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Nariman, an eminent jurist of courage and integrity

Fali Sam Nariman, who left this world on Wednesday, was a doyen among  jurists in the country. He was 95. He was a conscince – keeper of the bar in the Supreme Court. He was indisputable leader of the Bar. He was a complete lawyer who would not support a client who is wrong. Nariman was perhaps the last among the league of eminent lawyers, which included another famous Parsi legal luminary NA Palkhiwala, that departed.

Known for his uncompromising rectitude, he exhibited his guts when he resigned from the post of Additional Solicitor  General in Indira Gandhi government soon after Emergency was promulgated. He was the only legal officer to resign in protest. KK Venugopal, 92,  his contemporary in the legal profession, concedes while paying tribute to Nariman, that he and many others like him did not have the courage to defy Indira Gandhi  and like Nariman did. Nariman’s moral compass was not meant for others, he had the finess to express regrets for representing  the Union Carbides Corporation  in the Supreme Court after the gory details of the Bhopal gas tragedy came to light. In an interview he gave to Karan Thapar, Nariman said he made a mistake in accepting the tragedy as a brief. “It was a tragedy, not a case” he confessed.  He was a liberal democrat and believed in free market. His life is an inspiration for all those who cherish the values of the Republic. “There can’t be another Fali,” was the unanimous verdict of all those who paid homage to him.

Nariman was involved in path-breaking cases. He appeared in Golaknath case of 1967 in which the Supreme Court held that Parliament cannot  make a law that infringes citizens’ fundamental rights. The  Pai-foundation case and Jayalalithaa’s case are referred to underline his ability as a lawyer. He decribed Modi government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 as “Politically acceptable but constitutionally incorrect.” In 2015 he argued in the  Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record vesus Union of India case where the SC struck down the 99th constitutional amendment to defend the independence of the judiciary. He did not hesitate to criticise the same collegium when it failed to recommend the elevation of an eminent  judge S Muralidhar to the SC. He helped in shaping Indina Cnstitutional Law.

Born in Rangoon in 1929, Nariman left Burma for India when the former was bombed by the Japanese in the second world war. Nariman’s  family had to treck for 21 days to cross the border. He did his BA from a college in Mumbai. His father wanted him to appear for civil services examination but he preferred to join the law course. He started his practice at the same time in 1950 as the Constitution of India was adopted. He adored the document considering it as live and highly respectable. Both the Constitution and Nariman served the Indian Republic for more than seven decades.

Nariman slowly withdrew from active practice and spent the last two decades in reflections and publishing books and articles in newspapers, especially in the Bombay edition of The Indian Express with which he had affinity for decades. He was a close pal of Ramnath Goenka, the redoubtable owner of the fiercely independent newspaper which was hounded by the government during  the Emergency. He authored six books since 2006, the last book, You must know your constitution,  being released four months before his demise. ‘Before Memory Fades’ was the title of his autobiography published in 2010. It inspired many persons in the legal fraternity and outside.

Nariman believed in truth and nothing but truth. He commented on 2002 Gujarat riots and on every development  that took place in the country. He also commented on religious leader  Yogi Adityanath as  chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.He defended the constitution irrespective of the political party in  power. He believed in secularism respecting and celebrating the diversity of the people of the country.

Justice B Sudershan Reddy, former judge of the SC who knew Nariman intimately, described the eminent lawyer as a great human being known for his scholarship, courage, knowledge and integrity.

Also read: Legendary Ameen Sayani no more

K. Ramachandra Murthy
K. Ramachandra Murthy
Founder & Editor

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