jethmalani stood up and requested the bench to stall for a few minutes as he had something to say.

Every reported had a pen tight on the notepad and ears peeled, but Jethmalani said, “Once in a village there was a man who spoke so much that everyone was too tired of listening to him.” Salve was amused, and the bench cracked up.

Today, one of India’s most famous voices fell silent as he passed away at the age of 96 following a prolonged illness. His funeral will be held in Delhi on Sunday.

A clan of warriors

It was not just his candour that Jethmalani was known for, but also his courage. He was one of the few who represented clients who went against the government.

Probably, it was something he inherited from his ancestors. They had fought for his homeland Sindh alongside British general Charles Napier, who eventually won the war but also admitted ‘to a noble form of rascality’.

Jethmalani became those industrious few refugees who thrived in a new India. He was all of 17 when he earned his law degree, thanks to the many ‘triple promotions’ he received at school.

Famous clients and infamous cases

In the first few years Jethmalani earned the dubious reputation of being a ‘smuggler’s advocate’ after he represented mafia leader Haji Mastan in a case. He was only the first of the many underdogs that Jethmalani both successfully and unsuccessfully, represented.

He picked cases that no one else would and select clients that no one would dare to — including stock market scamster Harshad Mehta, the man who killed former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, V Sriharan, and Afzal Guru who was convicted for an attack on the parliament.

But, Jethmalani wasn’t always on the right side of things in the governments and public opinion. He defended religious guru Asaram Bapu in a rape case against a minor. He was also the lawyer of Manu Sharma who was accused of shooting Jesssica Lal — a case which turned into a public outrage.

Yet, Jethmalani was unfazed through it all — even when public criticized him and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) expelled him in 2013. By the time he retired in 2017, he probably had as many detractors as fans and clients combined in an illustrious career. And he did not go out quietly.

Jethmalani who represented Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal a ₹2 crore bill, chose to fight his own arch nemesis Arun Jaitley right before his departure from law.

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