The opportunities I got to brief and appear with - and sometimes against - the late Arun Jaitley, who passed away on Saturday, will remain among my most cherished memories.
The day I briefed him for the first time at his office is still fresh in my memory. Here was Sir, a legend for us from our law school days. Sitting in front of him and briefing him was a dream come true.
His in-depth analysis of cases, assessment of possible outcomes and the manner in which he built his strategy for a hearing are traits all lawyers will do well to imbibe. I certainly try to still draft and settle all my pleadings in the manner he suggested in my initial days.
Watching him argue a case in court was magic. Not only was he facile with his own arguments, but any counters from the other side were quick to be rebutted too.
In one hearing in the High Court, just as he stood up to argue, I remember the opposing counsel cutting in and putting across his points vehemently. In fact, Her Honour Aruna Suresh remarked, “Mr. Counsel, you are making your arguments on the presumption that I will grant relief to the other side but Mr. Jaitley has not even started his arguments.”
Justice Suresh did grant relief to Jaitley ji after hearing arguments from both sides. After leaving the Court, Jaitley ji politely told that lawyer from the other side, “Don’t be so aggressive.”
Another memory is from 2007. A bunch of petitioners approached him to argue their cases in the Supreme Court. All those cases pertained to their land and these petitions were tagged together to be heard. These people did not have the money to hire a lawyer like him, but their Advocate on Record was convinced that Jaitley ji alone can win them relief. He finally argued and won them their case turning down even the Rs 30,000 that they had all pooled to pay him.
It was surely a loss to the legal fraternity when he had to give up court appearances after becoming the Finance Minister. I remember him saying in an interview once that his earnings as a minister were less than 10% of what he earned from his legal practice.
It only shows that he was not focused on earning money for himself. Serving the nation as Finance Minister was bigger for him.
I can’t comment on his legacy as a minister and in politics. But his legacy to the nation as a lawyer is in those hundreds of rulings where he appeared that have wide ramifications in a variety of areas be it taxation, intellectual property, service matters and most importantly the Constitution.
Dushyant K Mahant is a lawyer who worked with Arun Jaitley