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November 15, 2000

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The Rediff Special/ R K Anand

'Who knows what happens behind closed doors?'

Josy Joseph

Subsequent to the Delhi high court's rejection of P V Narasimha Rao's bail application in the Lakhubhai Pathak case, the former prime minister went back to Judge Ajit Bharihoke, who was hearing the case, to plead for bail. It was Rao's last chance to avoid a jail term.

It was almost three years ago that Pathak, the NRI pickle king, deposed before Bharihoke, saying he had, on Rao's assurance, paid Chandraswami for government favours.

The prosecuting CBI counsel was adamant that Rao be sent to jail. Godman Chandraswami, who was serving his term in Tihar Jail, is reported to have said, "This time, he will join me." As the CBI counsel stood their ground, a tense Rao sent a note to his counsel R K Anand, asking to speak to him.

"I am going in," Rao told Anand, while asking him to make two requests to the judge -- first, to tell the judge that Rao was unwell and wanted to go to hospital for a check up, and, second, to request the judge to not mention Tihar specifically in the order. The second so that he could avoid going to Delhi's infamous jail by taking recourse to the provisions of the Special Protection Group Act and arranging to spend his jail term in a guesthouse.

As soon as both counsel finished presenting their case, Bharihoke adjourned the session. He said he would announce his verdict at 3pm. Rao returned home, without speaking a word to anyone. A Tihar jailer, in full uniform, waited outside the courtroom.

An hour before the appointed time, the judge asked Anand to call his client. A visibly upset Rao, expecting a jail term, rushed to the court at about 2.20pm.

The court delivered a totally unexpected ruling: Rao was granted bail.

The poker-faced Rao was confused. Unable to believe the ruling, he sent Anand a note asking to confer with him.

"We've got bail," Anand reiterated.

"How did you manage it?" asked a stunned Rao.

It was not the first time Anand was facing such a query.

The same question echoed in legal corridors and political circles as Anand entered the political arena around five months ago. In a surprising move, he chose to do so with the help of the much-maligned Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, ditching the Congress, a party with which his association has lasted for more than three decades. Now, he plans to enter politics full-time.

The answer to how he manages it, though, cannot be summed up in a sentence -- for, in it, lies the lengthy, intricate, confusing, awe-inspiring story of Anand's life. After successfully traversing through political and legal minefields, Anand is now a member of the Rajya Sabha. From arguing petty cases in the lower courts, he has risen to defend four prime ministers -- Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, H D Deve Gowda and, now, Narasimha Rao.

R K Anand At worst, Anand is a fascinating study of a person of humble beginnings who manipulated the system to his benefit. At best, his is the story of a relentlessly hardworking man, aiming for the stars and actually reaching them.

Either way, his story is a riveting one.

He may lack the sophistication and charisma of his more famous colleagues -- but he knows how to turn even losing situations to his advantage. Take, for example, the landmark JMM bribery case. The entire case was built around the evidence of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs 'foolishly' depositing the bribes, paid to them by Narasimha Rao, in a Delhi branch of the Punjab National Bank.

Yet, today, those 'na´ve' tribal leaders from Bihar's sister state are his political mentors.

"There is no difference between the JMM and others. Anyone caught with the money is blamed. Who knows what happens behind closed doors?" says Anand.

This volte-face, and his recent entry into Rajya Sabha as a JMM MP, is a topic of eager discussion in Delhi's legal circles: rumours about his bribing his way through abound.

"The JMM leaders decided I should be nominated," says Anand. "When Paswan put up Kamla Sinha, which endangered my election, the prime minister intervened and got her to withdraw."

Our man, obviously, does not believe in humility. But this could also be the shield of a man for whom connections didn't come easy in a city of power brokers.

He made a low-profile entry into the legal profession in 1967, appearing in insignificant cases in north Delhi's crowded lower courts in the Tis Hazari complex.

Old timers say he used to be very conscious of his appearance. There are stories of how he would drive to court in an imported car. That was the first time the legal fraternity started talking about him. They haven't stopped.

He hit gold when former prime minister Indira Gandhi retained him to publicly attack her daughter-in-law and present Union minister Maneka Gandhi. Anand also counselled Rajiv Gandhi in the case after Sanjay Gandhi's death.

"I don't think there is a sensitive case in the history of this country with which I have not been associated," he says. No beating around the bush here.

He represented the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission constituted to investigate the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination. He was also senior counsel for the civil aviation department in the Kanishka bombing case.

In 1993, he successfully defended the government before the tribunal set up to decide on the ban on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

He defended H D Deve Gowda before the Election Commission.

He got bail for former navy chief Admiral S M Nanda's grandson in the infamous BMW case in the capital in which the inebriated MBA student allegedly mowed down five pavement dwellers in his car after a late-night party.

The list goes on.

Narasimha Rao As his career progressed, Anand too went places. Today, he owns an opulent farmhouse and a palatial residence in one of Delhi's most posh areas, South Extension. His office, also in a South Extension building, is a regular haunt for crestfallen politicians, humiliated industrialists and luminaries of the legal world.

He is known to have made statements like:

"When I appear in a case, I don't apply my sentiments. I apply my mind to the matters relating to the case, nothing more."

"If you (the accused) start fighting among yourselves, it is of no use."

"You (advocate) speak less in the court and hit the point. Only then will you win the case."

"A civil lawyer is a better criminal lawyer."

But the rules in life that he hasn't spelt out are hot topics of speculation in Delhi's vast legal circle.

Says Advocate V K Ohri, "I don't consider him an advocate. He is a racketeer and a dalal (middleman). People like him guarantee their clients a good result. That's how they charge such exorbitant rates."

Advocate Rajeev Nayyer begs to differ, "He is a very good lawyer and a very successful one. He is very well prepared for each of his cases."

Junior advocates say he is known to be considerate. In fact, a clerk in Anand's office has recently completed his LLB and joined him as a junior.

Nayyer adds that in 1985 and 1994, when Anand was elected chairman of the Bar Council of Delhi, he conducted himself very well. He was generally sympathetic to lawyers and their problems.

Anand does not deny any of his achievements. In fact, he has four different visiting cards for different occasions. One of them, which identifies him as an arbitrator of the International Council of Arbitration of Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, is a card he hands out with much pleasure. "I have been actively involved with the Indian Olympic Association for a very, very long period," he says proudly.

He never lets you doubt the fact that he means business. The carved chairs and sofas in his majestic office are impressive, but they make you sit ramrod-straight. There is no room for leisure here.

This is proved as you watch him dismiss visitors in matter of minutes. A few courtesies, a cup of coffee if unavoidable... then, it's back to business.

"Time," he says, "is very precious."

R K Anand's photograph: Josy Joseph

The Rediff Specials

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