Jethmalani: The Grand Old Rebel of India

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 09, 2012 03:48 hrs

The Grand Old Rebel of India going by the name of Ram Jethmalani is in the news yet again. He has criticised Lord Ram for being a bad husband and called his brother Laxman even worse. He then went on to rubbish the very concept of religion.

Earlier he had embarrassed the BJP by asking its President Nitin Gadkari to resign over corruption charges. On the same day he had dismissed Congress heir apparent Rahul Gandhi as someone who was “illiterate”. Congress MP Rajiv Shukla was quick to reply, calling Jethmalani too old to comment and added that he was an “uncle”.

Well, make that great grand uncle!

For it is an interesting fact that at the time of the death of Motilal Nehru, the founder of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and Rahul’s great great grandfather, Jethmalani was a 7-year-old kid; he has been around for that long!

When Mahatma Gandhi was fighting for Indian Independence in the 1940s, Jethmalani had followed his footsteps and was a practicing lawyer. While the age of practicing law was 21, he broke the ceiling and started off at the age of 18 in what was then Pakistan, the result of being a child prodigy.

When Jawaharlal Nehru became Prime Minister of India, Jethmalani came to India and set up practice here. He saw the deaths of both Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri and by the time Indira Gandhi took office, he had already established his reputation as a smugglers’ lawyer.

Since the 1960s, he has been defending all manners of criminals with Mumbai don Haji Mastan being his first high profile celebrity. He was also involved in the high-profile Nanavati case of 1959.

After that his list of clients is a virtual who’s who of India. He was the defence lawyer in both the assassinations of Indira and Rajiv.

He defended the Big Bulls in two of India’s biggest stock market scams: Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh.

His politician clients include LK Advani (during the infamous Hawala diary scam of the 1990s), BS Yedyurappa, Kanimozhi and Jaganmohan Reddy.

He has even defended a terrorist in the form of Afzal Guru, the mastermind of the 2001 Parliament attack and a godman in the form of Baba Ramdev.

Right now activist Arvind Kejriwal seems to be taking on everyone left, right and centre. But before him came Subramanian Swamy. And much before Swamy came Ram Jethmalani.

At the age of 89, he is still as fiery as ever, ticking off everyone who comes across his path. He took on Indira during the Emergency and had to flee the country to escape her wrath. He would have become a minister in the Janata Party government, but the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai hated his guts.

He was a minister in the AB Vajpayee government and then took on both the Chief Justice and Attorney General of India. It was a battle he lost and he had to quit. Later he decided to take on Vajpayee himself, fighting against him in the 2004 general elections.

His contempt of the media is well known and he is one of those rare figures who have shouted at journalists regularly. He has ticked off CNN-IBN anchor Sagarika Ghose on more than one occasion and even walked off a Karan Thapar show shouting, “You assured me that you would improve, but you have not.”

In the hallowed Rajya Sabha he waved a copy of a magazine claiming that Rajiv had Swiss bank accounts and got into a slanging match with Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar. Finally his comments had to be removed from the proceedings of the house. There’s never a dull moment when Jethmalani is around!

When Kejriwal announced the Gadkari expose, it was dismissed by the media as a damp squib. However it has turned into one of the longest sagas of recent times. First the channels ran the expose non-stop. Then they visited all the addresses of the Gadkari businesses. Then the TV channels hounded him non-stop.

Finally son Mahesh Jethmalani resigned in protest and now Ram Jethmalani has taken Gadkari head-on. It’s like a cat has been set among the pigeons in the BJP camp.

This is probably Gadkari’s first major extended controversy, but it’s probably been Jethmalani’s 100th!

While Jethmalani has faced flak all his life for always taking the cause of the criminal, he has been an intermittent politician for 40 years and a practicing lawyer for 70 years now. That’s got to be some sort of record!

One can only guess what Jethmalani’s next controversy is going to be!

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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger.

He blogs at