What happens when politicians belonging to different Political Parties are brought together in an event to talk? The event starts and ends with blame games, abuses and insults flying across the room. But on 19th August 2017, the Nation witnessed some of the biggest names in politics exchanging friendly banter.
The occasion was the launch of Courting Politics by Shweta Bansal, a book that chronicles inspiring life stories of 9 eminent lawyers turned politicians, where 7 of the 9 sat together and showed their witty side. The current and former Finance Minsiters, Arun Jaitley and P. Chidambaram, respectively, could not make it to the Launch due to some prior commitments but the remaining 7 i.e. Ram Jethmanali, Shanti Bhushan, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid, MH Baig and Abhishek Manu Singhvi were on the dais together. The book was released by Supreme Court Judge, Justice Dr. AK Sikri.
Pallavi Shroff of Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. introduced the 9 men with larger than life personas.
The discussion with the 7 legal luminaries, that was conducted by Shereen Bhan of CNBC-TV 18, started with the audience bursting into laughter when Ram Jethmalani, who left early, joked about his image on the book cover & said that “Why am I the only person who is made to look like a monkey. I am not that bad but it’s ok because I am such an admirer of the author that I’ll forgive & forget everything.” Before he left, he said that he was the unhappiest man in the country as no promises were being fulfilled by the Government. He said, “I am in deep agony and have a sense of disappointment.”
Abhishek Manu Singhvi, calling himself an ‘eligible non-appointee’, said he has to do a lot of multi-tasking because the dilemma has not been eliminated in his case unlike the remaining 8 men because he never joined the ministry. On politics & practice he said, “Both are very jealous mistresses and they both require constant service.”
Law Minster Ravi Shankar Prasad took a dig at Kapil Sibal and said “I have a problem with your party. Why did you deny this suitable and eligible person (Abhishek Manu Singhvi) to become a minister?”
Talking about the contradiction between Law and Politics, Kapil Sibal said, “Law essentially is supporting the status quo and politics is destroying the status quo. Most of us protect the status quo even when we are in the Parliament, not realising that we have to respond to the call of the people of India.”
On being asked about why is he supporting Triple-Talaq when he himself says that Law is behind public opinion, he said, “There is distinction between statutory law & personal law. Courts should not delve into the personal affairs of people. Society itself should reform.”
Salman Khurshid on being asked if law comes in the way of his political advancement, he wittily said, “What came in the way of my political advancement was Ravi Shankar Prasad’s party not law.” To which Ravi Shankar Prasad responded by saying, “My party is also responsible for your political slow down currently and doing good in the law practice.” Salman Khurshid said, “we have an unwritten arrangement. When we are up, we allow them to practice and when they are up, they allow us to practice.” Ravi Shankar Prasad was quick to add that this time they will keep Salman Khurshid busy in the Supreme Court for a very long time.
MH Baig, on the title of ‘Gentleman’ given to him in the book, joked, “it will cost me a great deal as many clients won’t come to me anymore.” Shanti Bhushan, on the title of the book, said, “I was thinking whether Shweta would consider changing the title of the book to ‘9 monkeys’. I suppose that might reflect the reality better.”
On a serious note, he showed distress on the non-implementation of the Lokpal Act & also on the judicial corruption. He said that the Supreme Court has said that a judge cannot be tried or prosecuted without it’s sanction but hasn’t given that sanction in even a single case. MH Baig added to that and said that in the US, every year a list of the names of the corrupt judges is published. He said that India also needed to bring that change. Abhishek Manu Singhvi also said that the Judiciary has struck down the NJAC Act and if it says that there is mechanism to check judicial corruption, then it should put it forth. While there was a difference of opinion of the existence of a mechanism, including the current Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad agreed that impeachment was not an adequate or proper mechanism to deal with corrupt judges.
On the conflict between the legal practice and political ideologies, Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that he has represented BJP people in the past but he can’t do it anymore because of the conflict. He said that “A lawyer doesn’t choose his client, he doesn’t choose the judge”. He added that the bar should unite and say that if a lawyer is representing someone, it doesn’t mean that he has changed his ideologies.
In the end, the author of the book Shweta Bansal said, “working around their schedule, I thought this the book is going to come out posthumously.” On the 9 men, she said, “they make you look so uncool because their achievements are so underrated and huge.” The discussion ended with the two ladies on the dais, Shweta Bansal and Shereen Bhan, rooting for the inclusion of women in the sequel of the book.
“Courting Politics is a vivid account of the Emergency and Post-Emergency period where the lawyers displayed their true colours in either supporting it or opposing it. Shweta has done an excellent job in bringing out the ethos and atmosphere of those times and beyond.”
~ Soli Sorabjee
“Shweta Bansal’s Courting Politics provides a unique insight into the lives and minds of leaders in the fields of law and politics in India, with an engaging narrative of their triumphs as well as their setbacks and the lessons these hold for all of us. Using crisp and fluid prose, her stories of perseverance and dedication are an inspiring read.”
~ Shashi Tharoor
“Tracing the history of lawyers in politics is a great idea which Shweta looks at with an acute eye. Her book seeks to answer an important question: why do lawyers often dip their feet in politics. From the rumbustious Ram Jethmalani to the more sophisticated Arun Jaitley, there isn’t a lawyer ’type’ that defines a successful politician. It’s in the sheer variety of characters that lies the charm of a book like this.”
~ Rajdeep Sardesai
“One of the most fascinating books I have read in recent times.”
~ Shereen Bhan
“Simple vocabulary, sharp observations, and never-heard-before facets of the lives of these nine advocates turned politicians, makes it an interesting read.”
~ The Statesman
“Profiles of these prominent lawyers would make readers realise the extent to which lawyers affect policy making in India —either as legislators in Parliament or as advocates in a court of law.”
~ Business Standard
“A rare feat.”
~ Sakal Times
“An engaging narrative of these distinguished personalities who are now much sought after for their acumen and expertise.”
~ Millennium Post