Personality of the Month

Prof. V.S. Mani

Here is a lawyer who was happy to practice abroad, but when in India he would rather be an academician. We are talking of none other than Venkateswara Subramanian better known as V.S. Mani. He went to the Republic of Nauru, a small country on the equator, in 1981 to deal with treaty matters, and also acted as the Director of Public Prosecutions. Later he was made the Secretary for Justice. He returned to the Micronesian island in 1985, as Chief Secretary, to help them prepare their case against Australia. “Nauru is one of my high points because it was a challenge. I was able to organize the case and win it in the International Court of Justice (ICJ),” he says with understandable pride. The other high was being invited to The Hague Academy in 2005 where Professor Mani addressed about 300 scholars from all over the world on ”Humanitarian Intervention Today.”
Nauru of course is not the only time he has appeared before the World Court. In 1999-2000 he was member of the Indian team in Pakistan’s Atlantique case against India and in 1996 he was part of the drafting team for Nauru in the Nuclear Weapons case before the ICJ.

At present the Director of the Seeding School of Law and Governance in Jaipur, the credit for Professor Mani’s advent into legal education goes to Soli Sorabjee. Mani, who was spearheading international law research at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s prestigious School of International Studies, left in 2004 to set up the Gujarat National Law University. “Soli told me you have done enough of research, now go and teach children,” reveals Mani, who was awarded the “Professor N.R. Madhava Menon Best Law Teacher Award 2013” by the Society of Indian Law Firms.

His contribution in the field of Space Law also cannot be overruled. He has served as ISRO Chair in International Space Law at JNU, New Delhi 1990-2004, and has been a member of the Advisory Committee on drafting of Optional Rules of Arbitration of Space Law Disputes under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration 2010-2011.
Yet, he did not home onto space law right at the onset of his academic career. Having done his B.A. with political science and economics from St. Thomas College, Trichur, Kerala, he went on to pursue a degree in law at Madhusudan Law College, Cuttack, Orissa. This shift was not a choice that he made, but one that happened because his father decided to settle in Cuttack. Mani’s father P.S. Venkateshwara Iyer was the legal representative (i.e. correspondent) for AIR and MLJ, and after settling in Cuttack he started a law journal called the Cuttack Law Times, which he wanted Mani to eventually take over.

However, being a magazine editor or litigator was not what Mani fated to be. On seeing an advertisement for Ph.D. to Indian School of International Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), his father wanted him to take it up. He had wished that Mani’s move to Delhi would ensure that his son would practice in the Supreme Court. But ironically it was research which held him from taking to legal practice. “You see once you taste academics, taking up cases is not easy as you learn to see both sides and become aware that both sides have good points,” explains he. JNU was the place where Mani met Prof. R.P. Anand. The leading teacher of international law became Mani’s mentor. While his interest in political science provided the initial impetus to study international law, Prof. Anand got him totally hooked. “He was my inspiration. He got us to think our own,” acknowledges Mani of Prof. Anand.

When it comes to unwinding, a good movie is what does the trick for Professor Mani. A buff of “good cinema,” be it English or regional language films, specially Malayali and Bengali, he has a natural weakness for courtroom dramas. Though he is quick to point out that the commercial potboilers are not for him. He harbours a soft spot for the sci-fi space odyssey variety as well–a spin-off of his interest in space law. And unreal as it may sound, his favourite books are comics.

Prof. Mani, who grew up listening to the Puranas and the mythologies sitting on his grandfather’s lap, is very much a family man. He married Dr. V.K. Vathsala, a Ph.D. student like him at JNU. They had been friends for five years and one day they “suddenly decided to tie the knot”. Vathsala, who was a career-oriented woman gave up a fellowship offer from an American University and an independent career for the sake of her husband and two sons, Venkatesh and Krishnan. The elder son, Venkatesh, is a Director with Danon in New York and the younger one is finishing his Ph.D. in History at Baroda University. Prof. Mani says he owes Vathsala all that he is today.

Although Prof. Mani himself is an expert in the field of public international law, he feels sad that there are only about half a dozen experts on space law in the country. Perhaps inspired by

him, one day more will find the will to pursue this rare but vast field and attain the standards set by him.

We acknowledge “100 Legal Luminaries of India” by Lalit Bhasin; LexisNexis. The multicolour coffee table book printed on art paper in hardbound is priced at Rs 5995/- and is available at Universal Book Traders, C 27 Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110001.

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