“Law is a great discipline for the mind. It teaches you how to think clearly, precisely and accurately. Every word has its definite meaning, and must find its proper place in its own context.”
These words are of the first Chief Justice of Bombay High Court post Independence – Mr. M. C. Chagla
A renowned Jurist, Judge, Educationist, Diplomat & Central Cabinet Minister.
Educated at St. Xavier’s High School and College in Mumbai after which he went to Lincoln College, Oxford.
After returning to India, he taught Law at the Government Law College, Bombay. He became successively a Judge of the High Court at Bombay and then its Chief Justice.
Apart from these, Chagla held many other important offices, –
- He was Vice-Chancellor of Bombay University
- Served on the Law Commission
- Became Acting Governor of Bombay.
- Ad-Hoc Judge of the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
- India’s Ambassador to the U. S. A. (3 years)
- High Commissioner for India in U. K. (1 year).
- Member of the Indian Cabinet, first as Minister of Education and later of External Affairs.
- President of the Supreme Court Bar Association (1971-73).
Mr. Chagla was born Muslim. But, the name Chagla in Muslim community is a bit rare, isn’t it?? There is a small story behind it.
The surname “Chagla” was not his original surname. In his youth, he was known as “Merchant” as both his father and grandfather were merchants. Hating the name due to its associations with money, he went to his grandfather one day and asked him as to what he should call himself.
His grandfather promptly replied “Chagla” as his father, i.e. Chagla’s great-grandfather, had Chagla as his pet name, which in the Kutchi language means “favourite”. Chagla promptly adopted the new surname.
The book covers his childhood and continues till his journey to the Parliament.
It contains incidents from his college days at Oxford, his law practice at Bombay, his struggles.
His experience as a Judge, Chief Justice, Ad-Hoc Judge at the International Court, and his experience in politics.
It also contains letters exchanged between him, Jawaharlal Nehru & Morarji Desai.
Through the whole process of reading it, you will notice his upfront & un-biased attitude towards his views on controversial topics like – Partition, the Reservation System, Kashmir, His opinions regarding Jinnah, Nehru, etc.
There are many things to share about him. But, here we will just go through a few of his incidents from the book.
- “There are many people who confess that they cannot understand how advocates defend bad causes. There is also a belief that an advocate’s function consists for the most part in showing white as black and black as white.”
Chagla’s answer to that was – The only answer that one can give to this popular misconception is the famous answer that Johnson gave to Boswell, when he was asked what he thought of an advocate supporting a cause which he knew to be bad. Johnson’s answer was that the advocate did not know it to be good or bad till the Judge determined it for him and for others. Therefore, the duty of the advocate is to do his best for his client. He is after all the client’s mouthpiece, and he must put before the court all the aspects of the case which are favorable to his client. But he must do so fairly, without misleading the court, and without concealing from it anything that is his duty to divulge. But he is not concerned with the final result. That rests with the judge, and it is ultimately for the judge to decide which side is right, and how justice should prevail.
- As a legal concept, secularism means equality before the law, and no distinction between one citizen and another as far as the application of laws is concerned.
On the topic of Secularism he says… In my opinion, secularism is much more than that. Secularism is an attitude of the mind and a quality of the heart. A man with a secular outlook looks upon all persons as human beings pure and simple, equally estimable or precious not only in the eye of law, but in the eye of God. You refuse to classify people according to the religious labels which you attach to them. You do not think of a man as a Hindu, a Muslim or a Christian, but merely as a human being.
He also describes a small incident here…
I remember when I went to the United States as Ambassador, when I was asked at my first Press Conference whether I was a Muslim, I answered: “How is it any business of yours what my religion is? That is purely my personal affair. All that you have a right to know is that I am an Indian and proud to be an Indian. When I meet an American I do not ask him ‘Are you a Protestant or a Catholic or a Jew?’ To me he is a citizen of United States, and I treat him as an American. I do not understand why you take this attitude when you are dealing with the people of India.”
- Sometime later, the Congress put him a proposal to stand from Aurangabad where the majority population was Muslim. It was an absolutely safe seat for him. Mr. Chagla flew into a rage. It was an insult to me….he said….to be asked to stand from Auranagbad merely because I would succeed by getting Muslim votes there. If my non-Muslim fellow citizens had no confidence in me, I would rather not go to Parliament, than go with the help of communal votes.
Will end it.. with an incident from his Judicial Career.
- Mr. Daphtary, ex Attorney General used to make a joke about him: “If you are arguing an appeal before Chagla and you had to open the appeal, provided you stated that you were appearing for a widow or a minor or a poor man, half the appeal was won.” To which Chagla had to say – I agree that ultimately the judge has to decide according to law, and not according to his own private philosophy or inclinations. But, as I said when you can decide a case one way or the other and still be right, justice demands that you should try to redress the balance, since it is usually weighted against the weak and the vulnerable. It is they who need the protection of the court more than the rich and powerful.
This book is about such a Magnanimous Personality.
To respect him, his sculpture was made which is still present on the 3rd floor of Bombay High Court.
I strongly recommend you to read this book. Click the Image below to buy it.
Please, tell me in the comments below if you liked this book recommendation post of Roses In December-Autobioraphy of M.C. Chagla.
If you want such a blog written for any other book then do mention it in the comments below.