Remembering Vahanvati: The Legendary Lawyer Who Changed the Face of Indian Legal System


India has always been a land of remarkable lawyers who have not only carved a niche out of themselves but also left their un-erasable mark on the country’s law and order. One such unforgettable name is Goolam Vahanvati. The first-ever Muslim to be promoted as the Indian government’s senior-most law officer, Vahanvati was the 13th Attorney General of the country. Not only that, this man of extreme calibre was also a UPA loyalist and had a strong influence on the politics of India in his time.

Growing Up

Life was not good to him in his childhood and young adult days. Belonging to a middle-class family, Vahanvati grew up in Mumbai with a lot of financial stress in the family. However, his money-related crunches could not hold him back into getting educated and becoming the legend that he was. An alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, he also holds a law degree from the Government Law College of Mumbai. He not only passed every exam with flying colours but also delivered lectures in St Xavier’s College as well as Sophia College.

He drew all his motivation and inspiration from Essaji Vahanvati, an eminent lawyer at that time. Instead of gossiping away with his friends, the young Vahanvati spent hours in court every day just to see his father fight his cases. Fali S Nariman was the first lawyer under whom he got an opportunity to work at the Bombay High Court. As his career excelled, he worked with famous advocates such as Ashok Desai, Soli Sarabjee, Ashok Sen, and the likes.

Vahanvati’s Legal Career

Vahanvati’s career as one of the most sought-after lawyers of India was dotted by a plethora of highlights that always kept him in the headlines. In 2004, UPA got in power and approached Vahanvati to become the solicitor general. In UPA 2, he rose to the position of attorney general. He was one such man who never shied away from public service.

In the year 1990, Vahanvati became the senior lawyer and all through his legal tenure, he was known for adhering to strict rules. He would often reject invitations of parties and always stayed away from the “wrong” kind of people. Vahanvati never wanted to be easily accessible to the networks out there. In December 1999, he became the Advocate General of Maharashtra and remained in the designation till June 2004. In the same year, he was finally promoted to the reputed post of the Solicitor General of India. His legal career had been quite of a fascinating journey to look at. From always being in the limelight to fighting some of the most controversial cases of the country, Vahanvati knew how to always be the talk of the town.

Controversial Cases of His Career

Be it the case of coal block allocation, dissolution of Bihar assembly or the 2G scam, Goolam Vahanvati had always been surrounded by controversies. While serving as the advocate general of Maharashtra, he fought and won a plethora of cases. In the Rs. 60,000 crore-worth of fake stamp paper scam, the state was represented by Vahanvati in the PIL (Public Interest Litigation). In his tenure as the advocate general, he also successfully fought the case of reservation for other backward classes (OBCs) in high educational institutes. He also defended the government of Maharashtra in the Dabhol power project case. Other significant cases of his career include the Kudankulam nuclear plant, Rajiv Gandhi assassination, Italian marines, and FDI policy.

Vahanvati along with Steven Majied was appointed by the International Cricket Council to look into the matter of racism in September 2004. It was for probing into the allegations related to racist in the Zimbabwe cricket team. Back then, Majied was serving as the judge at the Zimbabwe High Court. Then, in 2005, Vahanvati was the sole member of the setup of the Single Member Commission for investigating the issues of allegations of racial abuse that the South African cricketers experienced while touring Australia. There was no doubt in the fact that Vahanvati was an extremely honest man who had aced the legal system of the country.

A Man of Taste

Counted among the pioneering lawyers of India, Vahanvati was known for his sharp mind and hard work. The man handled more than thirty cases on a daily basis and had a phenomenal memory. While he fought his cases, young lawyers would head to the court and listen to him for hours. In a way, he had been a great teacher to hundreds of law aspirants, even without him realizing it. Apart from law, Vahanvati was passionate about numerous other things in life. He was in love with the 1950’s Cuban music and in his free time, you would find him riding horses. He also boasted of a rock music collection of Led Zeppelin along with Jim Morrison. The man was a die-hard lover of food and he often shared his interesting food recipes in numerous magazines and newspaper columns.

The Death of a Legend

On September 2, 2014, India lost this genius to a massive cardiac arrest. Vahanvati was 65 years old and had been sick for around three months before bidding farewell to the world. His death shook a lot of lawyers and law students across the nation. The outstanding lawyer left a deep hole of grief and loss which can never be healed again.

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