Asia Society Gets an Insider’s View on Law and Politics from an Indian Icon

Ram jetmalani1

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: The Asia Society hosted  an interview with the highly regarded Indian Defense Attorney and current Member of the Upper House of Parliament or Rajya Sabha Ram Jethmalani at an event held this past Tuesday evening, September 24 at the Society’s auditorium on Southmore. Jethmalani, who has just celebrated his 90th birthday on September 13, is on a short visit to the US and paused in the Bayou City to share his thoughts on the Indian political scene and issues that he has dealt with during his long and illustrious career in the legal profession as well as in politics. A large number of people came to hear and see the venerable lawyer.

Charles Foster, the Chairman of the Asia Society, chatted with Jethmalani in an informal setting with two comfortable chairs were placed on the stage, behind a low table. After introducing him, Foster asked prepared questions on various topics, including the recent increase in reported violence against women and the coming election. Jethmalani, in his inimitable style, answered them, and when he desired he wandered from the topic to introduce other things he thought were important but that were not apparently related to the answer.

For example, Foster asked about the conflict between Pakistan and India, and Jethmalani reported that Musharaf has proposed a plan that would work. The plan is still alive, slightly modified, in a proposal by Jethmalani that seeks solutions to that conflict. That was the good news. But then Jethmalani contextualized the problem in terms of the region, moving it from a bilateral issue to a multilateral issue, at the core of which is the relationship of China and the US with Pakistan and India, neither of which in his opinion is helping bilateral relations between the two countries, which should be natural friends, not enemies.

Foster asked him about his experience under the emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in the 70s and Jethmalani explained how an arrest warrant had been issued for his arrest but he managed to slip away before to a voluntary exile in the US for ten month.

One of the last things Jethmalani addressed is India’s experiment with the jury system. He explained that India had established it in a few jurisdictions, but after a case in which he was influential, the jury system as it was was abolished, and now issues of fact, traditionally the exclusive province of the jury in common law jurisdictions such as India, are determined by the trial judge. Rather than being unappealable as in the jury system, the judge’s fact determinations are appealable along with other issues of law.