Of hope and despair
Fali S Nariman’s book God Save the Hon’ble Supreme Court is yet another masterpiece from a doyen among lawyers. Unfortunately, men of his ilk are slowly becoming a rarity in this world. Not only is he a skillful practioner of the court craft but also most importantly had the conviction of courage to resign from the position of Additional Solicitor General of the Government of India in protest against the imposition of Emergency.
His autobiography Before Memory Fades brings out the staunch secularist in him. The following quote from that book says it all: “There was something living and dynamic about this heritage, which showed itself in ways of living and a philosophical attitude to life and its problems. Ancient India, like ancient China, was a world in itself, a culture and a civilisation which gave shape to all things. Foreign influences poured in and often influenced that culture and were absorbed. Disruptive tendencies gave rise immediately to an attempt to find a synthesis. Some kind of a dream of unity has occupied the mind of India since the dawn of civilisation. That unity was not conceived as something imposed from outside, standardisation of externals or even of beliefs. It was something deeper and, within its fold, the widest tolerance of beliefs and customs was practiced and every variety acknowledged and even encouraged.”
Born in 1929 in Rangoon, now Yangon, he was 18 years old when India attained its independence and was also partioned. In an illustrious career spanning over seven decades, he has seen the highs and lows of the Republic of India’s legal and constitutional evolution.His latest book begins with perhaps the most appropriate quote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness... it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair....”He begins the first chapter by describing the nine landmark judgments delivered by the Supreme Court between January 2017 and May 2018.
They include a nine-judge bench judgement in Jindal Stainless Steel that reinterpreted the commerce clauses of the Indian Constitution, a seven-judge bench judgement in Abhiram Singh v/s CD Commachen that held that “an appeal to any religion, race, caste, community or language—by any candidate would result in the election of the candidate making such an appeal being set aside by the Court as a corrupt practice”, the Triple Talaq case, the Justice KS Puttaswamy case in which a bench of nine judges held that “the right to privacy was a part of the freedom guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution and was protected by an intrinsic part of the right to life, and personal liberty under Article 21”, and the decision of a five-judge bench in Common Cause that distinguished between active and passive euthanasia to name but a few.
However, then the tone changes when Jurist Nariman laments some of the decisions of and happenings in the Supreme Court. He opens ‘the worst of times’ on Page 31 of the book by delineating the handling of Justice Karnan’s case by a bench of seven judges. He then goes on at some length to describe the events leading up to and subsequent to the unprecedented January 12 press conference by the first four puisne judges of the Supreme Court. He ends the first chapter by bemoaning the lack of collegiality among “the judges, especially the five senior-most, including the Chief Justice of India”. The remaining 10 chapters are an education in subjects as varied as the Freedom of Expression to describing the qualities of VR Krishna Iyer, whom he describes as a ‘Super Judge’.
However, my favourite anecdote is on Pages 110-111 of the book where the author elucidates how he gave up his lucrative practice of law to focus on Parliament where he served as a nominated MP—an example that our lawyer MPs should emulate.