A scholarly judge, a rarity these days, when it was the rule, in times past, took the flight to Telengana-Andhra Pradesh High Court, in 2016. Tamil Nadu’s loss was their gain. If it all had happened, as a transfer en route to the Supreme Court, which Justice V. Ramasubramanian surely deserved, it would have added to the majesty of the Madras High Court. But news reports suggested that he chose to go, for reasons 'to retain the dignity of the office and not necessarily his own'. It dented the image of 150-plus-years-old institution's Bar. “Deep caste divisions, groupism, motivated criticism and slander are the factors that scare good judges away from Madras High Court” - a newspaper quoted an unnamed judicial officer” then, when he took the flight.
“Corridors have walls and they hear and record well' said Motilal Setalvad, India's first Attorney General. Corridor buzz, more often than not, hits the bull's eye. It made sad reading that Rams — to his friends — volunteered to move out. He must have wrestled with this idea, hard and long. He is a thinker.
He must have found the environment stifling to leave the imprint of his conscientious ways. And the Collegium obliged. Surely, the Collegium would have been aware of the reasons. For, now they have hand held him to elevation to the top court. There could not be a more deserving candidate than he.
We grudged the Telengana — Andhra Pradesh High Court Bar. Someone inimical to the highest traditions of our High Court had snatched him for them. He needed no customary farewell speech laced with “Your Lordship had…this”, “Your Lordship had…that” routine. He was beyond it all. Which verdict to highlight and which to omit. We were spoilt for choice. He did not deserve a farewell. Rams, you may have been hurt. But you had hurt us more.
We gave India its first Indian Judge — Justice Muthusamy Iyer — about whom Rams wrote an erudite piece. We gave India Govind Swaminathan — that doyen Advocate General who stood up in Supreme Court — a Vishwaroopa Darshan as those present vouched — and submitted during the Keshavanand Bharathi review charade, orchestrated by the anointed Chief Justice A.N. Ray (which led to resignation of the venerated Justice H.R. Khanna) and said, for all times to come, “Excuse me, Who says Tamil Nadu has sought a review of the Keshvanand Bharathi verdict. I say with conviction and authority, No, not true”. With that, the sleight of review attempt died a still born death and Indian Constitution and Constitutionalism has survived to this day. We had Chief Justice M M Ismail, another Ramayana aficionado like Rams, being transferred during Emergency and resigning as a matter of principle.
Then, you had the feisty Markandey Katju — retired Judge of Supreme Court — former Chief Justice of Madras High Court in a tell-all, saying, “Justice K. Kannan was transferred out of Madras High Court to Punjab & Haryana High Court for all the wrong reasons. He has a fine reputation and check with anybody. He would have raised the standards if he had continued. A true jewel.”
And Justice Kannan was a prized catch for Chandigarh and he became the toast of India, as the forerunner to readily disclose his assets publicly on assumption of office, discomfiting many, to our amusement. That is the tradition of Madras High Court. But, equally, there were transfers for other reasons too, they say. Why talk of them for it may be taboo territory.
Surely, there were those of us who loved to enter Rams' court hall and always be greeted with that infectious smile and humour-laced retorts and repartees. Even when he disagreed, he was ever so polite but incisive, to lace the pungent with light-hearted banter. It was an intellectual treat and stimulating exercise and 'one looked forward to cases being listed before his Court unlike before many others' (as the legendary Sr. Advocate V.K.
Thiruvekatachari once referred to Justice P.V. Rajamannar). Appearance before his Court was a joyous experience, in the pursuit of higher calling, learning and justice. Be it a Senior Advocate or raw junior struggling to make a mark and unable to tango with the other side, Justice Ramasubramanian was the protector and benefactor and mere facts in submission would suffice, as he and the “Blind lady of Justice took care,” as Lord Denning felicitously put it. Surely, those of us, who loved every minute of his adorning the seat, with meaning and majesty, not pomp and pride, missed his reign.
He would not have left us if he felt 'wanted'. When his Court was invaded by protesters, mouthing offensive communal slogans and snide remarks were made at his firm and resolute manner in handling the unruly Bar, when it was called for, he faced it with sanguine equanimity and equipoise; ever so smilingly, as only he can. But it must have hurt him bad. Externally, it never showed. Internally, he must have been wounded and therefore took the option not to allow him to be hurt more. It must have hurt him sure that not one sane voice stood up and arose from the so called sensitive Bar to pass any resolution against such monstrosities. He flew before we possibly descended further. Hey Ram, We did not deserve You. You deserved better.
We wished you well with pride in our heart that you would keep the rich traditions of Madras High Court — less the unpleasant ones you were inflicted with. You came good.
And thence to Himachal Pradesh as Chief Justice was but a seamless leap a la Justice M. Srinivasan (another scholarly Judge as Supreme Court, as Justice Kuldeep Singh called him in a judgment). No matter the grievances we have over the Collegium affairs, this one time we wholeheartedly commend their welcome bow to merit over the pedestrian seniority retinue. Time merit mattered. And surely Judiciary is the best place for it to begin. And for this, notwithstanding the expected 'objections over overruling seniority', the Collegium and the Central Government deserve our kudos. Rams would be a jewel in the crown. Honestly, the Bar in Tamil Nadu may have no right to own him as theirs. But then Rams is such a noble gentleman akin to his Ramayana hero Ram, he would love to belong here, no matter the hurt that led him to leave.
Rams is not all good and no grey. He has been guilty, at times, of a disease that Lord Diplock accused Lord Denning of. “At times, the Master of Rolls goes on a tangent unbeknown to contesting parties, relying on the inner recess of his limitless research within the confines of his secret chambers. The least he can do is to put the parties on notice of the research results and take them into confidence than catch them wrongfooted for no fault of theirs.” And then Rams has been caught, “ironing out the creases in the statute to do justice in spite of law”, as Justice Antonin Scalia accused the 'modernists' of. All in the cause of Justice, of course.
(Author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court)...