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A Tribute to Shri Jagadish Swarup
by Sunil Gupta *

Cite as : (1989) 3 SCC (Jour) 17

Shri Jagadish Swarup is no more. In early winter this year, as he dedicated his new book to Lord Almighty, the words "To My Lord Who sustained me to live up to the ripe age of 85 and has enabled me to bring out this revised Edn." flowed from his pen. Winter passed by. The Lord could wait no more. On 'the 2nd of May', as a sultry summer wind blew across the corridors of the Allahabad High Court, 'Babuji', as Shri Swarup was fondly called by all of us, suffered a heart stroke while arguing before a Division Bench. Another ten days passed in struggling in the hospital. On May 11, Shri Swarup left for his heavenly abode.

To many Shri Swarup was a great lawyer, jurist, author, thinker, artist, painter and philanthropist. My own first impressions about him go back to my school days when, one Sunday morning, the busy and eminent lawyer in his late sixties invited me, a bare teenager, to spend a day with him. That day he spent a whole afternoon telling me about Rabindranath Tagore, the freedom struggle, the worth of lawyers and so on and asking me about my school, my teachers, my hobbies, my interests and the like. I cannot but remember him, first and foremost and more than anything else, as an extremely affectionate, humane, and tender-hearted person who enjoyed taking interest in the smallest and the leastinitiated notwithstanding all his learning, scholarship and achievements in the world of law and jurisprudence.

Born on March 1, 1904 in Patna, Sri Swarup did his B.Sc. and B.L. from the Patna and Calcutta Universities respectively securing first class first degrees. He joined the Bar at Agra in 1928 and got enrolled as an Advocate in the Allahabad High Court in 1932. That was the beginning of an illustrious career.

As a lawyer, Shri Swarup was particularly noted for his marshalling of facts, preparedness (and not only preparation), logical analysis and masterly exposition of law. Of his command over civil law it was often said "What Babu Jagadish Swarup does not know, the CPC cannot have". No less noteworthy were his pleasing court manners and grace. In 1969, Shri Swarup was appointed Solicitor-General of India which gave him an opportunity to make his contribution to the Supreme Court. He was also co-opted as a member of the Law Commission of India and he served as a member of a Committee on Company Law.

The learning of Shri Swarup was well-matched by his wit and humour. Once a Judge of the Patna High Court said to him "Babu Jagadish Swarup, I envy the black hair on your head". Shri Swarup replied "Your Lordship may have my hair but give me your brain".

Shri Swarup's dedication to the cause of the judiciary was well-known. One of the most remarkable contributions to the Independence of Indian Judiciary was made when in 1964 Shri Swarup filed, organised, fought and argued the historic case involving orders for the arrest of 2 Judges of the Allahabad High Court under warrants from the U.P. legislature. The case finally resulted in a Presidential reference to the Supreme Court on the respective powers of the High Court and the State legislatures, viz. Special Reference No. 1 of 1964. In an epoch-making judgment the Supreme Court put the powers of the Judiciary above those of the legislature and beyond the pale of controversy for all times to come. After the judgment Sri Swarup received a personal letter of gratitude from each one of the Judges of the Allahabad High Court.

Shri Swarup remained a crusader for the Rule of Law and Justice all his life. He was not in politics. But he was not apolitical. In 1977, as a responsible citizen, he took active part in the General Elections and campaigned for the ouster of the Emergency regime. But — and that is what distinguishes him from all others — the elections being over, he again reverted to his profession without seeking any returns from politics. While in the profession, his last few years were again spent in resisting the move to divide the Principal Bench of the High Court at Allahabad. He firmly believed that the seat of the sovereign court could not be broken up on the hypocritical slogan of 'justice at the door step'.

Shri Swarup was a voracious reader. He simply loved books. He collected books of all hues and on 'all subjects' (and not only law). At times he would brood: "I have no love for any of my possessions. But, Lord, what will happen to my Library after me?" His library remains a legend to many.

Apart from law and jurisprudence, Shri Swarup particularly enjoyed the subjects of religion and philosophy. For several years he remained actively associated with the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. He was a noted artist and painter. Amongst his notable paintings are those of eminent legal luminaries such as Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and Shri M.C. Setalvad.

Shri Swarup was a noted author. He wrote books on Constitutional Law, Company Law, Statutory Interpretation. In 1972, he delivered the prestigious Tagore Law Lectures on "Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms" on the invitation of the Calcutta University. He also wrote a book founded on his personal experiences "Making of a good lawyer". Just before his death he completed his book on Contempt of Court which is due to be published shortly.

Above all, at heart, Shri Swarup was a thinker. During the last few years he had become greatly concerned about constitutional developments in India. Once when I went to invite him to preside over a Seminar on 'Civil Liberties' he confronted me with the question: "Your Preamble speaks of Social Justice. Does it define it? Can you define it? I want to be enlightened on this." I had no answer. Much later, on going through his newly-published book on the Constitution of India, I discovered what had really been troubling Shri Swarup. Therein again he questioned:

"To offer political rights or safeguards against intervention by the State to men who are half-naked, illiterate, underfed and diseased is to mock their condition; they need medical help or education before they can understand or make use of it. Without adequate conditions for the use of freedom what is the value of freedom?"

The death of Shri Jagadish Swarup has deprived the legal fraternity of a person who alone had the heart and the gumption to put the right questions and who was one of the very few who have the will and the enlightenment to give the right answers. His simplicity, his scholarship, his sincerity and complete dedication are ideals which should enlighten the path of all future generations in the profession. May his soul rest in peace.

* Advocate, earlier at Allahabad High Court; now at Supreme Court, New Delhi Return to Text

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