Advocate Ram Jethmalani

An old Interview of the Advocate Ram Jethmalani

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It seems you cannot be kept away from the news. You are hitting the headlines almost every day.

I speak my mind on issues that matter. Since so few speak the truth, I get more space than others do. How can I stop answering questions? As long as you are in public life, you cannot shut yourself. I do not want to sound arrogant, but publicity pursues me. I do not need it at this age.

Talking about age, you are so fit and agile.

Control over my diet, exercise, good company and a good drink in the evening keeps me going.

Let us look back. And you may be able to look at it less emotionally now — did it hurt to be the only minister that Vajpayee sacked?

A dominant feeling was one of regret than hurt. But you are right, I was hurt too. I regretted that I could not accomplish a good task in hand.

Why did they get rid of you?

They did not like my presence. Removing me became a common purpose. They did not want a man like me overseeing things.

Like what for example?

They issued notifications to save Jayalalitha. Naturally, I put my foot down. They used to use the attorney general’s office to cover up policy decisions. I objected.

What really upset them?

The immediate provocation was the attorney general telling them that we were on a collision course and the music will have to be faced. What is this bloody music he talked about?

Do you miss being in the government?

The amount of work in the government then was huge. Now, it is much less. But now, I earn more. I am happier today. I feel much more free to express myself.

What did you mean when you said that Hindutva was on weak knees?

People who used Hindutva to get into positions of power are quite willing to abandon it when it suits their interests. Some shut it in a closet. Some use it depending on the audience.

Let us have some examples.

You have the NDA government. They never understood it. They misunderstood it and misrepresented it. The govt.  almost made it sound like some kind of anti-minority posture. Something like the creation of a monstrous State where minorities are second class citizens.

What would you say is Hindutva?

My thesis is that Hindutva is written in the Indian Constitution. The Constitution talks of equality irrespective of religious faith. It gives you freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion. Without the fear of someone thrusting a knife into you. This is Hindutva.

It is a definition that many in the BJP may not agree.

Hindutva is neither the property of the BJP or Shiv Sena. Hindutva is actually the most powerful shield of the minorities. It is a guarantor of their security and identity.

Now that BJP now wants to attract the Muslim vote, they will try and keep Hindutva on the backburner. What they should have actually done is to understand Hindutva first and then explain it.

You were keen on introducing a bill that would create a separate judicial commission to bring in transparency in the appointment of judges. What ever happened?

The bill was ready when I was the law minister. I do not know what my successor is doing. It is not being presented. I suspect the present law minister will do it.


The judges do not like it.

The prime minister had said he is for harmonious relations with the judiciary.

Yeah, what is it supposed to mean? Does it mean he will not do what the judges do not want him to do? It is a serious question.

What do you think will ultimately happen to the crucial bill? In a way, it was a pathbreaking idea.

I am deeply perturbed about it. And what about the freedom of information bill? It is still languishing. Now there seems to be no urgency at all.

What was wrong with the present judicial system?

The present system has really no transparency. The Bar has no voice. Most of the political questions end up as judicial matters in courts. At one time the Supreme Court had ruled that the executive had primacy in the selection of judges. We fought against it and got it reversed. But now, the pendulum has swung the other way completely. The judiciary should have a say. The Bar must have a say. Social elements and academicians should have a say. There should be a panel of eminent people to select judges.

What about judges who have allegations against them?

There needs to be an easier way of removing suspect judges. What is this cumbersome process? Impeachment is totally unworkable. The impeachment process cannot start unless you have over 50 to 100 brave politicians who are willing to take on a judge. All MPs are afraid of getting involved.

You really stuck your neck out to help Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray when the question of his prosecution came up. Did that cost you your job?

I did not. It is wrong to say that I stuck my neck out. I propounded what I believed was the correct legal position. I warned the Maharashtra government for acting in a vindictive manner. No one says don’t prosecute the man. By all means, prosecute him. But this was absurd. The case was time-barred. It was seven years after the offence was committed. He may be good, bad or indifferent, but he was our ally. It was the prime minister who asked me to do it.

Your personality and the Shiv Sena’s profile does not really match.

I am not a member of the Shiv Sena. Yes, the Shiv Sena did give me their votes. But they gave it to me as I am useful to them. I am useful to Maharashtra. Every party has to recognize some talent outside their party.

Do you subscribe to what the Shiv Sena does and preaches?

No. Not all the things. Of course, not. There is a slight streak of violence in them, which I do not approve. Like their people going and ransacking an artist’s work. There should be greater tolerance of idiosyncrasies and individuality.

If you were to draw out a report card for the NDA, how will it look like?

It was a better government than others. What was this Gujral government and Deve Gowda government all about? But five years is a long way to go. Much depends on the health of the prime minister and his being able to assume a grip over affairs. At the moment, it is very fashionable to say that Sonia has a coterie. But Atalji also has a coterie. If the prime minister is weak or intellectually not alert, the coterie will ultimately isolate him. They have almost built an opaque wall around him so that he does not get light from any other source.

How do you see the atmosphere of communal hatred growing and growing?

I have always blamed the Muslims for forgetting the message of their Prophet. Islam as practiced today, is not the Islam of the Prophet. After his death, Islam has totally changed. While his impulse lasted, Muslims were the greatest rationalists. They brought light to the darkness in Europe. Unfortunately thereafter, they have slipped into darkness.

The saddest part is that Islam to the average Hindu is portrayed as a blood-thirsty cult. And that Muslims are ruthless people out to destroy other Gods and religions. Hindutva has to be explained to the Muslims and Hindus should be exposed to the beauty of real Islam.

You asked for a CBI enquiry into ascertaining the age of Dr. A S Anand, the Chief Justice of India, as you had documents that proved he was older and should have retired by now. The general feeling is that you are after his blood.

Why should I be after his blood? He was after my blood when I was a minister. And he succeeded. No one can blame me if I do not want him to be the Chief Justice. But I do whatever I do on my own. I do not conspire.

What is all this controversy about a document relating to the Chief Justice’s age? People are confused.

Naturally, they will be confused. Here is a solicitor general who is appearing as an amicus in court. An amicus means a friend of the court. The trait of an amicus is absolute impartiality and no trace of partisanship. He has misled the judges into passing an order (in a case relating to the Chief Justice’s age) in my absence. Did the judges give me notice?

I got the document. I am an interested party. They do not have the courage to give a notice to me. Now I have told the court through my counsel, Shanti Bhushan, that I can prove the genuineness of the document. The case will be heard again. It is a fallacy to believe that judges know everything. It is the duty of lawyers on both sides to put all material before the judges so that they can take a decision.

Subramaniam Swamy has called you a LTTE agent. Now, what is this?

Mr. Swamy said this 13 years ago. He repeated it in 1995. He said I have received money from the LTTE in my son’s account. I have filed a defamation suit against him. Most politicians do not file suits as they are afraid to face cross-examination. They are afraid of skeletons in their cupboard. So they get away with libel and blackmail. I do not allow this kind of nonsense. The same allegation was made by Chandra Swami but he did not drag in the LTTE. I filed a case against him. Then he had to tender an apology.

What would you say was a landmark in your life? Something you feel happy about.

At a crucial point when it was almost treacherous to show any sympathy to Sikhs (after Indira Gandhi’s assassination) I fought cases for the assassins. By taking up the case, I showed that the law is prepared to stand up for them. And also that a court is ready to listen. Sikhs then got a feeling that they were not orphans in India. I weaned the Sikhs from a feeling of animosity towards India. It cost me my membership of the BJP. I was asked to quit as I took up the case.

The other thing is that I knocked out Rajiv Gandhi by my relentless exposures.



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