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For Congress’ Legal Eagles, it Pays to be in Opposition

It may be a season of election defeats for the Congress, but the party leaders who are also legal eagles are flying high: not on the political front, but in their profession.
That they are now shorn off most of the political responsibilities, these leaders can pursue their profession without the constraints of a government office or post. And, they are raking in the moolah.
Senior advocates such as Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi are now actively appearing in courts for their clients.

Sibal was a minister in both UPA I and II and had to suspend his flourishing law practice for 10 years when the party was in power. Singhvi had his hands full as being the ruling party’s spokesperson and could only appear in high-profile cases.

Each has on an enviable board of at least 10 to 15 cases per day or possibly more on Mondays and Fridays when fresh cases are taken up by the court. That is when, according to people in the know, both don’t charge anything less than `8 lakh to `15 lakh per appearance in court. The fees are higher if they appear in any high court or other lesser legal fora.

“Yes, I do charge industry,” said Sibal, who recently prevailed upon the court not to uphold call drop charges on telecom companies. But sources also said that he doesn’t charge anyone unable to pay.
Sibal said he would help without hesitation anyone who is persecuted say by the Gujarat government, such as former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt. “Money has never been an incentive in my entire life,” he said.

“In any case, one-third of my practice has always been pro bono (for public good),” he said. “I” “It’s about what you can give back to society now. Everything else is a bonus.”

Singhvi too played down the money angle. “We don’t do it for the arithmetic,” he said. “Ultimately if it’s a public cause, it becomes a labour of love. Money follows. It is just incidental.” Other Congress leaders such as Salman Khursheed, Ashwani Kumar and Manish Tiwari are also seen more frequently in courts these days than before. But Sibal and Singhvi are the obvious leaders of the pack.

They are also the main defenders of the party’s interests in courts, most recently spearheading the comeback of party leader Harish Rawat as Chief Minister in Uttarakhand.

The duo also led the Congress party’s legal attack on the imposition of President’s rule in Arunachal. A ruling in that case is awaited.

Sibal appears in the bitterly contested Teesta Setalvad, Hardik Patel and Kanhaiya Kumar cases — involving political dissenters.

All the cases Sibal or Singhvi does for the party, such as the National Herald case, or its leaders don’t involve monetary considerations, people in the know said.

For their increasing work load, Singhvi puts the blame on the BJP government. “This government (which has an absolute majority) in its arrogance is making mistakes under the notion of infallibility,” he said. “But our system has so many checks and balances. Any issue which is not redressed in the political system ends up in the court. The number of cases in court will only increase.”

Singhvi said as lawyers, they also try and keep the spirits of the party cadre up. He is quick to disclaim any impression that the party is happy playing the Opposition. “Political parties always look for power. It would be hypocritical to say we are not.”

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who is on the other side of the bitter political divide, has good things to say of Sibal and Singhvi. “Both are very pleasant, very articulate. These are rare qualities. They don’t unnecessarily fight or get aggressive irrespective of the outcome of the proceedings, a quality rarely seen,” he said.

Another highly respected lawyer in the top court bar said on the condition of anonymity that Sibal and Singhvi were currently the top of the pick for their presentation style and delivery, just as Fali S Nariman and Salve were in the preceding decades. “But their political commitments stand in the way of them ever touching the heights of a Nariman or a Salve,” he said. “What is a loss for law is a gain for politics.”

Samanwaya Rautray in Economic Times

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