By Anjan Roy
Ram Jethmalani, who died over the last weekend, would always remain as one of the finest lawyers who could mesmerise a court room.
This correspondent had a courtroom view of the spell that he would cast while arguing his client’s case.
It was way back almost three decades, Jethmalani was fighting a case of so-called passport forgery by one of most colourful businessman to have soared and fallen as if it was all foreordained.
Rajendra Singh Sehtia, was a scion of a business family of Calcutta which had worked its way up in raw jute trade. Raj had then outgrown the narrow confines of jute trade and ventured out into the wider world. He shifted from Calcutta to London.
In no time, Raj had become the biggest operator in sugar trade with Africa, which had attracted the venom of jealousy from white British operators. At the peak of his career, he had his own fleet of private jets, had bought a large Hotel in New York, and managed to put all the heads of governments in the African countries into his pocket. But then, bad luck struck and there were a few changes n regimes and his dues were not paid.
Raj had borrowed heavily from Indian banks operating in the UK, among them, Punjab National Bank and Bank of Baroda and United Commercial Bank. As his dues from African buyers remained so, he in turn failed to honour his commitments to repay the loans. Thngs started hotting up, and some of the global banks from which he had taken money lodged law cases. As apprehension was becoming near possibility, Raj left UK.
BY then, Raj Sethia had hit the record books, He was the biggest bankrupt of those days his name had entered the record books. Not a mean achievement for a young man, in the sense that his business had expanded to that extent.
It was not known where he had gone. There were notices all over, including suspicions he might have come over to India. Suspicion was confirmed subsequently, but he was still untraceable. Then one fine morning he was found to have taken shelter in his old home in north Calcutta. Raj was caught.
However in India Raj was arrested not for unpaid bank dues, but for having two passports, including one Indian passport, when he was already holding a valid British passport. In those days, holding two passports was not legal, which is not so now a days.
His case had come up in the Bankshall Court in Dalhousie Square. This was a lower court, of first hearings. Many of the petty infringements are heard in Bankshall Court, although some an occasional celebrated case might also come up there.
In the packed and small court room in this court house Jethmalani appeared on behalf of Raj Sethia. Entire Marwari society was keen to hear Raj Sethia case, maybe, because although one of them, Raj had reached a pinnacle of global business in his time and he was not a modest person.
Jethmlani’s argument defending Raj Sethia depended on his spinning a complex and complicated series of arguments stating that Raj had different personalities and his twin passport was only in keeping with that. Jehtmalani defended his indefensible arguments citing legal cases and precedents and abstruse principles of the law.
It was so complicated for the learned judge of the Bankshall Court that at the end of Jethmalani’s argument, the judge requested the laywer to make a written submission of his arguments. The judge might have made his most strenuous effort to follow Jethmalani and his arguments and principles but then in the end it was hopeless situation.
The best course was to call for a written submission to make a fresh attempt at comprehension.
Jethmalani’s arguments did not admittedly secure Raj’s release. He was again kept behind bars on other grounds. He was later booked for other cases and non-payment of dues for which he was incinerated in Delhi’s notorious Tihar jail.
Raj was as colourful as Jethmalani in his arguments. An extremely handsome man, with a handlebar moustache, Raj Sethia was even euphemistically speaking brilliant. While meeting Raj during one of his court appearances in Delhi, I had the good fortune of coming across Raj’s elder brother.
He confided to me, while speaking aside that morning in a Delhi court room that Raj had taken positions in raw jute from within the jail and had made enough money through lighting moves that ordinary businessmen would take years to notch up.
I had another encounter with Raj, years later. The shares of Texmaco, an engineering company, had suddenly flared up in the bourses. The company was otherwise stodgy, and there was no worthwhile new moves to warrant such wild swings upwards.
On enquiry I discovered that one Archarya Narendra Dev was buying up shares of Texmaco in the Delhi stock exchange. It was a Birla company and nobody generally would dare hold raids on Birla shares.
Acharya Narendra Dev had his office on one end of Hanuman Road which runs parallel for a while to Parliament Street. H office had a narrow street front, but on entry you could see a vista behind with small little buildings strewn all over.
Narendra Dev was sitting in his chamber, behind a rather small but elegant table. As my story on Texmaco shares had further flamed the price rise, Dev was in good mood. He was explaining how he was cornering the shares.
Suddenly, his face lit up while looking behind me. IN two shakes of a lamb’s shake who will enter the room but Raj Sethia. Seeing me he looked pleasantly surprised and picked up conversation. Soon it became animated and he explained that Texmaco had large real estate assets all over, including in and around Delhi. Their objective was to grab those.
I then had realised that such a daring mood could come only from Raj Sethia and his brilliantly lit adventurous mind. He had embarked upon his adventure and tried to leap far further than he could have. He had contracted obligations far beyond.
Who would defend such characters than Ran Jethmalani? Jethmalani had defended only those who could not be defended by others. As Subramania Swamy, another maverick, had once said, Jethmalani would fiercely call for booking those who had siphoned funds from the country. And, Jethmalani would defend the errant offenders to the hilt whenever they would be brought to prosecution. But then, life would be a little less interesting without such mavericks. (IPA Service)