Arun Jaitley – A True Karmayogi : A Tribute by Justice Pratibha Singh

Arun Jaitley – A True Karmayogi : A Tribute by Justice Pratibha Singh

One never thought that the day to write this piece would come so soon.

Our association with Jaitley sir (as I would fondly call him) is well known – though I have never been his junior or relative. He was like an elder in our family owing to Maninder's (Mr. Maninder Singh, Senior Advocate and former ASG) association with him spanning over more than 30 years.

I met Jaitley sir when I started practising in the Delhi High Court in the early 90s, and was asked to brief him in many IPR matters. Sir used to work from his office on Prithviraj Road and I would take an autorickshaw with the bags from Nizamuddin, where I used to work. His office was always bubbling with activity, with clients, lawyers, staff moving in and out. As a completely unknown junior who barely even spoke Hindi, he listened intently whenever I briefed him and never once made me feel that I was not important enough. If I showed him an interesting judgement or suggested a new proposition, he would think about it and present it in the most articulate manner to the Court. He was one Senior who never made the briefing junior nervous and even if the Court was upset with a piece of drafting or some procedural error, he would take the blame upon himself. This singular character of his made him enormously popular with briefing lawyers. The innumerable number of young lawyers who must have briefed him would vouch for this.

One evening in late 1994, I got a call from Maninder on my landlord's number in Defence Colony where I lived in a barsati floor, to tell me that Jaitley sir had made a surprise visit to Maninder's apartment in Mayur Vihar. It turned out that he had gone there to speak to Maninder's mother and brother that they should get us married and that he vouches for me. That one gesture changed the course of our life. The rest is history. We were married in January 1995. I am quite sure he has been responsible for several hundreds of marriages like ours. Jaitley sir and his family have been an integral part of our family and he has been the elder guiding us and our children every step of the way.


Justice Pratibha Singh with Jaitley


Having seen Jaitley sir from close quarters, it is clear that he was a `Sangam' of some amazing traits – he was an outstanding orator, a deep thinker, excellent lawyer, clever politician and above all a humane person. His personal relationships with the thousands of people he came across run very deep. It was very usual for politicians from all political parties to seek his guidance and advice. He was a true friend to each of them.

His tryst with the law is something that he was very fond of. Even during the time when he did not practice and was in Parliament, he was up to date with all legal developments and almost everyone associated with the legal space were free to access him. If anyone approached him for help, he NEVER said no. He was trusting of most people, though many may have not lived up to his trust. He however never had a revengeful attitude towards anyone and was pleasant with all.

Some anecdotal experiences from the time I briefed his as a lawyer –

He initially used to say that he had not done many IPR matters but during my years as an IPR lawyer, he was a Senior I had briefed in a large number of matters.

At the time when private broadcasting had just commenced in India, some of the most interesting copyright matters have been argued by Jaitley Sir. Humour was a part of his courtcraft. I recall when we were doing a case involving `Harry Potter' suing a film titled `Hari Puttar' - he would pronounce the two names in a manner so as to make them sound different – using an anglicised accent for the former and a desi Hindi accent for the latter. The whole court would be in splits!

He had immense background on the WTO agreement and TRIPS – having taken part in the Cancun negotiations as the Commerce minister in the late 90s – early 2000s. Thus, one of the first patent cases involving product patents in the pharmaceutical industry – the Hoffman la Roche Vs. Cipla case – was argued by him. I recall that the suit was filed in January 2008 and we just barely had 4-5 days to prepare our defence as Roche was insisting on an interim injunction. He was extremely happy to prepare for several hours as it was a completely new field where there was no judgement from any Indian court. We mostly cited foreign law and the Court accepted that `public interest' would be a relevant consideration in dealing with a case involving a cancer drug, following the ebay judgement of the US Supreme Court. In the appeal, when the matter was heard by the Division Bench, the then Chief Justice commented at the start of the hearing, "Mr. Jaitley, do you think your client is Robin Hood?" In response, Jaitley sir closed the file and presented for almost an hour on how the product patent regime had come to be enacted in India and its complete background including the WTO negotiations. I, to this day, regret the fact that his arguments that day were not recorded and preserved for progeny.

Thereafter came the first patent linkage case, Bayer Vs. Cipla, wherein Jaitley sir had to argue that the grant of drug approval cannot be linked with the granted patent. These two cases argued by him were the first two pharmaceutical patent cases in India which are cited to this day.

I recall clearly that when the Novartis judgement was pronounced by the Supreme Court, while I was walking down the stairs outside Court 1 of the Supreme Court, after the pronouncement, he called and asked about the judgement – he was then Leader of opposition. When he argued all these cancer drug matters - little did we know that he would one day be a victim of cancer himself.

When my family instituted the scholarship in Cambridge University and invited him to be a chief guest at one of the events, he called this as the CSR for lawyers – which evoked a smiling applause from the audience.

Jaitley sir was the go-to man for everyone in the legal profession. He was extremely popular and was kind to the Bar.

When my consent was asked for elevation and we asked for his opinion – he was very clear and said "You have earned enough. Its time to serve now." There were no two thoughts.

Since 2014, his health has had ups and downs and what we could never imagine was such sudden deterioration of his health. We always thought that his fighting spirit would make him bounce back but destiny did not give him a chance. He fought very hard in the last few months – even on the day he was wheeled into the ICU last week in AIIMS, one of the on-lookers said, while lying on the stretcher in hospital clothes, he gave a thumbs-up. Such was his indomitable spirit - but nature willed otherwise.

He was a man who believed in enormous hard work – whichever role he donned – A young student leader, lawyer, Parliamentarian, Minister etc., He was a true Karmayogi.

As it is said birth and death are a constant. But for those of us who knew him – Jaitley Sir was a constant in our lives. That constant is gone ……………….. Rest in peace Jaitley sir. Continue to bless all of us wherever you are.