Ram Jethmalani: A look at his most famous cases
Ram Jethmalani, widely regarded as the doyen of criminal law, passed away on Sunday at his Delhi residence. He was 95. Known for speaking his mind, the former Law Minister took a lot of high-profile cases, some of which garnered widespread criticism. Paying no heed to naysayers, Jethmalani did everything he could to defend his clients. Here's looking at his famous cases.
Jethmalani shot to stardom when he scripted arguments for the prosecution in the infamous Nanavati case of 1969. KM Nanavati, a naval officer, was accused of killing his wife Sylvia's paramour Prem Ahuja. His cross-examination ensured Nanavati was held guilty. However, when the case became a battle between Sindhi and Parsi communities, Jethmalani convinced Ahuja's sister Mamie to "pardon" Nanavati.
Jethmalani took everyone by surprise when he decided to defend the killers of late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Madras High Court and the Supreme Court. In the apex court, Jethmalani famously said that the bomb blast which killed Rajiv in 1991 was not a "crime against India". Pertinently, he also defended Satwant and Beant Singh, who killed Rajiv's mother Indira.
For many, Indira Gandhi's assassination was an open and shut case. But Jethmalani believed the duo killed her due to "indoctrination." "There was obviously a religious motivation for the two bodyguards. Everyone knows what the Golden Temple means for the Sikhs," he said once.
Jethmalani also defended Jessica Lal's killer Manu Sharma. When he took up this sensational case, he upset advocate Kamini Jaiswal. Along with Jethmalani, Jaiswal had successfully defended DU lecturer Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, an accused in 2001 Parliament attack. Jaiswal said Jethmalani had promised to take up cases "where the larger national interest is involved," but Jessica's murder didn't fit the bill.
Jethmalani spoke out against corruption, but, ironically, defended politicians accused of the same. He defended late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa in disproportionate assets case, and also former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav (who is currently in jail) in fodder scam cases. "It's a basic principle of law that everyone, no matter who, deserves a defense," he had said about defending controversial clients.
Jethmalani defended Haji Mastan in various cases and was criticized for it. But he remained unfazed. "When I see a man come into my office with his pockets bulging with smuggling money, I consider it my duty to relieve him of his wealth," he had said once. The veteran lawyer also defended the Mehta family when Harshad Mehta market scam was unearthed in 1992.
Jethmalani also appeared for leaders of BJP, the party which made him a union minister and sent him to Rajya Sabha. He defended BJP veteran LK Advani in a hawala case, and party president Amit Shah in Sohrabuddin Sheikh alleged fake encounter case, wherein he was discharged due to "lack of evidence". Shah paid respects to Jethmalani at his residence a while ago.