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    OpinionsMurlidhar C. Bhandare, the ‘Senior in the Chamber’ who we all miss

    Murlidhar C. Bhandare, the ‘Senior in the Chamber’ who we all miss


    Wore many hats, with several prestigious international assignments

    By Mohan V Katarki

    For a lawyer, when his chamber senior passes away, he naturally feels a loss. I am feeling a terrible loss on the passing away of senior advocate Murlidhar C. Bhandare, who lived a long and meaningful life into the mid-nineties.


    The autobiography of Bhandare tells us that he was born in a middle-class Saraswat family in Bombay, now Mumbai. The family had migrated to Mumbai long back from Goa when both were Portuguese territories. Generations of Bhandares lived in Mumbai but none was a lawyer. However, Murlidhar C. Bhandare passionately knocked on the doors of the legal profession in the early 1950s as a first-generation lawyer.


    At that time, the Bombay Bar was a close-knit family of Parsi and Gujarati barristers and lawyers. Interestingly, all great lawyers of his age— Fali Nariman, Anil Divan and Ashok Desai— were together in the Government Law College, Mumbai. They remained best friends as Nariman (little before his passing away) recollected in January last in a Desai memorial lecture.


    Professionally, Bhandare excelled. When he was building the profession, Sunanda— daughter of his best friend H.R. Gokhale (the then Union law minister)— came into his life in 1962. He shifted his practice to the Supreme Court in the late 1960s. Designation from the Delhi High Court as a senior advocate followed. When Bhandare was cruising in the legal profession, he got elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1982 and remained there till 1994, immensely contributing to the debates.


    He had many international assignments, for example, as a chairman of the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. The pinnacle of his political career was when he was appointed Governor of Odisha (2007–12). He earned the reputation of being a people's governor.


    While Bhandare practised law and dabbled in successfully, his better-half Sunanda went to the Bench as judge of the Delhi High Court when she was 42 in 1984. Unfortunately, she passed away early in 1994, leaving her great judicial career unfulfilled, of probably becoming the first woman Chief Justice of .


    I joined Bhandare's chamber in January 1985. Even with some old Bombay connections, I was unable to find a chamber of a senior advocate. My relative K. H. Patil (then the president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee) came to my help immediately. He requested Bhandare to take me into his chamber.


    Fortunately, a vacancy was available in the chamber since a junior had shifted to the high court just a while earlier. (That junior is now a sitting judge of the Supreme Court.) Learning in the chamber of a senior advocate comes from legal research and the exposure one gets or grabs. In Bhandare's chamber, I was immediately attracted to an array of books on constitutional law and legal theory in his library.


    The appearances in the Supreme Court and occasionally before the Delhi High Court and crossfires provided me with much-needed grooming as a lawyer. My first tryst with inter-state water disputes came with him, as assisting counsel before the Ravi Beas Water Disputes Tribunal in 1986.


    Bhandare's parliamentary work also used to throw up constitutional issues for research. Occasional calls from Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi seeking guidance on politico-legal issues added glamour to our work. Overall, it provided great satisfaction to work as his junior in my formative years. Bhandare was close to Dr B.R. Ambedkar from his childhood. His death snaps the last living connection to Ambedkar.


    Bhandare was a true Congressman who deeply believed in left-liberal principles. He had been the head of the Students Union of India in his college days. He was deeply interested in parliamentary work. He would often tell the story of how Bhulabhai Desai— a freedom fighter and an eminent lawyer in Bombay— returned the brief and a fee of ₹10,000 (a substantial amount in those days) kept on his table to address a Congress party meeting during the freedom movement.


    In June 1985, Bhandare received an unusual request from his Congress party for an appearance before the returning officer of Bijnor to defend the candidature of Meira Kumar (daughter of the legendary Jagjivan Ram) in the bye-elections.


    An objection was raised by Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Dal party that she cannot contest from a reserved seat in Bijnor since she had married a non-Scheduled Caste person. As Meira Kumar had resigned from the Indian Foreign Service to join politics on a personal request from Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, all eyes were on her debut in Bijnor.


    The research on the interesting legal question of whether one retained her caste after marrying a man from a different caste made Bhandare ask me to accompany him to Bijnor. The four of us— Bhandare, Meira Kumar, Meira Kumar's husband Manjul Kumar (a lawyer practising before the Supreme Court) and I— travelled by road to Bijnor in western Uttar Pradesh.


    We succeeded in having the objection rejected and the nomination paper accepted. But what I saw in Bijnor rattled us completely. A large crowd at the collectorate was shouting provocative slogans directed against the upper castes. When I asked the local lawyer, he said this crowd belonged to a new party called the Bahujan Samaj Party. I thought to myself that this party was going to rise if this aggressive mobilisation continued.


    No wonder, Mayawati, who badly lost the election in Bijnor, rose to be the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh within the next five years. Suave Meira Kumar, who won that election easily, subsequently became the Speaker of the for the period 2009 to 2014.


    Handsome and charming, Bhandare appeared elite but was a commoner at heart. He mingled with everyone at the Bar. He was a friend and philosopher to one and all. His popularity got him twice elected as the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), in 1986–87 and then in 1987–88. He truly supported the feminist cause. He would tell all juniors to vote for women candidates in the election.


    Now, the Supreme Court has ordered one-third reservation for women in the Bar Association. I feel it is justified to say it is a tribute to the sensitisation initiated by Bhandare. During his tenure as the president of the SCBA, Bhandare weathered a tough time. A prolonged agitation arising from the lathi charge on Tees Hazari lawyers ordered by the ebullient police officer Kiran Bedi turned a little aggressive. Bhandare handled the matter deftly.


    He faced an embarrassing situation on a Law Day function since judges boycotted the function because of the resolution passed by the Bar indirectly alleging violation of oath for delivering a judgment holding that the remedy under Article 32 is not available in normal cases. But Bhandare did not agree to move for recall of the resolution. The function happened without the judges for the first and perhaps the last time.


    While forcefully arguing Dharwad's daily wage case, Justice Ranganath Misra remarked: “I have received some telegram that a trade union has collected a large amount of money for fighting the case.” Bhandare, with his presence of mind, quickly replied, “We receive nasty letters every day about corruption in other places!”


    Bhandare's story is incomplete without mentioning his love for his wife Sunanda. He never missed calling her during the lunch hour from the chamber. Bhandare was a loving father and doting grandfather. Bhandare took a keen interest in holding annual lectures by eminent persons under the aegis of the Sunanda Bhandare Foundation. His legacy in the legal profession is being carried forward by his daughter Manali Bhandare and granddaughter Shreya Singhal.


    “We all miss him,” is the simple truth. Since he loved simplicity and truthfulness, it is also the best tribute to our beloved Bhandare. (IPA Service)




    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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