So far as royal lineage goes, there would be hardly any lawyer in the country who can match Neeraj Kishan Kaul’s heritage. The noble lineage tracking back to over 500 years, talks of Pandit Shanker Kaul being a royal official in the Mughal emperor Jehangir’s court. Subsequently, one of his ancestors Pandit Lal Kaul, a minister at the court of Kabul, formed an alliance with Maharaja Ranjit Singh and played a pivotal role in Ranjit Singh’s annexation of Kashmir in 1819. His great-great grandfather Raja Suraj Kishan Kaul was the revenue minister in the Regency Council. But the most distinguished is his great grandfather Raja Sir Daya Kishan Kaul who became the Prime Minister of Kashmir. The British government conferred upon him a number of titles like Rai Sahab, Dewan Bahadur CIE and Kt. (Knighthood). The Maharaja of Patiala Bhupinder Singh bestowed a jagir on him.
So far as law goes, Kaul’s illustrious background, talks of his father, Manhoman Kishan Kaul, who was an eminent lawyer. Having grown up in an environment that breathed law, law was a way of life. Kaul who was made an Additional Solicitor General by the Modi Government in June 2014, says, “alongside law, his biggest heritage from his father, and mother, Anuradha, are the strong values that helped him remain grounded and make sound choices is life.”
And his choices were definitely sound, to say the least! For one, he resigned from judgeship to return to the Bar, “I felt it was injustice to hold on to a Constitutional post when you are not enjoying it. One should do what one enjoys doing. It must be a great joy being a judge but you have to have the temperament, which I sadly lack,” is Kaul’s straight forward reasoning. Interestingly, his brother, Sanjay Kishan Kaul is the judge of Supreme Court of India.
At an early age of 38, Kaul was designated Senior in the Delhi High Court. Having started practice in ’88, he forayed into varied arenas of constitutional law, human rights, administrative law, and public and private international law. Sheer, dedicated hard work led-to Kaul’s appointment as the Standing Counsel for the Central Government in the Delhi High Court in 1998. A humble man, in spite of his success, Kaul remained approachable and his chambers were full of young people. He considers that, “it is the job of a senior counsel to encourage younger counsel.” Taking this self-appointed task rather seriously, he further adds, “It becomes the job of the senior to lead them from the pool to the sea and I help them in every way I can.”
With his vast repertoire of knowledge gained through some of the best schools and colleges such as Modern School, St. Stephens and law from Delhi University followed by a Masters at Cambridge, he was in a position wherefrom he could help others who required his help. An excellent score of 88 per cent at Delhi University gained him the Gold Medal for constitutional law. With well-justified pride, Kaul says, “It’s still a record in DU!” Not satisfied with only acquisition of knowledge, he was keen to get into practice too. Hence, it was no surprise by the All India Moot Court Competition organized by the Bar Council of India, where 37 universities from all over India participated.
Perhaps it was the thrill of a live performance which brought out the best in Kaul. Ever since his days in kindergarten, he has been into drama and has even worked with Ram Gopal Bajaj, who later became the dean of NSD. A very enthusiastic actor, he says, “I kept performing till I was in college. I loved each and every character I portrayed. And of course I loved debating as well!” besides, being keenly interested in politics, music, and reading, Kaul is also a passionate traveller.
Remembering the time when he was all of 7 and went on a world tour, he says, “My father was very fond of travelling and that’s how the travel bug bit me.” With little time to spare for family, he feels, “when I travel and my children join me, it adds to my excitement.”
Although he found Ladakh, Israel, Egypt and Prague to be fascinating, and has a soft spot for England, it is Kashmir that tops the list. Even as he talks of the lakes, the meadows, and the valleys, horse riding into the forests, exploring places, beautiful rivulets or watching the gujjars descending into the valley, one can almost imagine him in his 115 year old house, overlooking the orchards in Srinagar. The harmony of religious, Sufism and Shaivites, pulls him even today to visit Kheer Bhawani, Jwala Devi and Sufi Saint Baba Reshi.
Talking of his family’s contribution in Kashmir, Kaul says: “We introduced a number of factories in Kashmir, including the Baramulla Match Company set up by my great great-grandfather, Raja Sir Daya Kishan Kaul. He also set up pharmaceutical factories to make medicines from the herbs in the forests of Baramulla.” Yet, at the same time he also recognizes the fact that “my brother, Sanjay, and I are hard-core professionals.”
Married to Air Vice Marshal Vishnumurti Raina’s daughter, Vatsala, Kaul says that it is the fantastic chemistry that the two of them share since they met that has made their marriage such a success. The two families had known each other for three generations. They have three children – Niharika, Sagarika and Dushyant. A very practical father in Kaul says: “I would be happy if one of them takes up law, yet I would hate to push anyone into law, it would be entirely their decision.”
“Play straight, play clean, work hard and you can’t go wrong,” are words that Kaul has learnt and practiced from his father’s treasure. Words that have stood him in good stead and shall take him to greater heights in future.
We acknowledge “100 Legal Luminaries of India” by Lalit Bhasin (Lexis). The multicolour coffee table book printed on art paper in Hardbound is priced at ` 5995/- and is available at Universal Book Traders, C-27, Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110001. firstname.lastname@example.org