Wednesday, December 6, 2023

A judge with fire in his belly

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This stalwart of the Indian judiciary, who passed away on December 4 aged 100, was a stormy petrel from the start

By Fali S Nariman

He was “the Last of the Mohicans”—an idiomatic English phrase that means “the sole surviving member of a noble race or tribe”. Not that there have been no noble judges before or since Krishna Iyer; there have been many and will be many more. But he has been responsible for giving them all a brand name—that of Noble Judge.

Of his legal prowess much has been written—and will continue to be written long after he is gone. But few know of the stoking-fire in him! When I was in Cochin in February 2012, he told me a story—true to character and proof that he was a stormy petrel from the start. After the government of Kerala, of which he was a minister, was dismissed by the center, way back in the late 1950s, Krishna Iyer took up the practice of law in the Kerala High Court. He paid his life subscription and was enrolled by the then secretary of the Kerala Bar, CK Sivasankara Panicker, later, Kerala’s advocate-general (and father of Justice KS Radhakrishan, who sat in the Supreme Court till he retired in May 2014).

When Krishna Iyer’s name went up to the Bar Commi-ttee for approval, the entire committee rejected him as member, since, as was noted, he was “an avowed communist”. Krishna Iyer then told me the sequel, with his eyes glistening: “I said I would sue them all since they had second tho-ughts about refusing to enrol a communist after accepting the communist’s life subscription. I told them that my threats are as serious as the one who has uttered them!”

And the threat worked. The committee backed down. Krishna Iyer remained a member of the Kerala Bar Association and later, its best and (as it turned out) its brightest son. He showed us till the very end that old men around the world—with fire-in-the-belly—never grow old. They are always alive and kicking, until, in the fullness of time, the unseen Hand pulls them up to the Far-Beyond! May his good soul rest in Eternal Peace.

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