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For those who watch Telugu news, Raghunandan Rao needs no introduction. The swashbuckling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson, well known for his measured and reasoned arguments, is a sought after guest and usually takes part in at least one morning debate and one evening debate a day.
The man who once secured bail for his present political rival Asaduddin Owaisi when everyone else failed, spoke to Bar & Bench about what drew him to the legal profession, why land records in the state of Telangana are in shambles, his foray into politics, and much more.
Give us an insight into the early life of Raghunandan Rao. What made you enter the profession?
I grew up in a middle class agricultural family, in a small village near Siddipet in rural Telangana. My father, at the age of 65, still cultivates our agricultural land. After completing my higher secondary education, I pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and wanted to be a teacher. I was even selected for a government teacher’s post.
However, my first hand experience of the highhandedness and brutality of the police is what swayed me towards the law. There were often occasions during my teens and early twenties that I saw the police harass, incarcerate and beat up villagers on the grounds that they were Naxal sympathisers. The poor and uneducated villagers were treated worse than animals by the authorities.
What would happen was there would be a knock on the door of the headman’s house either late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. On answering the door, the resident would be confronted by heavily armed men asking for food or other supplies. The police would arrive either the next day or a few days later and brand those who had provided food or supplies as Naxal sympathisers, and put them and their families through inhuman ordeals.
It was while witnessing such things that I decided that I could better serve my people and society armed with the power that a legal education provides, and decided to travel to Hyderabad and pursue a degree in law from Osmania University.
You succeeded in securing bail for Asadudduin Owaisi. What were some of the challenges? Were there any personal or ideological conflicts that you had to grapple with before you decided to represent him?
I was not with the BJP when I represented him. I was with the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS). The case was also not related to a hate speech or anything on those lines. He was remanded in a criminal case pertaining to a heated discussion with the then District Collector of Medak District.
Several lawyers from his community had tried and failed to secure bail thrice. It was then due to my reputation of being successful at the Sangareddy Courts on the criminal side, that I was approached by Asad. I had represented him on previous occasions as well.
After I joined the BJP, this question of how I could have represented him often pops up during debates and discussions. Asad is a Barrister by profession. I think lawyers and doctors have no bar, and must represent those that need it with dedication.
I was happy to succeed in this case, where several Senior Advocates from higher courts failed. So to answer your question, there wasn’t any conflict.
You are currently arguing in a PIL involving the illegal transfer of Government land. I remember the other side contending that this was motivated by publicity than any larger public interest. Do you agree with the premise that some politicians do indeed use the court for their own publicity?
It was Mr. PS Prasad’s counsel that I was arguing this case merely to gain publicity. You are well aware that I have been appearing on television screens every morning and evening for fifteen years now. I do not need any more publicity than this. Hence, Mr Prasad’s counsel’s argument is nonsensical.
If that gentleman wants to gain mileage by alleging certain things against me, that is his business. In fact, I could have pursued a complaint against the said gentleman, because at one juncture, he had filed a case against Prasad and now he argues on behalf of him. That is against an advocate’s moral code. But I chose not to pursue it.
All I am trying to do is to convince the Court that there is some public interest involved. If there was nothing, how is it that so many sub-registrars have been remanded, so many industrialists have been remanded, certain sales deeds have been cancelled, and some have been executed.
The government cannot maintain silence on this. If I had anything to gain personally, I would have stayed in practice where I used to mint money. I am purely trying to protect land that belongs to the government and the people from being misappropriated by influential people. I have no personal interest in Miyapur, and to put it bluntly, I am taking pains to protect this land, because the land in question is worth ten successive state budgets cumulatively.
As far as your second question, most lawyer-politicians get publicity whether they like it or not. I don’t think they seek it out.
Land records in the States of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are maintained badly, and that’s putting things mildly. This contributes to copious volumes of litigation. How can this be remedied?
We are depending on a system which is reliant on Village Revenue Officers (VROs), or systems such as the Patel-Patwari system. These people were not well educated and had vested interests, and used to remove and add names from land records with abandon.
Another reason was the Rule of the Nizam rendered most of the rural populace of the state illiterate. This illiteracy led to a culture of land transfer by Sada Bainama, whereby I sell land and you purchase it on the basis of an agreement drafted on a white paper.
People don’t register these transactions, and when it comes down to Court, that white paper is not a valid document . These systems and some of the issues we just discussed have led to litigation piling up. There are also a number of loopholes in the Revenue laws.
Unless farmers in rural areas are educated, these problems cannot be solved. The VRO’s and the Patwaris will continue to manipulate records illegally and for their own gain. If you bribe them, your name will be put in the kabza or possession column, whilst I am still the owner. How I came into possession is not a matter of record.
These things exacerbate the problem and unless the stakeholders are at least given some basic adult education on their rights over their land, and how to transact so as to avoid litigation, things are not likely to change.
What are your views on the State government seeking to exceed the 50 per cent cap on reservations as set by the Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney?
How can someone who has sworn a Constitutional oath seek to blatantly contradict it? The makers of the Constitution never envisaged reservation on the basis of religion. The proposed reservation for Muslims in the state is totally antithetical to the vision of the makers of our Constitution.
As far as the backwardness of the Muslims is concerned, the current Chief Minister has never once visited the old city of Hyderabad to try and find out what their grievances are, or even assess things such as access to education.
Reservation for Muslims is purely a ploy to play to the galleries and secure a vote bank. The truly lasting solution to backwardness in the Muslim community lies in uplifting them through education, to strengthen them financially by making robust banking services available to them, not by speaking in Urdu and reciting shayaries.
Many opposition parties have criticized the criminalisation of instant Triple Talaq. Is it an attack on personal law and religious freedom as it is being made out to be?
The criminalisation of Triple Talaq is neither a creation of the BJP government, nor is it targeting any community. It is merely the culmination of a legal battle against instant divorce, which the Supreme Court has held as invalid under Sharia.
How can anyone have any objection to punishing those who are in violation of the law of the land as laid down by the Supreme Court? Dowry is against the law, and those that demand it are liable to be punished; drunken driving is an offence and you can be imprisoned for it; Triple Talaq is much the same .
Critics of the BJP must remember that we are obeying the orders of the Supreme Court, unlike the Congress. Rajiv Gandhi chose to obey the orders of Maulanas and Maulvis in violation of Court orders in Shah Bano.
Look at the laws on instant Triple Talaq in Islamic states such as Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh to name a few. They banned instant Triple Talaq ages ago; in the case of Pakistan it was banned in the year 1956.
There is absolutely no religious angle to this; the rights of Muslim women who filed these cases for equality in the interest of the civil rights of the Muslim woman, were upheld by the Supreme Court and what we are doing is enforcing it, as any responsible government would.
As a fellow journalist what in your opinion are some of the flaws and lacunae in the small but specialized area of legal reporting and how can they be remedied?
Journalists who cover law and policy need to have some form of legal education. They need to understand some of the technicalities of the law, in order to keep their reporting accurate.
Journalism schools must either have a module that educates students on how to report from court, or have lawyers coming in and doing a few sessions with students. Whichever is more feasible.
Legal journalists must also be careful not to be opinionated, and must keep their reporting accurate and objective.