"Arun Jaitley must be dismissed as the Finance Minister for black money to be recovered," advocate Ram Jethmalani told a packed house on the last day of the Jaipur Literature Festival at the Diggi Palace on Sunday afternoon.
Talking about his bucket list wishes, 91-year-old Jethmalani said he had two things in his bucket-list, one of which is accomplished and the prospect of the other, disappointing. "My first bucket-list wish was to knock the earlier UPA government out. That’s done because of the great efforts of Narendra Modi and I’m very happy," the advocate Jethmalani, who was in conversation with journalist Madhu Trehan and writer Shobhaa De in a session titled ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ based on his recently released biography (The Rebel: A Biography of Ram Jethmalani by Susan Adelman), said, "Modi is an avatar sent to us by god."
However, Jethmalani was quick to remind the audience that Modi’s responsibility does not come to end only by coming to power. "In one of my columns after the election results I congratulated Modi and said that now he should fulfil all the promises he had to the people of this country," he said.
On the second item of his list, Jethmalani said, "I want to get the several thousand crores of black money stashed away in foreign banks." But, he said, he was disappointed by the efforts taken by the Modi government in this regard. "To bring back the black money, Modi has appointed undeserving people," he said.
Talking about his association with the Bharatiya Janata Party, Jethmalani said he was expelled in 2013 because he had said in a public meeting that he was superior to all the members with the exception of Narendra Modi.
Ram Jethmalani kept the house enthralled for an hour sharing anecdotes from his early days as a lawyer, the partition and post-partition violence and his struggle during the Emergency period.
Recalling a certain post-Emergency meeting with Indira Gandhi, when he met her in the bedroom of a certain politician, Jethmalani commented ironically: "Where else can you meet Mrs Gandhi other than the bedroom?" provoking a roar of laughter from the crowd.
During that meeting, in which Jethmalani asked Mrs Gandhi to apologise for the Emergency, Mrs Gandhi coughed while drinking coffee. Jethmalani asked her if she was allergic to coffee, to which she replied, "No, I’m allergic to you. Jethmalani replied, "But I never got as close to you as the coffee."
Jethmalani started his career as a lawyer in Sindh before partition and escaped to Bombay in 1948 on the advice of his friend AK Brohi, with whom he ran a law firm. At 17, when he had completed his degree in law in Karachi he was stopped from practicing it for being underage. Jethmalani, said Shobhaa De, challenged the authorities and asked them to change the rules instead.
Reading out another anecdote from the book Madhu Trehan told the audience what happened when Morarji Desai, the fifth prime minister of India, repeatedly told him not to praise the habit of drinking. Trehan said, Jethmalani had told Desai that ‘you drink your piss-ky and I will drink my whisky’.
Speaking on how he went from India to the USA during Emergency, Jethmalani said, "When my friends and fellow lawyers asked me how I would go with the emergency restrictions enforced, I told them none of you are criminal lawyers." That night itself, Jethmalani says, he was escorted to the airport by the commissioner of police.