The Legal Legacy of Ram Jethmalani

Ram Jethmalani

The Legal Legacy of Ram Jethmalani

Ram Boolchand Jethmalani was a prominent figure in Indian legal and political circles, known for his illustrious career as a lawyer and his active involvement in politics. Born on 14 September 1923 in Shikarpur, Sindh (now in Pakistan), Jethmalani’s journey was marked by remarkable achievements and contributions, both in the legal field and in public life.

Personal Life: Jethmalani’s early life was marked by exceptional academic achievements. He completed his matriculation at the age of 13 and obtained his LL.B. degree from Bombay University at the age of 17, receiving a first-class distinction. Despite the minimum age for becoming a lawyer being 21 at that time, Jethmalani was granted an exception and became a lawyer at the age of 18, due to a special application he made contesting the rule.

Jethmalani’s personal life was also notable. He had two marriages, first to Durga in a traditional Indian arranged marriage, and later to Ratna Shahani, a lawyer, just before the partition of India in 1947. He had four children, three from his first marriage (Rani, Shobha, Mahesh) and one from his second marriage (Janak). His family included both wives and all four children, with Mahesh and Rani becoming Supreme Court lawyers, and Mahesh also becoming a BJP leader, while Rani engaged in social activism.


Legal Career: Jethmalani’s legal career was distinguished by a series of high-profile cases and a reputation for being a formidable advocate. He began his career as a lawyer and professor in Sindh before the partition, later starting his own law firm in Karachi. He moved to India after the partition and continued his legal practice in Mumbai. His early cases, including challenging the minimum age rule for lawyers in Sindh and fighting against the inhumane treatment of refugees in India, established his reputation as a fearless and principled lawyer.

Jethmalani’s career saw him involved in several landmark cases, such as the Nanavati case in 1959, where he worked with Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud, who would later become the Chief Justice of India. He also defended individuals involved in market scams, gangsters, and smugglers, earning him a reputation as a “smuggler’s lawyer,” although he maintained that he was simply fulfilling his duty as a lawyer.

In addition to his legal practice, Jethmalani was a part-time professor at the Government Law College in Mumbai, teaching both graduate and post-graduate studies. He also taught comparative law at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Jethmalani served as the Chairman of the Bar Council of India for four tenures and was a member of the International Bar Association. He was also the Professor Emeritus for Symbiosis International University law schools.

Political Career: Jethmalani’s political career was marked by his advocacy for improved relations between India and Pakistan, stemming from his experiences as a refugee post-partition. He contested as an independent candidate from Ulhasnagar, supported by both the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, but did not win the election.

During the Emergency period of 1975-1977, Jethmalani was the chairman of the Bar Association of India and was critical of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He was exiled to Canada during this period but returned to India after the Emergency was lifted. He won the 1977 general elections and became a Member of Parliament, beginning his political career.

Jethmalani’s political journey saw him become a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1988 and the Union Minister of Law, Justice, and Company Affairs in 1996 in the cabinet of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He held various ministerial positions during his career, including Minister of Urban Affairs and Employment in 1998. However, he faced differences with the then Chief Justice of India and the Attorney General of India, leading to his resignation from the cabinet.

He launched his own political fronts, the Bharat Mukti Morcha, and later his own political party called the Pavitra Hindustan Kazhagam, advocating for transparency in Indian democracy.

In the 2004 general elections, Jethmalani contested against Atal Bihari Vajpayee from the Lucknow constituency as an independent candidate but did not win. He later joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan in 2010. However, he was expelled from the party in 2013 for making anti-party statements.

Awards and Achievements:

Jethmalani received several awards and accolades during his career. In 1977, he was awarded the Human Rights Award by World Peace Through Law. He was also the recipient of the International Jurist Award for his contributions to the field of law.


Jethmalani authored several books, including “Big Egos, Small Men,” “Conscience of a Maverick,” and “Maverick: Unchanged, Unrepentant.” He also co-authored various legal scholarly books on criminal law, administrative law, and media law.

In Popular Culture:

Jethmalani’s life and career have been portrayed in various forms of media. Actor Mithilesh Chaturvedi portrayed him in the web series “Scam 1992,” based on the 1992 Indian stock market scam of Harshad Mehta. Actor Sumeet Vyas portrayed him in the Hindi web series “The Verdict,” based on the real-life Nanavati case. Actor Ram Kapoor portrayed him in the Bollywood film “The Big Bull,” loosely based on the life and crimes of Harshad Mehta. Actor Sachin Khedekar portrayed him in the 2016 Bollywood film “Rustom.”

Fees and Net Worth:

Ram Jethmalani was known to be one of the highest-paid lawyers in India, with his fees ranging from lakhs to crores for his legal services. His exact net worth is not publicly known, but it is believed to have been substantial due to his successful legal practice and investments.

In conclusion, Ram Jethmalani was a towering figure in Indian law and politics, known for his legal acumen, fearless advocacy, and principled stand on various issues. His life and career continue to serve as an inspiration to many aspiring lawyers and politicians, and his legacy remains etched in the annals of Indian legal and political history.

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