For those in the know, Lalit Bhasin needs no introduction. A lawyer of formidable repute, he was awarded the Plaque of Honor in 2002 by the Prime Minister for outstanding contribution to the Rule of Law. In 2007, he was honoured with the National Law Day Award by the President for “Outstanding Contribution to the Development of the Legal Profession in India and for engagement in the maintenance of the higher standards at the Bar.” Indeed, there have been awards galore in Lalit Bhasin’s fifty-three years long career. But for this soft-spoken legend of the Indian legal firmament, the high point though has been the acknowledgement from his peers. “I am the only second Indian to be made the President of the Inter Pacific Bar Association,” says Bhasin with satisfaction.
With his father as his mentor, Bhasin started practice in 1962. “My first client was my postman,” he says with a smile. However, it was in 1965 when the Oberoi Group of Hotels signed him on a retainer basis that his career took wings. “it was the first time an Indian company had entered the international market to manage hotels outside India. The exposure I got was great and, by 1970, I had established my own firm.” And there has been no looking back since. His inspiration and role model amongst the living acknowledges not only as a great lawyer but also as a wonderful human being.
Affirmation of his aptitude and leadership qualities has been evident from way back in 1973, when at the age of 33 he was the youngest person to be elected the Chairman of the Bar Council of Delhi. His being the President of the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF), since its inception in 1999, is yet another instance of his stature amongst his peers. “At the time foreign law firms were clamouring to enter India; eminent professionals like Rohit Kochhar, Ravi Nath, D.C. Singhania, Rajiv Luthra, Jyoti Sagar, Ranji Dua, Diljeet Titus and Som Mandal decided to establish a platform for Indian Law firms. I was asked to lead the crusade,” he confides with undeniable pride. SILF is the only body of its kind in the world and it is the only representative body for law firms of India.
It is Bhasin’s passion and vision to see the Indian Legal profession flourishing and Indian Law firms competing with and excelling among the topmost law firms in the world. When India as a whole is on the march to attain the pinnacle of glory and development, the goal of excellence for the legal profession is certainly achievable.
Speaking up for a cause is nothing new for Bhasin, early on in his career, during the days of the Emergency, as the convener of the Congress Legal Cell, he helped lawyers evade arrest or get released. “I was considered to be part of the Establishment. I got to know that Ram Jethmalani was to be arrested and I informed him. Then when the lawyers chambers at Tis Hazari were demolished and lawyers arrested and put in Tihar Jail, I told Sanjay (Gandhi) that the lawyers must be released forthwith. He realized his mistake and the lawyers were immediately released.”
Offered the high position of the Law Officer of the country by Mrs. Indira Gandhi, upon her return to power in 1979, Bhasin turned it down as he “was not keen to retire so early on” in his career. Unlike many of his ilk, who have made a political career for themselves, Bhasin, despite his proximity to the powers that be, has limited his politics to giving advice. “My commitment was to the growth of the legal profession and my legal career,” he says.
Credited with putting the Indian legal profession on the international map, he became the Secretary General of the International Bar Association (IBA), exclusively in charge of the Asia Pacific region, and held that position for many years. “The turning point for the Indian legal profession came in 1997 when I chaired the IBA conference in New Delhi,” says he.
His honorary role as Chairperson of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (2011-2015) saw him as one who stood for freedom of expression and set aside many decisions of the Film Certification Board which interfered with the right of freedom of expression.
His other pro bono, voluntary and non-lawyer role was to be elected as Chairman of Services Export Promotion Council (SEPC) by the Ministry of Commerce in 2009. He held this position till March 2015. During his tenure, the exports in the services sectors such as hospitality/tourism, healthcare, education, entertainment, maritime, consultancy, logistics, printing, architecture, and distribution saw tremendous growth—duty acknowledged by the Ministry of Commerce. Dr. Naresh Trehan who was Vice Chair of SEPC significantly contributed to the excellent work of the council.
India is known for its law delays. Bhasin strongly feels that the Alternate Dispute Resolution mechanism needs to be strengthened. He is chairing the India Branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) with headquarters in London. CIArb is an organization which trains and imparts skills to arbitrators and mediators. Bhasin’s vision is to make India a hub of arbitration and mediation for multinational commercial disputes. As president of SILF Bhasin has initiated a programme of pro bono legal assistance to NGO’s under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals—Advocates For International Development (A4ID) by SILF member firms.
For someone whose first commitment is to his profession, Bhasin is an out and out family man. “I need some excuse to have my family around me. And now with the grandchildren and all, we are a nice large family. We really don’t need others to celebrate,” says Bhasin, blessed with four daughters from his first marriage and a son from his second.
Bhasin married his first wife Madhu in 1961 after a courtship of 4 years as students of Hindu College, Delhi. “Madhu was a Marwari and her family was keen that we get married quickly. So we were married even before I could set up my practice”. Says Bhasin, with a boyish grin that belies his age. With Madhu by his side, he was soon at the top of his game and life was good when tragedy struck.
“The firm was doing well. In 1986-87 we got three of our daughters married within a span of 18 months. I was much relieved, reveals Bhasin, “but in August ’91, Madhu fell ill. What appeared to be a simple cough and cold turned out to be cancer. We took her to Tata Memorial Hospital and then to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York. But there we were told that she was in the last and final stages of her cancer. Her one wish was she wanted to celebrate our wedding anniversary in Delhi. So we told the doctors to make her fit enough to travel. We returned to India and celebrated our anniversary on 23rd Nov and she was gone on December 11th.” Memories still manage to cause a perceptible lump in his throat. It was Madhu’s last wish that Bhasin should marry again and carry on with a normal personal life and with the profession.
His second wife Nina, who joined his firm as a fresh law graduate in 1979, and had made a place for herself in Bhasin & Co., was like a rock by his side while he coped with his loss. And finally, in June of ’95 Bhasin proposed to her, tying the knot in December that year. Sensitive to how his family would feel and not ready to hurt their sentiments, Bhasin took their consent and that of Madhu’s parents before he proposed to Nina.
With the birth of his son Aditya it was as if life had come full circle. “it was as if life had started all over again. When my daughters were growing up my practice was new and I missed their growing up years. With Aditya, I have been a typical father. I have even run after his school bus when he missed it and also played cricket with him,” he confides. And like all doting fathers he has let his children choose their interest, never imposing his views on them. “Three of my daughters studied law but only one is a practicing lawyer. Aditya is into music and film making and he is pursuing the Bachelors Course in Amity School of Communications. I am OK with whatever he does,” says Bhasin as he watches his young son string his guitar and shoot short films.
His daughters Sonia, Divvya, Priya and Shilpa are very talented besides being toppers in their studies. Their husbands Sanjay, Ranjit, Asheesh and Vijay (respectively) are successful young entrepreneurs. The grandchildren are in the process of completing their respective studies, with the exception of Swati and Arush who are already practicing lawyers and Akash who is now into the creative activity of theatre and film making. “Vir, Siya and Sakhi, Shiv and Jai are adorable grandchildren,” says Bhasin.
Speaking about Nina, he says: “Nina has been a wonderful partner both in professional and personal life. She manages not only Bhasin & Co. in Delhi and Mumbai (of course with able guidance and unstinted support from other partners Ratna Dhingra, Sanjay Gupta, Mudit Sharma and Ranjan Jha) but also looks after the professional work in the Supreme Court, arbitrations and corporate/transactional work. She is a great cementing force in the family—She is there for our daughters, sons-in-law, the grandchildren and for my brothers and their families.
I have received great affection from Nina’s family. Her mother, who passed away a couple of years ago was very loving and affectionate towards me. She was dignity personified. Nina’s father Shri Bhayyaji Gupta is a delightful father-in-law for me. He retired as Member of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal and thereafter was standing counsel for the Income Tax Department in High Court. Nina’s elder sister Bina Gupta is an eminent lawyer in the Supreme Court and is currently Member of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal. Bina’s son Shiv Vinayak Gupta is a law student and has a very pleasing and impressive personality.” Nina’s brother Vijay Gupta, a law graduate, is a high-ranking officer in the State Bank of India and currently on deputation to Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO). He has a gracious wife Gunjan and two adorable daughters Chandrika and Radhika who are both young lawyers shaping up very well.
Though his father and his uncles were confirmed Socialists, Bhasin’s leaning towards the Congress dates back to the days of his youth, when as a young student he “would go to the Red Fort on 15th August to hear Pandit Nehru” and even took part in the first Republic Day Parade as a boy scout. “My grandfather was a Congress man and he died of a lathi blow during the freedom struggle.” Bhasin says with a sense of pride about his patriotic inheritance.
He speaks fondly of his paternal uncles (Chachas—Y.R. Bhasin, Prof. T.R. Chadha and Prem Bhasin). Y.R. Bhasin was an authority on labour and employment laws. His son S.K. Bhasin has inherited this expertise and is a well-known lawyer who is joined by his son Amit and Amit’s wife Jyotica—both very competent lawyers. Alok Bhasin is the son of late Prem Bhasin, a great socialist leader and contemporary of Acharya Narendera Dev, Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, Madhu Dandavate and others. Alok, Lalit’s cousin, has established himself as an outstanding lawyer and author on Service Jurisprudence.
Y.R. Bhasin’s younger son Vinay Bhasin is the second lawyer in Bhasin’s extended family to be designated as a Senior Advocate (the first was Lalit Bhasin’s father, Shri T.R. Bhasin), a position he richly deserves. Vinay’s two sons Sidharth, married to Ritu, and Saurav, married to Gauri, who is also a lawyer, are young and brilliant lawyers working with topmost law firms. The Bhasin family is therefore dedicated to law.
He believes in a lawyer’s role as a social scientist also. Lawyers must give back to the society in whatever form they can—by doing pro bono work for the poor, needy, women and children, by taking up teaching assignments in schools without charging any remuneration, by promoting and helping young entrants into the profession, and fighting for causes to strengthen human rights, democratic institutions and the Rule of Law in the country. Lawyers need to engage more with legal education institutions by participating in teaching law and suggesting new law courses. Bhasin himself helps law schools such as Amity, Symbiosis, Lloyds, Ansal, Jindal Global, the National Law Schools and the National Judicial Academy Bhopal. Lawyers have to adopt and implement what he calls PSR (Professional Social Responsibility) as a duty to the society and the country. “I salute to the greatness of the Indian legal profession—which gave the country our freedom and Father of the Nation, the President and the Prime Ministers who belonged to this profession, the great judges this profession has given to this country who helped to strengthen the Rule of Law in the country, the parliamentarians form the profession who have also held and continue to hold positions of eminence and responsibility in the Central and State Ministers”, says Lalit Bhasin.
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