Well done Zaffar Shah – a tribute
Senior Advocate Zaffar Shah must be feeling on top of world with his sterling performance in Article 370 proceedings before a constitution Bench of Supreme Court.
He must also be relieved of a nagging feeling of disappointment for being left behind in race by two of his close associates -Muzaffar Baig and Justice BA Khan.
That was all in past. Zafar Shah is a celebrity in legal circles today. He has done which no State Advocate has ever done before the highest court of land and has made all of us proud. He has proved that he is the best in law business occupying No-1 position amongst practising lawyers in the State today.
To tell the truth I was more nervous than Zaffar Shah may have been on his maiden appearance before a Constitution Bench of Supreme court and that too in Article 370 proceedings. I had kept my fingers crossed as many of his well wishers may have when he rose to address constitution Bench of SC on 16th day of hearing. I was not sure of what he will do when top lawyers of the country appearing with him had already made their mark. I was panicking lest he may falter or become incoherent loosing the track. But blissfully he kept his cool, exuded confidence, maintained his composure and delivered a scintillating performance. I could see the judges on Bench, some of whom were my colleagues, hearing him with respect and rapt attention and not raising a single query to interrupt flow of his arguments. Judges love to hear the counsel who delivers the best and who assists the Court fairly.
I had a fear that Zaffar may fumble and derail under pressure of his maiden appearance before a constitution Bench. Even top lawyers fumble and falter before a Court on a given day. I have seen some bigwigs faltering before my Court. But Zafar remained steadfast and consistent, proving me wrong.
That said-Zaffar Shah’s extraordinary advocacy has sent me down memory lane to recall memories of our young days and ups and downs of life.
Zaffar and me shared some kind of chemistry and became buddies on first sight. We started our life journey together in legal profession and went through more downs than UP’s on the way. Those were times when Legal profession was hugely dominated and controlled by stalwart lawyers of one community like Janki Nath Bhan, Jia Lal Choudry, Kashi Nath Raina ( RIP) etc. Legal practice revolved round these names who would obtain court orders more on face value than on any law strength. Lawyers fee was being charged on each appearance ranging from Rs 10 to rupees few hundreds. Senior lawyers would exchange pleasantries with the judge and tell him summary of the case orally to obtain an order. Most of the judges would not even look at the junior lawyer even if he was equipped with facts and law.
Petition writers were touting sending clients to these established lawyers. They were also authoring/ scribbling pleadings of parties which made no sense and were inexplicable before the Court. It was a Herculean task for new entrants and young lawyers to break this nexus. Result was that young lawyers would get frustrated and abandon the profession. Survival rate was negligible. New entrants like us were taunted and looked down upon. I recall one day when this frustration overwhelmed us and we decided to call it a day and join the unemployment Brigade. But before we could do that, we met patronising Justice Mufti Bahaudin to inform him about it. Mufti Sb pacified us and encouraged us to carry on telling us , “you are our future hope/you cannot give up”. He graciously arranged a part-time lecture job for us in law Faculty of Kashmir University to sustain us in legal practice.
Before Law teaching could consume or divert us, It so happened that Abdul Ghani Lone, a Minister in Mir Qasim Govt resigned and returned to start law practice. He conceived setting up of a Law Company and for this he roped in Muzafar Baig and myself. This is how first Law Firm (Lone & Co ) was born in Kashmir. For this we rented out an office at Polo View. But as none of us was suited to run the office because of our varied interests and as Lone Sb was to launch a party, he asked me to find out someone to take care of the office. I recommended Zafar Shah, being my closest friend and knowing his one track interest in law practice. Zafar was interviewed by Lone Sb during his hair cut in a Barber shop and inducted and posted to look after the office relieving three of us to indulge in our extracurricular activities.
Meanwhile, Lone Sb enrolled myself and Muzafar Baig in his party (People’s Conference). Baig sb was appointed vice chairman of the party and myself one of General Secretaries. Before the party could find its feet, it was faced with Assembly Elections compelling all three of us to plunge into election fray. We lost in elections and when we returned to our bay- (our Polo View Office). we found Zaffar had entrenched himself and captured the field and office also. He was not inclined to part with some cases that had come to him during the interval and share his work with us disregarding that he was acting on behalf of the Firm which was yet to take off and of which he was not even a partner technically. His conduct was natural because no lawyer shares his hard earned work with anyone. This resulted in some bitterness and parting of ways and Law Firm being rendered defunct. Upon this we dispersed and went our own ways.
During this period Zaffar had seriously perused his work and had come to be known and recognised in litigating public.
He also hit the ceiling and broke the stalwart lawyer/ petition writer nexus along the way with Mian Qayoom and few others by confronting Senior lawyers with their arguing capabilities and preparedness. Consequently, younger lot started wining cases and becoming known to litigating public. That is how the stranglehold was broken producing new generation of lawyers, who started writing their own pleadings and charging fees in lump sum.
After we had parted, Muzaffar Baig went to America to do LLM at Harvard and I was left to fend for myself. Disheartened a bit, I soldiered on doing a bit of journalism and part time law practice side by side. It was at this stage that Doordarshan which had been just set up came handy and I was picked up as Anchor to conduct Current Affairs programme and to interview dignitaries. With this, I became a TV personality matching top Anchors. So much so that one of the NRI interviewees compared me to BBC anchor, David Frost. I become famous and came to be recognised in higher circles and in general public. This fetched some legal work also including a ( Forest boom) as we call it, handling cases of Forest Lessees who paid us handsome fees leading to our buying of cars and constructing houses.
Similarly Baig Sb, after his return also indulged in several activities combining part- time law practice with politics. It was in or around this time that then CJI Justice Bhagwati’s daughter, Palvi Shroff took fancy for him and engaged him in her company matters before the Supreme Court.
Mercurial Baig Sb did not last long in this arrangement and returned home to do politics.
As luck would have it, Muzaffar Baig was appointed Advocate General of State by Chief Minster G.M Shah who had staged a coup against his brother-in-law Farooq Abdullah and just as in American elections presidential Candidate runs with a running mate, Baig Sb picked me up as his running mate and offered me State Add. Advocate Generals’ post. I dithered and shelved the offer till Baig Sb lured me with the bait of High Court judgeship, of which I had never thought of and which had never crossed my mind. This attracted me a bit and I accepted the offer to become State Add Advocate General.
Baig Sb was the first and perhaps the last Advocate General who lent grace and dignity to Advocate Generals’ office and enhanced its decorum and prestige. He was a dominating figure and a no non sense Advocate General who would send shivers down the corridors of power. He enjoyed a free access to Governor or Chief Minister as the case may be and his word was law so to say.
Baig Sb would entrust almost all legal work to me and keep himself free to handle policy and high stake. He would rarely make appearance in the court except in a high stake matter. For rest of it, he would give me a free hand to handle and to deal with bureaucracy.
Looking back, I think, it was, perhaps, my performance during this tenure that projected me as a candidate for judgeship.
No sooner had I resigned, I was called by Chief Justice SS Kang and offered High Court judgeship which I accepted leading to my appointment as a Judge of the High Court. On the other side Muzafar Baig also made strides in politics and rose to become Deputy Chief Minster.
Talented Zafar Shah remained as he was. With two of us having been catapulted to higher positions it is in nature of things that he, being human, may have been impacted some way. But what is noteworthy is that he remained steadfast and dedicated to his legal practice doing well, earning money but confined to J& K only.
Zafar made no secret of his disgust of which he would give vent at times. I recall while greeting me on becoming Chief justice, he could not hide his affected feelings and went on lamenting saying-“You have become Chief Justice and Muzafar Baig a Deputy Chief Minister and I am there where I was.”
Zaffar’s expression of I don’t know what to call it- (May be dismay for a better word) was natural and understandable. I could read his mind and depressive feelings many a time but then it was all dictated by destiny. I always thought he deserved better being hugely talented. That is why I always loved and respected him when he would appear before me as a lawyer. I never regarded or treated him any inferior even when I was a Chief justice and he was a lawyer appearing before me in a petty matter. Official protocol apart, I would always put him at ease, make him comfortable, treat him at par and stop him from calling me “Sir” out of Court.
When I became Chief Justice I called him one day and offered him High Court Judgeship. I assured him of coming over all obstacles that he had acquired during turmoil in the State. He declined saying-(“It is too late)”
I recall all this after Zaffar Shahs’ power packed performance in Article 370 proceedings before SC. He actually stole the show and dominated the proceedings competing with the tallest and beating most of them on their own turf. It was a “WOW” performance to use the latest slang, beyond my and other’s calculations. It surprised me but excited me at the same time.
I have heard all top lawyers when at Delhi High Court including those who were appearing alongside or against Zaffar but he nearly excelled most of them, if not all, on this day. Wish Zaffar had done it before and moved out of the valley cocoon to play on a larger field.
Zaffar has done which no Kashmiri lawyer has done so far and he deserves all praise and accolades for this. He has done proud to people of J&K and has proved that he is the best in business today. At the same time, he has turned out to be a dark horse winning the race against all his associates and contemporaries whom he thought, had outscored him. Now he has turned the tables and gone a step ahead. He would now stay at top as a celebrity lawyer till his last breath while his contemporaries/ associates like me who had left him behind would fade away in the oblivion.
Zaffar will be the ultimate winner in the race, if there was one amongst the trio…Well done Zaffar- keep it up and do us more proud.
I feel satisfied that all three of us have done well in their life journey as destiny had willed. While Muzaffar Baig became Deputy Chief Minster and earned Padma Bushan, I headed two High Courts and SAARC LAW ( India ), a conglomerate of legal bodies of 8 South East Asian Countries. Zaffar Shah came from behind to become No-1.Has he won the race remains to be seen.
He will undoubtedly remain a celebrity lawyer around. He should cheer up and have no regrets or complaints now.
All three of us could not have asked for more. God was so kind to us and had bestowed on us more than we deserved.