New Delhi: The words Ram Jethmalani and criminal law are almost synonymous. The former Union law minister died on Sunday morning after his health deteriorated in the last two weeks.
Born in Sindh province, Jethmalani moved to India before Partition. In school, he got a double promotion, which helped him complete his matriculation when he was just 13. He went on to secure an LLB degree at 17 and became a lawyer – by a special resolution -- at 18.
Jethmalani was known for his robust arguments and his physical presence inside a court, particularly trial courts, was so intimidating that people would willingly pay him through their nose to have him fly to distant places and appear for them.
Jethmalani loved playing the devil’s advocate: he defended those accused of assassinating former prime ministers Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, as well as Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru. He also defended the likes of rape accused Asaram Bapu and Manu Sharma in the Jessica Lal murder case.
That is not to forget his defence of Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh in the Securities scam of 1992. In 2010, he was elected as president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.
Jethmalani's political foray was no less fascinating. He flirted with the Jan Sangh, the BJP, and also contested Lok Sabha elections as an independent.
He was elected to the sixth and seventh Lok Sabha from the BJP and held the portfolios of law, followed by urban development in two Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA governments.
But before that, what brought him to political limelight was his stiff opposition to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, a fact that even PM Modi mentioned in his tweet while condoling Jethmalani's death on Sunday.
Jethmalani was then the chairman of the Bar Association of India. His sharp criticism of the Emergency led to an arrest warrant against him. But rather than courting arrest, Jethmalani opted for self-imposed exile in Canada.
As an independent, he lost from Ulhasnagar despite Shiv Sena and Jan Sangh support. Later, in 1980 when the Janata Party swept to power after Emergency, he won from Bombay North West. It's another matter that he lost in 1985.