Renowned jurist Nani Palkhivala had been offered the position of the Attorney General of India in the 1960's. He said yes, but at night he suddenly had second thoughts as to how he could possibly fulfil that task and whether he would be doing the right thing by defending the government.
He phoned the law minister in the morning and said, “Sorry, I have to go back on my acceptance but I don't think I will be able to accept it.” A reason why the eminent lawyer declined the position was because he had a tremendous drive to work and he found working in the government as partly a waste of his time.
The anecdote was recounted by the late Ashok Desai in a speech he had delivered at a function held to commemorate the birth centenary of Palkhivala in 2019. Desai's speech, as also those of other legal luminaries who participated in various functions held to remember Palkhivala's legacy, have now been collated in the form of a book. The collection of speeches and lectures titled ‘Rethinking Palkhivala – Centenary Commemorative Volume', edited by Maj Gen Nilendra Kumar, an eminent academician in the field of law.
Law veteran Soli Sorabjee, in his speech at one of the functions, recounted his first meeting with Palkhivala and what he learnt about his manner of functioning. “...I had briefed him in some matters. There was one thing I noticed. He came straight to the point. He was never laborious, never repetitive. His conference got over in 10 minutes.”
Sorabjee revealed that the solicitors were very upset about the brevity of the meeting, and they complained, “kya karta hai, 10 minute mai khatam kar diya, paisa khatam kar diya.”
“...but that was Nani Palkhivala,” said Sorabjee.
Former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan Lokur recounted that as a student of law, one of the highlights of those times was the hearing in the Kesavananda Bharati case, and he regularly went to the top court to hear Palkhivala's submissions. “Later I had the temerity to ask one of the learned judges on the Bench about why Mr Palkhivala was considered so great. The response was similar to the description given a few years earlier, that his submissions were brilliant, uncomplicated and eloquently enunciated,” said Lokur.
The book is a treasure trove of stories about Palkhivala, retold by some of the most eminent names in the field of law, which throw light on unknown aspects of the life and times of the jurist and also help understand better what is already known about him, especially his commitment to safeguarding the Constitution and his expertise in the less glorious field of taxation matters.
Rethinking Palkhivala – Centenary Commemorative Volume
Edited by Maj Gen Nilendra Kumar
Published by Oakbridge
Price 995; Pages 328