For Habibullah Badsha, public interest trumped officialdom

He was respected by judges and lawyers alike, and many others

Updated - November 26, 2017 07:43 am IST

Published - November 25, 2017 11:55 pm IST - CHENNAI

 Habibullah Badsha

Habibullah Badsha

Habibullah Badsha (1933 – 2017) was born in an illustrious family and was apprenticed to an illustrious lawyer. He joined S. Govind Swaminadhan in 1956 and became one of his favourite juniors. Soon he acquired an extensive practice of his own. For several decades, that trio — SGS, A.C. Muthanna and Badsha — were a combination hard to beat.

Badsha was steeped in the mould of his senior. He held every important law office, and in each he ensured that fairness overrode partisanship, and public interest trumped officialdom and politics. As Public Prosecutor, he would readily concede that the State had no case, as Central Govt Counsel he declined to support Emergency orders of detention, as Advocate – General he made it clear that if the government disregarded his advice, they could look for a new A-G.

When he took on a public interest case, he made sure that he gave to it the same amount of prodigious labour and interest as a paying brief. When he took on a public cause, eg. protesting the city being shut down for a mega wedding organised by a former Chief Minister, he was undeterred by threats. Manifold public organisations and charities benefited from his support. Many individuals did too, monetarily and otherwise, but this came to light only when unknowns came to pay respects to the departed soul; he followed the adage — for your generosity let the left hand not know what the right hand giveth.

He was respected by judges and lawyers alike, in his home court and the apex one, and many others in the country. Many juniors looked upon him as a role model and tell of his generosity of time, ensuring that the young lawyer was well paid, and other acts of help and assistance; he always responded when asked and sometimes surprised the recipient unasked. His attitude and manner of mildness, gentleness and soft speech was a constant — at home, in society, and in court. Dispelling the notion that the litigation lawyer must display aggression, Badsha always displayed calm and courtesy; these traits would coax the judge into agreeing with him and then virtually espousing his cause to the chagrin of the other side.

He was mindful of the fact that the Muslim community, of which he was a prominent member, needed his special attention, and he was a prominent name in several prominent organisations. But that did not prevent him from being secular in outlook, thought, speech and practice. In declining judgeship when offered, he did what his senior had done; there are many voices which are critical of the best lawyers staying clear of the Bench, but it must also be kept in mind that his outstanding services in many areas would not have been forthcoming from that gilded cage. Nevertheless, it was a matter of pride for him that three of his juniors became High Court judges and served with distinction — Justices Sudhakar, Kirubakaran and Akbar Ali.

In his closing years he was saddened by falling standards in the legal professions, Bench and Bar and academics. It was much better in our time, he used to say. We agree; and when a prominent member of the old guard leaves us, we feel it all the more.

( The writer is a senior advocate in the Madras High Court. His email id is

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