A background as illustrious as Anil Divan’s can hardly be matched by any in the country. His maternal grandfather, Chimanlal Setalvad, was part of the Hunters Commission set up after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, wherein he cross-examined none other than General Dyer himself. His paternal grandfather, Jivanlal Divan, founded the famed Proprietary High School of Ahmedabad. His father Baburao is an alumnus of Columbia University and his mother Sharda was the first woman Registrar and then Vice-Chancellor of SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai. His maternal uncle, Motilal Setalvad, was the first Attorney General for India while his paternal uncle Bipinchandra J. Divan was the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court.
Divan’s repute is no less. Designated Senior in 1972 by the Bombay High Court, he had quite an exhaustive practice in Bombay before he moved to Delhi in 1979. Having worked with the likes of Nani Palkhivala on a number of cases, the high point in his life was the time when he was associated with the political bribery scandal case – the Jain Hawala case as amicus curiae. He was again appointed ‘friend of the court’ in two other corruption cases, namely, the Chandraswami case and the Indian Bank Scam case. Yet, running from one court to another is definitely not his cup of tea. Not one to believe in taking up too many cases, he says, “As a lawyer you have to be fair to the court and the client. And you must give your best to every case.”
However, he is all for the rise in litigations that the country is witnessing. The keen observer and thinker in Divan feels that the explosion in the number of litigations is a result of the people having become conscious of their rights. Consequently, specializations of training, experience and skills for judges have become indispensable. Proposing long-term solutions he says, “We should have additional judges. Leading lawyers from the Bar would give the process different perceptions – they could be given old cases.” Another suggestion from him is to take a lawyer from Bombay and place him in Bangalore.
Former President of LAWASIA (1991-1993), member of the International Law Association (ILA) and former President of the Bar Association of India, Divan was one of the founders of the Centre for Public Interest Litigation. Much disturbed by the number of scams happening in the country, Divan states lack of accountability as a prime reason. A supporter of Anna Hazare’s movement, the constitutional expert says, “When the basic structure of the Constitution denies the Prime Minister immunity from prosecution, how could it be argued that the office should not be brought under the scrutiny of the Lokpal?” In fact, he is all for judicial activism. “Judicial activism has much needed oxygen to a gigantic democratic experiment in India by the alchemy of judico-photosynthesis,” says he.
Other than bringing him fame, law has also been a potential contributor in bringing other interests into his life. For instance, his love for golf started because of law. When he used to go to Delhi for the Fundamental Rights case with Nani Palkhivala, he would wait in the hotel while the opposition’s counsel Homi Seervai presented his case. Having spare time on his hands, Divan would observe golfers at the Delhi Golf Club from the adjacent Oberoi (hotel) balcony. Remembering a day in 1972, Divan says, “One day I decided to learn golf and today I really enjoy golf and play two to three times a week.” Quite a sports enthusiast, in his younger days he also played tennis and badminton.
Also, the wild enthuses him more than big cities. “New York or London… it is all the same,” says he. The lack of variety of cities leads him to visit wildlife sanctuaries in East and South Africa.
A man of varied choices, Divan’s idea of a good evening is to enjoy a good single malt whisky or relax with a gin and tonic. According to wife Smita, “At the time we were married he was reading Alexander Dumas and Vivekanand. Absolutely two ends of the spectrum!”
Smita was with Bharatiya Arogya Nidhi when she met Divan, has served as President of the Maharashtra State Women’s Council, Mumbai, and Vice President of the Gujarat Education Society, New Delhi. Divan was friends with Ashok Desai and Smita is the former Attorney General’s sister. Remembering those younger days she says, “We would all go out together, my brother and his friends. It was a large group.” Divan pitches in: “We saw each other for a year and I guess the chemistry was right.” The couple tied the knot in 1960.
Their two sons Shyam and Vivek are also erudite lawyers. While Shyam, a Berkeley alumnus, practises in the Supreme Court, Vivek works with the United Nations. Having completed law from Cornell University, Vivek first practised in Bombay before joining the UN. Shyam’s wife Madhavi Goradia Divan is an author of books on law. Their daughter Dr. Gauri Divan and her husband Professor Vikram Patel work to promote child development and health.
The octogenarian strongly feels that the youth must uphold the highest standards of integrity in the country. Such words coming from a lawyer, who is himself known for his integrity as he refuses to accept any fee in cash and is the highest-tax-paying lawyer, cannot help but motivate the upcoming lawyers in the country.