Made in Chandigarh: Retain Chandigarh’s character, says Kapil Sibal
The legal eagle who wears many hats says he owes everything to the city and his alma mater where he captained three teams despite being a terribly naughty studentUpdated: May 25, 2018, 19:07 IST
The veteran lawyer who wears many hats...
Name: Kapil Sibal
Designation: A senior Supreme Court lawyer, a member of the Indian National Congress and a Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh.
Well, it is Delhi because I have been living here ever since my college days, but my roots are definitely in Chandigarh. That’s the place where my father stayed after Partition, and where he breathed his last at the age of 99.
My father Hira Lal Sibal relocated from Shimla to Chandigarh in 1957 when I must have been nine years old. I studied in Government Model Senior Secondary School Sector 16 for a couple of years until a new school called St John’s came up. I was in Class VIII when I moved to this school. Those days, studies were not a priority in my life; I was an exceptionally truant, naughty student. I remember I used to play all the time. It was quite evident as I was the captain of the school’s cricket, football and hockey teams. I also fancied myself as a great athlete and took part in every race. I was even declared the best athlete. Academics entered my life only after I left the city.
It was for higher studies that I made my way to St Stephen’s in Delhi where I did BA and MA in History Hons from 1964 to 1969. From 1969 to 1972, I started teaching history at Hindu College while studying law alongside. Later, I enrolled in Harvard School of Law for LLM.
The turning point
In 1973, I was faced with three choices. I had cleared the civil services exam, so I had the option of joining the Indian Administrative Services. I could have continued my career in teaching or I could start a new innings as a lawyer. I decided against the civil services because I am opposed to servility of any form. I can’t do any ‘ji hazuri’, I can’t work in a hierarchical system. I quit teaching and opted for a career in law, following which I went to study in Harvard. I think I was one of the first Indians to study law in Harvard after which I started practising at the Wall Street in New York. I worked there from 1977 to 1980, and then began to flit between Delhi and NY. Finally, over time I stopped going back.
I was very lucky in the law, but what really took my career to another level was the proposed impeachment of Justice V Ramaswamy in 1993. I addressed the Parliament for 6.5 hours, and successfully defended the Supreme Court judge during the impeachment proceedings. I don’t think any other lawyer has ever done this.
Area of expertise
None, I just work hard on whatever I get. From criminal and commercial to civil and constitutional law, I handle everything. I have dealt with some of the most significant constitutional matters in the Supreme Court. I was also a minister for 10 years from 2004.
My secret sauce
Law is all about common sense. If you know how to interpret the case in terms of real life, and if you have a strong desire to resolve disputes, you will succeed. You also need to work hard, have an analytical bent of mind, and a high level of integrity. The court must believe in you. I think once you have established that rapport, things become smooth.
What I owe to Chandigarh
I owe everything to this city. I owe a lot to St John’s where I captained three teams. I learnt a lot there. It got me to St Stephen’s and the rest is history.
Things I like to do when I visit Chandigarh
I used to visit the city very frequently when my father was live. Even now I go there to defend former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. I enjoy paying a visit to my school, or to Sector 17. If I have time, I eat out at a couple of restaurants.
How has the city changed
Sector 5 where I grew up is still the same. So are most of the sectors on this side of Sector 17. But once you go beyond Sector 22, it’s a different world. Chandigarh is more densely populated, it has also undergone a demographic change. But even today it continues to be a very, very rich city. The per capita income of Chandigarh is perhaps the highest in India.
The change I want to see
I would like the city to retain its ambience and architecture. I don’t want to see any high-rises here. I want it to extend its broad streets and cleanliness all over. I also wish more of its people would participate in debates on social and economic issues.
The best advice I ever got
Be unafraid of doing the right thing.
Advice to budding lawyers
I would also tell them to be unafraid, and to work hard. There is no substitute for hard work. Keep your integrity high, learn to analyse well, and be more articulate.