Genesis of Jethmalani Versus Jaitley

By appointing Ramjethmalani as his defense counsel into defamation case filed by Arun Jaitley against Arvind Kejriwal, AAP national convener is cashing-in on the war of legal eagles

By Anil Anand

Ram Jethmalani versus Arun Jaitley; it is not a simple and plain line up to contest a legal case. Beyond that it is a war of titans, a war between two top legal eagles both well versed in the art of politics. The genesis of this star battle lies in their shared political ground (read BJP) that resulted in a possible turf war in the midst of checkmates and counter checks.

And what subsequently followed leading up to Jethmalani becoming Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s counsel in a defamation case filed by Jaitley against the Aam Aadmi Party convenor is only the latest manifestation of Jethmalani v/s Jaitley war. The war is in the open in its new manifestation.

Even the most naive had expected that the mercurial and nonagenarian Jethmalani would not let go the latest opportunity to land punches on Jaitley. Precisely he did it while grilling the Union Finance Minister in the defamation case. This is another matter that Jaitley himself the master of legal battles did hardly surrender any space.

The latest bout between the two top lawyers, though in a different formation, has rekindled the controversy afresh giving rise to questions regarding genesis of the serious difference between the two.  In this backdrop the role of Kejriwal the client even becomes more interesting when he opted for Jethmalani to defend him in this case.

What better face than Jethmalani to face Jaitley and what better offer than the former clearing his intention to take up the case pro bono (free of cost). The wily Kejriwal was probably acting according to a well crafted plot to pit the two against each other. In a way he tried to kill two birds with one stone; securing a heavy weight to confront Jaitley and then en-cash upon their rivalry to his own legal as well as political benefit.

However the plot seems to have gone awry when a more magnanimous chief minister Kejriwal sought to pay a hefty fee to Jethmalani against his offer of taking up the case without charging a penny and the latter sent a bill of Rs 3.42 crore for his services rendered up till now. In the midst of Delhi Municipal Corporation elections the issue immediately assumed political colouring and the knives were out. Both Congress and BJP termed the defamation case as one of involving Kejriwal the individual and not chief minister and questioned his motive in forcing the tax payer to pay the cost of his defense.

Jethmalani openly came to Kejriwal’s support and stated that it was the duty of Delhi government to defend its chief minister in the defamation case thereby implying that nothing was wrong in the dispensation paying his fee. At the same time he described Jaitley as responsible for ‘instigating” the fee controversy.

Although Jaitley has been more tactful and even gracious at times in not countering his senior Jethmalani whom he privately describes as one of the top criminal lawyers of the world, Jethmalani has always been more forthright about what he feels about their relationship. His observation made during a recent interview: “I have very strong opinions about Jaitley. These are not good opinions about him,” is self-explanatory.

For the sake of tracing genesis of their love-hate relationship the clock has to be turned back to the NDA-I era when Jethmalani was Law Minister under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He was removed from the Ministry unceremoniously for which he holds, among others, Jaitley responsible.  “Well he certainly misguided Vajpayee,” was his retort when asked if Jaitley was responsible for this.

There was a no-holds-bar hurling of accusations by Jethmalani against Finance Minister Jaitley on the issue of bringing back black money stashed in foreign banks. He launched a scathing attack on the Minister alleging that he was “not keen for the truth to emerge regarding the Government’s efforts to bring back black money.” In a hard-hitting letter written to Jaitley he also questioned the Government’s inability to disclose the names of Indians holding illegal foreign bank accounts.

The feud grew further deeper as Jethmalani openly supported the ex-servicemen’s demand for One Rank One Pension. Apart from the Defense Ministry, the matter directly involved the Finance Ministry also. Ostensibly, Jaitley as Finance Ministry was probably the instigator for Jethmalani to support the OROP.

“Finance Minister is your enemy and the enemy of the nation,” Jethmalani thundered while addressing the protesting ex-servicemen at Jantar Mantar. He even offered to take up their case in Supreme Court. “I have come here to assure you all support and help you on your cause. I want to fight the evil forces that have entered into our political system. I’ve no other ambition left in life except to return love and affection. The politicians unfortunately have let down the entire nation,” was his unambiguous lament. He knew whom was he targeting.

This fight was still on when the Kejriwal episode happened. It certainly added more fuel to the feud which has now become more endemic in nature.

Not the one who is used to mincing words Jethmalani clearly stated that the offer of payment came from Kejriwal, and his office accordingly submitted the bills. However, he did not lose the opportunity to blame Jaitley for the fee controversy and offered to contest the case for free if “poor” Kejriwal was not able to pay him.

A rebel of his own kind the selection of words and phrases used by Jethmalani in blaming his bête noire Jaitley for fee controversy left none in any doubt that fee or no fee, he was there to stay and readying his armoury for the next date of the case. This Jehmalani-Jaitley-Kejriwal line-up has made this defamation case much more interesting and Jethmalani-Jaitley feud more absorbing.