“My father planned my career and I lived with my parents till my father’s death in 1965. If my father had not asked me to take up law I would have become a professor as I wanted to teach the rashtra bhasha.” “My father planned my career and I lived with my parents till my father’s death in 1965. If my father had not asked me to take up law I would have become a professor as I wanted to teach the rashtra bhasha.” Controversial cases—right from the Kissa Kursi Ka to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery case – kept him in the limelight. Yet the man behind them, Dr Hans Raj Bhardwaj, popularly known as H.R. Bhardwaj, is a man who is rather media-shy and prefers staying in the background.Brought up in the humble environs of the campus quarters of the Teen Murti Bhavan, where his father was a Security Officer, Bhardwaj says, “I am a self-made man.” One might think that his proximity to the Gandhis is because he might have met Panditji quite often, but it is not so. “I used to see him from a distance from our house when he would give darshan to the public,” he reveals. Even then Nehru inspired him to enroll with the Allahabad Bar. “After I finished law I rushed to Allahabad for enrolment because Panditji had done his law from there,” says he.But how did law come into the scene? Although one might think it’s but natural for a Delhi boy who had witnessed Panditji up close to take up law, this was far from reality. Well, it was not exactly his choice but his father Jaganath Prasad Sharma’s desire that one of his sons should be a lawyer that made him take it up. In fact, of his other siblings, one become a doctor and the other, a police officer, at the behest of their mother, Saraswati Devi, who wanted it that way. Without showing any signs of regret at his father having made the decision for him, he says, “My father planned my career and I lived with my parents till my father’s death in 1965.” Having also studied Hindi and Sanskrit he says, “If my father had not asked me to take up law I would have become a professor as I wanted to teach the rashtra bhasha.” In fact, law was not the only decision which was made for him by his parents. His marriage too was arranged when he was in Shimla. With a post-graduate degree, Prafullata walked into the family as the most educated woman. “Although, she took up law after marriage to help me in my practice, she ended up being a partner with my son for a brief while,” he quips.Bhardwaj had lived most of his life as part of a joint family in Rohtak, Haryana, and he did his initial schooling in the village school. Subsequently, a B.A. from Shimla, M.A.
from Panjab University, and simultaneous pursuance of law from Agra University poised him well for the future. He then migrated to Delhi and joined Shanti Swaroop Sharma, who was his father’s friend. After Shanti Swaroop’s death, it fell upon him to take up all the cases. “Those days I was practising in the trial courts, such as Tis Hazari, and that too for more than 10 years and a lot of Shanti Swaroopji’s big clients came to me,” he recalls.Having moved to Delhi High Court in 1971, he was made Government Counsel for Delhi Administration from 1972 to 1977. He then became the UP Standing Counsel (1980-82). Then followed the Emergency days and he was asked to join Mrs Indira Gandhi’s team of lawyers. Her trust in him led him to work without fees.In fact, Indira Gandhi’s trust in him saw Bhardwaj accompany Rajiv Gandhi to Amethi, to file his nomination papers. “Mrs Gandhi became very weak after Sanjay’s death. When Rajiv filed his nomination in ’82, she wanted me to go with him. When he won, I was given a Rajya Sabha seat from Madhya Pradesh,” remembers a happy Bhardwaj. He was re-elected to the House of elders again in ’88, ’94 and 2000 and 2006. Three years later he was made Governor of Karnataka. The Gandhi family’s trust in him continued even after Indira Gandhi’s death. “Rajiv took me into his Council of Ministers as his Law Minister in 1985, where I immediately got down to reforming the condition of the judges,” says Bhardwaj. Having been trained by P.N. Bhagwati his leaning was towards the poor man’s interests and, to say the least, there was complete harmony between the judiciary and the executive during his tenure contends Bhardwaj. Setting up of the Legal Aid Authority Act and Lok Adalat and introducing the concept of women’s court and women adjudicators are proof of his outlook. When called back by Narasimha Rao in 1994, he started the computerisation of courts. A revolutionary idea at that time was the introduction of rural courts (gram nyayalayas and grameen lawyers) during the UPA government – which was again Bhardwaj’s brainchild.With academics close to his heart, Bhardwaj today is happy to be Chancellor of a number of Universities. Not one known to fritter away his time, he uses all his free time putting his thoughts onto paper. He has authored a number of books on topics ranging from law to spirituality. A firm believer in equality, he says, “I have been greatly influenced by Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Swami Vivekananda and I believe that God resides in everybody’s heart— then why divide humans over this?”While he is delving more and more into spirituality, his son, Arun, and grandsons, Karn and Gautam , are keeping the Bhardwaj flag flying. Arun who was made senior in 2006 says of his father, “I used to idolise my father since my childhood, when I used to see him dressed smartly and going to court. Yet, the first time I saw him argue in court was for Satish Sharma when he was seeking anticipatory bail in the Sanjay Singh shooting case during Rajiv Gandhi’s election campaign from Amethi in 1989. I realised that every bit of my admiration for him was justified!”Adds grandson, Karn, an alumnus of Warwick University and Masters from New York University, “The first person I go to for advice is my grandfather. Actually, we all look up to him.” Karn’s brother Gautam, six years younger to Karn, too, is a lawyer.Well, to say the least, Arun is not the only one to hold such a deep regard for the man who has been instrumental in bringing in law at the grass-roots level.
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