Ram Jethmalani dead at 95: 'Maverick' criminal lawyer defended BJP stalwarts like Amit Shah, Advani in high-profile cases

FP Staff

Ram Jethmalani, hailed for his contribution to the Indian law fraternity, passed away early on Sunday morning at the age of 95. The former Union minister, who was known to be the "highest-paid lawyer" in India at one point of time, was reportedly not keeping well for a few months. He would have turned 96 on 14 September.

Jethmalani caused significant and radical upheaval to the law scene in India during his career, arguing in defence of those accused of assassinating former prime ministers Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, as well as Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru. He also presented arguments in defence of rape accused Asaram Bapu.

According to his family, Jethmalani's last rites will be performed on Sunday evening at the Lodhi road crematorium in Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi condoled his death.

Ram Jethmalani, the lawyer

Jethmalani, born in 1923, garnered a reputation for himself as a "maverick" lawyer, after he took up several controversial cases, for which he faced severe criticism. Having completed his LLB degree at the then-Bombay University as an 18-year-old, Jethmalani reportedly began practicing as a lawyer in Pakistan's Karachi in pre-Partition India.

Established as one of the foremost criminal lawyers in the country, Jethmalani also appeared in several civil cases over the course of his career. Reportedly, he had started his own law firm in Karachi with a colleague, AK Brohi, but moved back to Mumbai as a refugee after the Partition.

Jethmalani, reportedly, shot to the limelight after leading the prosecution team in the sensational Nanavati murder case in 1959. After making a name for himself in the field of criminal law practice, Jethmalani was elected as the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association in 2010.

Jethmalani announced his retirement from judicial practice on 10 September 2017.

Notable cases

The former chairman of the Bar Association of India, who headed the institution in the duration of the Emergency imposed by then-prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1975, has several cases to his name, often which cut across party lines.

These include the role of defence in the Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi assassination cases, current Home Minister Amit Shah's defence in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, BJP stalwart LK Advani's defence in the hawala case, late AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa's defence in the disproportionate assets case, DMK leader Kanimozhi's defence in the 2G scam case, the defence lawyer in the Jessica Lal murder case, RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav's defence in the fodder scam case, defence for Afzal Guru in the Parliament attack case, among others.

Ram Jethmalani, the politician

In 1971, Jethmalani contested as an Independent candidate from Ulhasnagar in Maharashtra supported both by the Shiv Sena and then-Bharatiya Jan Sangh but he lost. As an elected member of Parliament of the BJP in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, however, Jethmalani was given charge of the Law Ministry around 1977.

Jethmalani had been critical of the Emergency and the leadership of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, after which he was "forced to flee" to Canada, from where he returned after the Emergency was called off.

"While in Canada, his candidature was filed from the Bombay North-West constituency and he went on to win the General Election and retained the seat in the 1980 General Elections which he lost to Sunil Dutt of the Indian National Congress in 1985," India Today reported.

In addition to serving as the law minister, he was also appointed as Minister of Urban Development during Vajpayee's tenure as prime minister. However, the report added that Jethmalani then contested the 2004 elections against Vajpayee on a rival party's ticket from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. Jethmalani returned to the BJP in 2010, however, and was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan.

In 2012, Jethmalani was expelled from the party by then-BJP chief Nitin Gadkari for "anti-party remarks", when he wrote to Gadkari, accusing the Opposition BJP of being "silent against the huge corruption" within the ruling UPA-II government under Manmohan Singh. He stated that the BJP was "sick", in response to which he was expelled from the party for six years