A true-blue constitutional czar passes away

Nariman's legal prowess and profound understanding of the Constitution have shaped the very fabric of India's judicial landscape, writes Advocate N Vijayaraghavan.
Fali S Nariman
Fali S Nariman

In the annals of Indian legal history, the name Fali S Nariman (January 10, 1929- February 21 ,2024) stands as an emblem of intellectual brilliance, unwavering commitment to justice, and an unparalleled contribution to the evolution of constitutional law.

A towering figure in the Supreme Court of India, Nariman's legal prowess and profound understanding of the Constitution have shaped the very fabric of India's judicial landscape.

Born in 1929, Fali Sam Nariman's journey towards legal stardom began at Bombay University, where he obtained a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1950.

His legal acumen was evident from the outset, and he quickly established himself as a formidable advocate, earning the coveted designation of Senior Advocate in 1971.

Nariman's legal career is adorned with landmark cases that have left an indelible mark on Indian jurisprudence. His contributions to the development of the 'basic structure' doctrine, which safeguards the fundamental principles enshrined in the Constitution, are particularly noteworthy.

In the seminal case of Minerva Mills v. Union of India, Nariman's forceful arguments played a pivotal role in establishing the basic structure doctrine, ensuring that the Constitution remains immune to arbitrary amendments.

Nariman's expertise extends beyond constitutional law to encompass a wide spectrum of legal disciplines, including international arbitration, civil law and taxation. His mastery of complex legal intricacies and his ability to articulate nuanced arguments have earned him the respect of the legal fraternity.

Apart from his prowess as a lawyer, Nariman was also a prolific writer and scholar. His numerous books and articles on constitutional law have enriched the understanding of the Indian Constitution and served as invaluable resources for legal practitioners and students alike. His writings are characterized by their clarity, depth of analysis and unwavering commitment to the principles of justice and equality.

Throughout his illustrious career, Nariman received numerous accolades for his contributions to the field of law. In 2018, he was conferred with the prestigious Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for Excellence in Public Administration, a testament to his immense contribution to the legal landscape of India.

Fali S Nariman's legacy extends far beyond the courtroom. He has been a staunch advocate for social justice, consistently using his legal expertise to champion the rights of marginalized communities. His unwavering commitment to the rule of law and his unwavering belief in the power of the Constitution to uphold the principles of justice have made him a beacon of hope for generations of legal professionals.

His autobiography, Before Memory Fades, is a captivating and insightful account of his life and legal career. Spanning over eight decades, the book offers a rare glimpse into the mind of a legal luminary who has shaped the landscape of Indian law.

Nariman's narrative is marked by a refreshing candour and humility, as he recounts his journey from his humble beginnings in Rangoon to his rise as one of the most respected lawyers in India.

He vividly describes his formative years, his experiences as a young lawyer and his involvement in some of the most significant cases in Indian legal history.

The book is not merely a personal memoir; it is also a chronicle of the evolution of Indian jurisprudence.

Nariman provides insightful commentary on the political, social and legal developments that shaped India since independence. His observations are sharp and perceptive, offering a unique perspective on the challenges and triumphs of India's democratic journey.

One of the most striking aspects of the book is Nariman's commitment to the rule of law and his deep-seated belief in the power of the Constitution to uphold the principles of justice and equality. He highlights the importance of an independent judiciary and the need for lawyers to act as guardians of the Constitution.

Nariman's writing style is engaging and accessible, making the book a pleasure to read. He seamlessly interweaves personal anecdotes with legal analysis, creating a narrative that is both informative and thought-provoking.

Before Memory Fades is an essential read for anyone interested in Indian law, politics, or history. It is testament to the power of an individual to make a difference and a reminder of the importance of upholding the principles of justice and equality.

HM Seervai, Nani Palkhivala, Soli Sorabjee, and Fali S Nariman formed a Parsi quartet of unmatched excellence.

Will there ever be four more like them, or even one?

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