The Indian Express on Thursday carries a screaming headline on its sixth page, "BJP steps up attack on PM over Lokpal selection panel". The objection seems to be against my friend and colleague at the Bar, Mr P.P. Rao, being selected as the "jurist" on the selector panel. Sushmaj Swaraj, our Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, is reported to have raised objections on the ground that Rao is a "Congress loyalist". The Indian Express report does not make clear the exact ground of opposition adopted by Arun Jaitley, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. I presume, perhaps not correctly, that they consulted each other and their opposition was based on the same ground.
P.P. Rao is a senior lawyer and a busy one. He is a competent lawyer and is respected by judges. I am sure his clients think very highly of him. There is, to my knowledge, no black mark against his integrity. Being loyal to one's party is not a vice, but a virtue. Such loyalty must, however, surrender to a more paramount one, loyalty to the nation and one's conscience. Even if a member of a party is convinced that his party is a menace to the nation he may remain inside with a view to redeem it as an insider. Without conclusive evidence to the contrary, I find no fault with P.P. Rao on that account too.
I find, on the other hand, serious fault with both the BJP leaders. For, I would consider it more appropriate to oppose Rao on the ground that with all his attainments, he is by no means a "jurist". The dictionary meaning of a jurist is one who is well versed with the science of law. Fortunately, the two Leaders of the Opposition have not yet claimed to fall in this exalted category, and Rao has been spared this insult. I must give some conspicuous examples of eminent "jurists" without disrespect to others whom I do not mention.
Our past judges of the Supreme Court, Justices Krishna Iyer, Venkatachaliah, Chinnappa Reddy and the elder Fazal Ali are glorious examples. They revolutionised the law by their judgements, writings and speeches. Fazal Ali's dissent of long ago became the basic feature of the Indian Constitution after many decades.
My friend Dr Upendra Baxi and Dr Madhava Menon, both connected with teaching law at the National Law School of India, have been renowned professors and scholars in jurisprudence. Upendra is one of the sharpest intellects in constitutional law and jurisprudence. His knowledge of the English language, wit and humour makes me envious.
Sir Dinshaw Mulla and the late Dr Hari Singh Gour were jurists because they produced wonderful textbooks in law, the latter on the Indian Penal Code.
I could be encased, a title aside. I am free to indulge myself, for I do not covet any employment or position, not even that of a Prime Minister of India. I do not call myself a jurist even though I have taught law for more than 70 years, and written commentaries on Private International Law, Law of Evidence and Media Law. I have doctorates from three universities but I have never once allowed anyone to call me Doctor Jethmalani. I am presently Professor Emeritus at the Symbiosis University and students all over the country love me as I love them.
Senior counsels like the late Nani Palkhivala, Fali Nariman, Anil Divan, Ashok Desai and K. Parasaran do very well qualify as jurists for their excellent scholarship, contribution to the field of law and learned advocacy in court. Some simple people consider me too as a fancily good one, but I suspect mainly for the free legal assistance I provide for them. The Hon'ble Prime Minister of India and the Hon'ble Chief Justice of India conferred on me an International Jurist award, but I am too shy to use it as I am doing it today.
I hope I am not unfair to P.P. Rao. He is meant for higher things than being called a jurist.
Of course all these pale into insignificance when the two Leaders of the Opposition have voted to expel me from the BJP even as an ordinary member.