Ram Jethmalani by Mayank Chhaya (All my caricatures look alike)
Ram Jethmalani can be fairly described as the closest version of India’s most high profile public curmudgeon. Quite apart from being one of the country’s most successful lawyers, with a penchant for taking up cases and causes others might run away from, the 89-year-old Jethmalani has made a name for himself as someone with no filters or guards. (My earlier post about him here.)
Jethmalani has just been expelled for six years by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for “breach of discipline.” At his age that is pretty much the end of his association with a political party with which he has had a mostly turbulent relationship. I was struck by the fact that a party that never tires of professing its steadfast adherence to the core Indian values such as respect for elders felt no compunction while expelling an 89-year-old man. There is something not right about the aesthetics of punishing someone of that age for “breach of discipline.” All 80-plus people ought to be released from the archaic ideas of discipline. They can say what they want because they do not have too many years left to say it.
One of the first questions that occurred to me while reading the news of Jethmalani’s expulsion was—what do you tell him while expelling him for six years? Do you tell him, ‘Mr. Jethmalani, you can always return when you are 95’? That sounds rather cruel. And why would a 95-year-old anyone want to return to a party that threw him out in the first place?
It is interesting that the BJP’s Parliamentary Board, of which he too was a member and which is responsible for such matters, took a unanimous decision to expel him. What it means that no one on that board liked him.
One can raise the loftier issues of freedom of expression and inter-party democracy in contesting Jethmalani’s expulsion. Jethmalani has been highly critical of his party’s positions on various issues. I find it more objectionable that a nearly 90-year-old man was unceremoniously shown the door. The party knew very well that this former law and justice minister of India comes with all his angularities and quirks. Of course, there is no real political consequence for the BJP for its decision because Jethmalani does not have much grassroots standing. I suspect that even more than his so-called anti-party activities many in the parliamentary board found him to be a pure annoyance.
Now that he is out of it, presumably for good, perhaps he should make it his mission to be the BJP’s outside ombudsman. Not that he ever felt hamstrung by party discipline even when he was its primary member but now he has even less reason to feel inhibited. He will likely lose his membership of the Rajya Sabha, the upper chamber of Indian parliament where members are nominated without having to contest regular elections. With Jethmalani out, the BJP’s oldest member now is the 85-year-old Lal Krishna Advani. There are no prospects of Advani ever being expelled because he is the BJP.