Veteran lawyer and former Union minister Ram Jethmalani died in New Delhi on Sunday morning, six days before his 96th birthday, News18 reported. He had been a lawyer for over seven decades and was involved in several high-profile cases.

Jethmalani was a sitting member in his sixth term in the Rajya Sabha, a former member of the Lok Sabha and was the Union minister of law and justice for a few months in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. He also served as a chairperson of the Bar Council of India and was a president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. He was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1977 and served two terms.

Jethmalani had been on round-the-clock medical help for the last two weeks, The Times of India reported. He breathed his last at 7.45 am on Sunday at his official residence in New Delhi, his son Mahesh Jethmalani told PTI. He was cremated at the Lodhi Road crematorium in New Delhi.

Jethmalani was a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party until he was expelled in 2013 for criticising the party leadership. In 2015, he made a dramatic declaration on Twitter telling Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “My diminishing respect for you ends now.”

Jethmalani became a lawyer at the age of 18, and practised law in Karachi until the Partition. His first major case was the famous murder in which naval officer KM Nanavati was accused of killing his wife’s lover in 1959. Jethmalani represented the state in the case.

Jethmalani announced his retirement in September 2017.

Also read: The Ram Jethmalani interview: Jaitley ‘controls the media’ and Modi ‘made a fool of me’

‘Finest lawyer’

President Ram Nath Kovind praised Jethmalani’s eloquence. “Saddened by the passing of Shri Ram Jethmalani, former Union Minister and a veteran lawyer,” he tweeted. “He was known to express his views on public issues with his characteristic eloquence. The nation has lost a distinguished jurist, a person of great erudition and intellect.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Jethmalani “an exceptional lawyer and iconic public figure who made rich contributions both in the Court and Parliament”. “He was witty, courageous and never shied away from boldly expressing himself on any subject,” Modi tweeted.

Modi said: “One of the best aspects of Shri Ram Jethmalani Ji was the ability to speak his mind. And, he did so without any fear. During the dark days of the Emergency, his fortitude and fight for public liberties will be remembered. Helping the needy was an integral part of his persona.

Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu said he was “deeply saddened” to know about Jethmalani’s death, and described him as “a legal luminary and one of the brilliant minds” of India. “In his passing away the nation has lost a distinguished jurist, a great intellectual and a patriot, who was active till his last breath,” Naidu said.

Attorney General KK Venugopal told PTI that the country has lost its finest lawyer whose boldness set him apart. “His passing away is a great loss not only to the Bar in the country but also to Parliament and the country as a whole,” Venugopal said.

“We are saddened by the loss of former Union minister & veteran lawyer Shri Ram Jethmalani,” the Congress tweeted. “Our thoughts & prayers are with this family today.”

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi described Jethmalani as a “very warm friend”, ANI reported. “Despite our huge age difference he was a very warm friend,” Singhvi, also a lawyer, said. “I’ve known him for decades. I think a feisty, ebullient, high-spirited person like him will be difficult to replace & find, in our public life, political life, social milieu.”

“Ram Jethmalani ji’s passing away is a irreparable loss to the entire legal community,” Amit Shah said. “He will always be remembered for his vast knowledge on legal affairs. My condolences to the bereaved family. Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.”

Communist Party of India General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said he had lost a “dear friend”. “Deep grief at the passing away of Ram Jethmalani,” Yechury tweeted. “He was a dear friend, fellow Parliamentarian and a legal legend. Deepest condolences to his family and the large number of friends and admirers.”

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