"I may be a sinner in many other ways but I have sinned with a clean conscience" - Ram Jethmalani

Pallavi Saluja March 11 2014

With Lok Sabha elections around the corner, politics is quite clearly in the air. And the legal field is no exception. While BCI Chairman MK Mishra recently compared Narendra Modi to Mahatma Gandhi, law professor Babu Mathew was recently selected as the Aam Aadmi Party candidate from Bangalore North. Yesterday, the Supreme Court directed that trials of all sitting MPs and MLAs charged with serious offences be completed within a year. However, it did not go into the recommendations of the Law Commission relating to the disqualification of these Parliamentarians.

And in the midst of all this Ram Jethmalani, leading criminal lawyer and a politician, has recently written a letter to his colleagues at the Bar stating that he was convinced that, “Narendra Modi is an incarnation of hope for the bright future” and that Modi is, “the only solution of all the ills that ail the nation.”

In this interview with Bar & Bench, the Senior Advocate and former Law Minister talks about the black money case, his views on the AAP and the right choice for the prime ministerial post.

Bar & Bench: You are one of the petitioners in the “black money” case where one of the reliefs sought was a governmental investigation into tax havens used by Indians. Why did you approach the Supreme Court?

Ram Jethmalani: Throughout our freedom movement, our leaders taught us that the colonial ruler has exploited our wealth and all our wealth is going to the ruling country. We were also told that once we get rid of the colonial power, rivers of milk and honey would flow through this country. People should ask why we have had no glimpse of this “river”? Why has our poverty increased? Look at the condition of our hospitals, schools, and colleges and the kind of scams taking place. In the midst of all this, three important events have taken place.

First was the Bofors scam, which directly involved the Prime Minister of India. He got out of it in some sense. Soon after his death, a reputed Swiss magazine published names of 14 international thugs who had stolen money from their respective countries when they were in power. As an Indian, I was ashamed that amongst the 14 was the name of Rajiv Gandhi, with his account number and $2.2 billion to his credit. We took no action against that magazine; we should have sued for defamation.

Later Dr Yevgeniya Albats, author of ‘The State Within a State: KGB and Its Hold on Russia’, too has mentioned about the payments made by the KGB to numerous prominent Indians in the seventies and the eighties through such accounts. That book is unofficially banned in this country but it is available everywhere else, why?

Very respectable economists have come to the conclusion that $1,500 billion worth of money has been stolen from this country and stacked in foreign tax havens. Switzerland is one prominent country and has a special interest in evolving what is called the ‘Rule of customer confidentiality’, which attracts every thief to go and put money there. The Germans ultimately broke this customer confidentiality. They got the names of all these dacoits all over the world including India. What should have been the conduct of India’s Prime Minister? He should have taken the first plane there and said “I want this information”. They did nothing and ever since that time they have been finding out ways and means of how not to get that money.

Almost five years ago, I approached the Supreme Court and after two years of this Government of dacoits obstructing everything, the Supreme Court ultimately delivered a judgment - which is reported - in which they arrived at a finding, which should have led to the resignation of Manmohan Singh and his whole Government. The Supreme Court directed the creation of a special investigation team headed by two ex-Supreme Court judges. Why was this order not carried out? Because they don’t want any investigation to take place. Now, I have moved the Supreme Court in the matter complaining that orders have not been complied with.

The second order that the Supreme Court made was to disclose the names to the co-petitioners and me. Why? I am convinced that it is the names of our rulers, which are involved, and that is the reason for this conduct.

If this [black] money comes to our country, we can penalize the rascals, they can go to jail, and they can be fined etc. Believe me, if distributed to the poor of India, it will be Rs. 3 lakh for every Indian family. It is said that the poverty will disappear, and that for 30 years you won’t need to tax anyone. What else do you want?

Bar & Bench: What are your views on the AAP?

Ram Jethmalani: I thought that those who are bringing this party into existence are opposed to corruption and that the creation of this party will be of tremendous help in dealing with the corrupt, punishing them and making our country prosperous. When this party was formed, I welcomed its formation publicly and I sent my humble financial contribution running into lakhs. Later, I had a meeting with my friend and colleague Prashant Bhushan who told me that he would prefer Rahul Gandhi to be the PM rather than Modi. I was shocked, and then I wrote a letter to Kejriwal, in which I said, “This is what I have heard from your founding father. Is the policy of your party that you want to support Rahul? I am dismayed and I am waiting for you to assure me that this is not your party’s policy." I said that please understand that today the primary task of the opposition is to remove this corrupt Government.

I also wrote, “Maybe it is too late for you to change your policy now, but please give me an assurance that after the elections in Delhi are over, we will sit and decide what is the best way to deal with corruption and not divide the anti-corruption vote.” He did not reply for sometime, then I told my office to call him up and instead of writing to me directly; he sent two of his comrades in his party. We had a long chat and they said, “Sir it is not our party’s policy that we prefer Rahul to Modi. Secondly you are right, we are fighting corruption. We would not divide the anti-corruption vote, we will discuss it with you after the Delhi election and we need your blessings for Delhi election”.

I was very happy and when they were leaving they handed over to me an envelope and said I could read it at my leisure. I forgot about it for a few days, but when I read it, I was aghast at what I read. It was nothing but vulgar abuse!  Though I am not used to using the impolite language, today I am telling you [Kejriwal] is a loafer and a liar. He is not serious about anything. He is a bubble that has already burst. To my mind Aam Admi Party is a disgrace and no respectable person should belong to this party.

Bar & Bench: Who is a good prime ministerial candidate for our country?

Ram Jethmalani: I have already said this at two public meetings. In one meeting, I said,  “All of these potential prime ministers put together are inferior to me,” then I paused for a second and said, “Except one and that is Narendra Modi.”

I said this at a meeting where 7,500 students and faculty members were present. When I said this the clapping would not stop. I am still of that view and I remain of that view. And today I have no doubt that Modi has captured the hearts of people. I don’t want to be Modi’s minister, I don’t want to be anybody’s minister and I don’t even want to be the Prime Minister. I have better things to do. Let me say what I have been saying again and again that I am today sitting in the departure lounge of God’s airport. I have only one ambition - the flight has been delayed to the shadowing of my enemies. I want to get rid of those who have destroyed India and I want to discharge my debt to the nation. I have no other ambition in life.

Bar & Bench:  Moving to the judiciary, what are your thoughts on the current system of appointing judges?

Ram Jethmalani: The present collegium system is certainly an improvement over the system in which the Executive had the paramount voice but this requires a change. I am always of the opinion that the appointment of judges, removal of judges and the transfer of judges should be vested in a judicial commission. But that judicial commission should have one representative of the Government (whether the PM, the Home Minister or the Law Minister), one leader of the opposition, the greatest intellect available in the world of jurisprudence and law teaching because today some of the judges are not even able to write correct English. There should be the leader of the Bar and also somebody drawn from the world of social sciences. And this constitution of the judicial commission should be in the Constitution itself and not what Kapil Sibal is creating - a judicial commission through a parliamentary statute, so that tomorrow you may say it will be consisting of the PM and the Law Minister. That is why I opposed it.

Bar & Bench: You have been in the profession for more than 70 years, what are the major changes you have seen both at the Bar and the Bench?

Ram Jethmalani: There should more practicing lawyers selected to the Bench. In England, the Lord Chancellor invites a senior counsel who may be earning millions of pounds but it is treated as a command by tradition. Why are senior lawyers not being invited?

Bar & Bench: But there are instances where senior lawyers are simply not interested in becoming a judge.

Ram Jethmalani: That requires education and training. You must create the tradition in the country but nobody wants that tradition to be established. Even judges don’t want the members of the Bar to be directly recruited. When have they last recruited? There was one lawyer who became the Supreme Court judge and that was many years ago. There has not been one instance thereafter. Also, please increase the age of retirement of judges. Lastly and the most important thing - the subordinate judiciary is the face of justice for the common man. You require better judges there than even in the Supreme Court and High Court and you are appointing lawyers of one or two years standing.

Bar & Bench: You have often been criticized for defending the accused in any high-profile cases.

Ram Jethmalani: These are ignorant people or are just plain stupid enemies. There is a statutory rule of the Bar Council of India that no lawyer should refuse to defend a person on the ground that either he believes him to be guilty or that people believe him to be guilty or that even he has confessed his crimes to him. A lawyer certainly cannot refuse a brief on the ground that the defense will bring him unpopularity.

The rule that no person should be convicted except on credible evidence, which establishes guilt beyond a shadow of doubt, is a rule that has been designed for the benefit of the innocent. But it is true that this rule may operate for the benefit of some persons who are guilty but you are enforcing that rule and that rule cannot be compromised and diluted. You must obey the law, it may seem inconvenient to some stupid people but they are stupid.

Bar & Bench: The recent allegation of sexual harassment made against Supreme Court judges, what do you think should be the proper mechanism to handle such cases?

Ram Jethmalani: This media hype was totally uncalled for. If the girl wants to make a complaint, let her go and file a complaint. These are educated girls, why don’t they go and file an FIR against the judge and let the law take its own course. I have no difficulty about it, but don’t have this kind of press propaganda going on all the time. These press trials today have become the greatest menace to the administration of justice and I regret to say that there are rascals whom the press does not implicate at all. You first reform the press before you talk of reforming others.

Bar & Bench: The exorbitant fee charged by senior counsels. What do you have to say?

Ram Jethmalani: When I was a young lawyer, people came to me because I showed my merit but people won’t come to you until you show something. After all, the client also wants quality. The youngster who wants to score over the senior should show some element of genius and superiority.

Bar & Bench: You didn’t want to become a judge?

Ram Jethmalani: No, I was offered judgeship when I was young in Bombay. I was offered judgeship not of the High Court but at the City Civil Court but I refused. In fact, I had a great temptation of accepting it but by good advice I refused and the Chief Justice asked me the reason. I said, “Sir I am not respectable enough.”

Bar & Bench: Backlog of cases - what do you think is the reason and what should be done?

Ram Jethmalani: They should appoint more judges, you have to appoint competent judges but this Government considers the judicial department as a revenue-earning department. They don’t want good judges. Every Government (and I mean non-Congress governments also) wants judges who are corrupt, whom they can control.

Bar & Bench: Why do you think you are the most sought after criminal lawyer in the country?

Ram Jethmalani: Because I do my job. I know my job. I work for my clients. I don’t take life easy and besides you require some knowledge of law, of the art of cross-examination. And if I appear sometimes in matters, people come to know, “Mr. Jethmalani is going to cross examine us” and matters are settled.

Bar & Bench: What are your views on the death penalty?

Ram Jethmalani: When human justice is fallible and it has proved fallible more than numerous times, you cannot inflict death sentences, which are irrevocable. At least when you have sentenced a person he is still in jail, you can compensate him and release him. But when you kill a person, don’t you feel ashamed of it? The only thing which has worried me is one illustration, that if a person is a convict in a jail serving a life imprisonment sentence and he without cause murders his jailor, what sentence do you give? This one illustration keeps me in a state of doubt otherwise I am a complete opponent of the death sentence.

Bar & Bench: Any advice for young lawyers?

Ram Jethmalani: First of all remember that you have to work hard in this profession. This is not a profession, which you can take easy. Second please do not join this profession if your only object is to make money. The meaning of the profession is distinct from business. In this profession the main objective is to serve the nation and making of money is purely incidental. If you don’t believe in these two things, you should never join the legal profession.

Bar & Bench: When you look back in your career, what gives you the greatest amount of satisfaction?

Ram Jethmalani: My greatest satisfaction is that I have at least cultivated a reputation for being a fairly good lawyer and nobody has ever said that this lawyer is a dishonest politician. This is my greatest achievement in life. I may be a sinner in many other ways but I have sinned with a clean conscience.

Copy of Ram Jethmalani's letter

Jethmalani letter.jpg

(HT to Bar & Bench reader PK for a copy of the letter)