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The ‘odd’ man who opted out of race for big job

Former Solicitor-General and eminent lawyer Gopal Subramanium has made the headlines for “withdrawing his consent” to be appointed judge of the Supreme Court, while rapping the government and the judges for not backing him.

Close associates say he was “saddened and pained” by the “planted leaks in the media” over the past two weeks, with reports that the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had deemed him unsuitable.

Subramaniam is not new to controversy. In 2011, he resigned as Solicitor-General during the Congress-led regime, when telecom minister Kapil Sibal chose to hire a private lawyer for the telecom spectrum case. When urged to rethink, he was categorical — when a client does not have confidence in the lawyer, the latter should step down.

He has handled several prominent cases, including the 2001 Parliament attack case, the Italian marines case and those on the Mumbai bomb blasts. And, on countless occasions, entrusted with the responsibility of being amicus curiae (translating literally as friend of the court) for the SC in cases as controversial as the Sohrabuddin fake encounter, for ascertaining the wealth in the Padmanabhaswamy Temple, in assisting the court to frame guidelines for banning ragging in colleges and to tackle child trafficking. He fought the Ajmal Kasab (one of the perpetrators of the  November 2008 Mumbai terrorist assault) case as special public prosecutor, charging the Maharashtra government a token fee of one rupee.

Says a long-time friend and former junior in his chamber, “Subramanium is passionate about justice. Whether it be paid briefs or amicus cases, he treats all of them the same way, meticulous in his details, thorough in his approach.”

As counsel in the Parliament attack case in 2001, his insistence on visiting the scene of the incident early morning and to examining every detail, ascertaining from which position the terrorists had fired, how the victims had been hit, etc, had him in the crosshairs of investigative agencies. The IB and CBI have raised questions about his “odd” behaviour (offering flowers at the Gandhi statute), which Subramaniam has subsequently explained as paying homage to the martyrs and Gandhiji.

His “spiritual” learnings have also come under the limelight as a “drawback”, something his associates reject. Deeply knowledgeable and well read, he is fluent in Sanskrit and often visits the Sringeri Sharada Peeth in Karnataka. A lover of Carnatic music, he is also said to be fond of Sufi music.

In a strong letter to the Chief Justice of India, withdrawing his consent to be a judge, Subramanium has said he was being targeted for his upright and honest handling of the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case (which led to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aide, Amit Shah, being booked).

Legal circles say Arun Jaitley, now a senior leader in both the ruling party and the government, was allegedly not being keen to have Subramanium as an SC judge. They say Jaitley, also a senior lawyer at the bar had a longstanding rivalry.

A junior to former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, Subramanium was one of the youngest to be appointed Senior Advocate in the SC’s history. His many supporters within the bar and outside testify to his “impeccable integrity”. Former law minister Shanti Bhushan regretted “the lost opportunity of having a great judge” like him in the apex court and condemned the government. Stating he’d observed Subramanium’s career since the beginning, Bhushan commended the latter for having the “highest professional rectitude, a keen interest and capacity for hard work”.


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