In Conversation With Sanjay Jain, Senior Advocate and Additional Solicitor General of India

In a candid conversation with Advocate Sudhir Mishra on BW Legal World presents 'The Sudhir Mishra Show', Jain takes us down memory lane and gives us a glimpse into his childhood and growing-up years. He also talks vividly about his college life, struggles of finding his first senior and eventually starting on his own very early on in his legal practice.

I want to know that as a three-year-old when you started your life, you will have no memories of that. But when your memories actually are there today as you speak, how do you describe your childhood?

Well childhood was a little bit of a struggle. But then I had, I would say I had the wonderful pleasure of being the recipient of affection from my maternal grandmother. And it is she only who shaped my basic teachings in life. And based on that, I have built my life brick by brick as it eventually turned out. 

Sir, when we see the journey of a successful lawyer, a senior advocate, and an additional Solicitor General, people look at your cars, your buildings, your houses, your bungalows, your entire profile, they don't know 'Pair ke chaale kaha the islie maine pair ke chale se shuruwaat ki'. You have been educated in different states before coming to Delhi University, you spent some time in Allahabad and then you went to Bihar which was Bihar at that time it was not Jharkhand. Tell us about those early days in your life.

Well early days as I said that they were a bit of a struggle. When I was 11 year old my maternal grandmother, she got bedridden and there was no one else in Allahabad, any other adult member. So, I had to take care of her at the age of 11 and then due to financial constraints, my school bus was the first casualty and then I had to walk to the school all the way and she expired in 1973 before summer vacations, and my final exams of the class were still due. 

So after her departure, the servants etc,  who were there to cook the meal. They also left and for about 20 days or So, I had to cook my own meal. In those days there was no direct train from Allahabad to Ranchi. So I had to change trains from a station called Gomo in Bihar. Yes, so I went to Ranchi from Allahabad as an 11-year-old child on my own so that was quite adventurous I would say. 

What was the school like in Jharkhand? I had the privilege of studying in Chaibasa in Gumbala. So, I know a little bit of it. Most of my friends were using arrows. They used to keep arrows on their backs on their cycles when I was in school in Chaibasa, Lupum butum, which was a small village where I was studying. So do you have memories of your school there?

I didn't have such an exotic setup in my memories. We were living at a place called Kaake Road In Ranchi. There was a neighbourhood school called Central Academy. It was being run by one Mr. Chaturvedi, who I think also had some schools in Delhi  at some point in time. So that was the closest school to where I was living, and it was a sort of a bilingual school, and at that point in time, the academic session in Ranchi would start from January. And in Allahabad, the academic session would start in July. So after going to Ranchi, for six months I had to be without schooling. So actually it was in 74, January that I could commence my class 8. 

Again this was disrupted, even the class 10th was not possible in Ranchi and you had to rush to Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. Now that was your third place and when you come to Uttar Pradesh again circumstances which we don't want to dwell into but the fact is It was an entirely different culture for you. Ranchi, Very sublime, when you come to Meerut, the culture is boisterous so how were the transitions and do you have some fond  memories of Meerut? 

In fact, in Ranchi, the way people would speak was very melodious and rhythmical. So in comparison to that, the way Hindi is spoken in Meerut is quite harsh. So it was a harsh reality and awakening,  I had to start class 10th again. It was a board year. So I didn't have much time to absorb Western UP's culture. So it was all sort of shocking and lonely  in the beginning. But gradually, I think I was a quick learner I believe. I got acclimatised to the ways of Meerut, and the way people would respond, because there understanding of civilities and their understanding of greeting each other or discussing the subjects was different from what it was in Ranchi. 

Meerut, gave you the identity. You did your 10th, you did your 12th. And you also want to talk about the Bihar board and the UP board, the common misunderstanding which people have. Our Prime Minister tries so hard to tell us that the education system of our country is very good. I want you to share that observation.

I would believe that this notion that CBSE is superior to other boards is an overblown misconceived notion. If I were to rate in terms of the quality of syllabus, the enormity of the syllabus rather, then I would put Bihar board above Allahabad board, which I did. CBSE would come last in that. CBSE, at least in my time, was the easiest of the three. I would place Bihar board as number one and Allahabad board which was prevalent in most of UP, number two, and CBSE as number three because in my colony where I would live in Meerut, I had some neighbours who were doing  CBSE, and I would find their syllabus relatively easy as compared to mine.

I have to share with you that When I did my 12th from Bacca In Bihar which was the only inter college for the entire district, I was 2nd in the college and I was facilitated at least 9 places but when I came to Delhi University with my 59.2% marks, I did not get admission in any college, so I was shattered. But I have had this belief that I have done very well in Bihar school. Finally, I got admission to the third list at Deshbandhu college. So I am so happy that you are saying something for the Bihar board and after 30 years roughly, You saying that has really made me smile.

Sir, Your 12th was from Meerut and you are out and Now, you're doing a journey and you mentioned a word to me, which was very dramatic that you had 50 paise in your pocket. You travel to Delhi now. Delhi, where, which is your place,  where finally, you are. You are the Sultan here. You are a legal icon. Tell us about your Delhi journey. 

Well, I came back to Delhi, where I was born, in 1979. I was born in Delhi in 62. I left Delhi for Allahabad in 65. I came back to Delhi in 1979 after doing my class 12th. And before the results came, I came here, and this 50 paise story is from there. 

Only after paying for the roadways bus from Meerut to Delhi. When I landed at ISBT, I had five rupees. Four rupees 50 paise I spent on the three-wheeler from ISBT to Karzan road. So after that, I had 50 paise in my pocket. So that's the 50 paise legend from there. Well, I mean, a legend in a sense, my personal story. 

From there, it is quite interesting because I had filled up the form only for one college that was SRCC. And then, as my luck would have it, that particular year in 1979, which was the first batch of 10 + 2 + 3 in Delhi, my result in the Allahabad board was late. It came very late. The time it came, the first two lists of Delhi University were already out. And as a result, I could not get admission to SRCC, and I didn't know people here. I didn't try any alternative route. 

I  had 90 or 95 in one subject in the Allahabad board, and especially in those days, it was only in the 70s, but it was 2% higher than the cutoff list of SRCC. As you know, I said that I didn't know people around, I didn't have any idea. So I thought that I would have to pack my bags back and go back to Meerut because that is the only place I had filled up. So then somebody in Asia house suggested to me that maybe you can try south campus. So the closest bus stop was Baroda house. I went there, and I figured out that there is bus number 410, which goes to South Campus. So I asked the conductor to give me the ticket for the first college, which was PGDAV. So I got down and went in, showed my mark sheet and the PA to the principal; he ran inside, brought the form that you fill it up and your admission is done, deposit the fees. So I told him that I have not brought money to deposit the fee. So he said all right, you bring it tomorrow and your admission is confirmed. So yes, then I thought that  finally, Delhi has accepted me back.

It would be such a big surprise because I was staying next to the boundary of PGDAV  college in 1989 when I came to Delhi University; there is a place called Vinoba Puri. Me and Manish Prabhat who is now ambassador to Tashkent from India. We were roommates there and I told him this story that you lived across the boundary, but you had passed out much before that. It had a great football ground because we used to see that football ground. And you told me that it had a great Ranji cricket team also.

That's The year when I joined, we defeated St. Stephen's College for the first time, Mr. Kirti Azad was the captain there. Our captain was probably Arjun Khurana So anyway, after that, DAV college was not only a champion in football, hockey, and athletics but also in cricket for the longest time. Half of the Ranji trophy team came from PGDAV.

If I may ask you that when you were in college, then most of the time you are not only doing your classes and understanding the subject you are also teaching at that time?

Yes, I had to because the circumstances were such that my interests in literature and watching plays and other things were little more than what I could afford otherwise. So I had to do some tuitions to make my ball rolling. 

Sir, I'll go look in more detail into your academics because most of the time, we come to the cases and the courts, but here I am taking time because a lot of notions are going to break today. So you came to evening college Mardir Marg of Delhi University. This college was very sought after even when I joined campus law centre in 94th, Mandir Marg was supposed to be the number one centre, which a lot of people don't know,  because it was a very professional, better professors were there. So why did you join there, and what was your entire activity there? 

After doing my B.Com Hons. from PGDAV, when I decided to do law, the option was available that I could join the campus law centre, which was more sought after for various reasons, One being that it is in the campus itself. But I preferred Mandir Marg because it would give me ample opportunity to be able to participate in a lot of debate competitions at Delhi University.  At that point in time. Almost every college used to have festivals and there were many debate competitions and there were cash prices. The incentive was to earn that extra cash price and also to do my bit of tuition and also mark classes that would start at 6:15. So that was my reason to join Mandir Marg because it enabled me to sustain my economy and also pursue my passion in debates, poetry, and there were few more competitions like creative writing and just a minute etc. 

You said to me and many people have told me that when you are in Mandir Marg, you used to meet a lot of professionals who were already doing well, they were still somewhere, they were CEOs of the company so people know you have senior advocate, as the top law officer of the country, but you had a legal mind as a lawyer was to think 360 degree also, for the business part, the marketing part. we will talk about it later. I ask specific things but you got a very  good galaxy of good people you met for the first time.

Because the profile of the students in Mandir marg and Law centre one was enormously wide and, I would say, versatile. We had bankers, IAS, IPS and likes, we had people from different walks of life and also the youngsters. So it was a healthy mix of all variety of people and which made the law centre one of, very vibrant places and apart from that in those days, the toppers used to be from our centre. 

We had some extraordinary brains as our seniors, and especially if we had any difficulty in understanding any subject, apart from our professors, these seniors were also always very willing to tell us and teach us. So Mandir Marg, at that point in time, my tenure from 82- 85 was an outstanding part of the faculty. I would rate it better than CLC of that time.

How serious were Moot courts, internships, all these things which are new now, how serious were they at that time? 

Internships were only in the families. I mean those people who had somebody in the family. There was no concept of internships at that point in time. One of our professors who had already mooted the idea of a five years course, professor Madhav Menon, but so far as moot courts and debates are concerned in our time, the Presidents before me and I was president of Madir Marg in 84-85. In my tenure, I conducted a full-fledged festival, and we organised three moot courts in the entire academic year. 

So we were exposed to moot courts but they had just begun. I mean they were not very old history in Delhi University. And also, the way the rules are structured today when you go and judge a moot for competition, you find that it is very elaborate, the papers are prepared, the subject is prepared, and it is very structured. It was not that structured in those days, but it was there in some of its nascent form. 

Now you come to the ocean. Now you come to the big big ocean called the legal profession, And then you realise that, okay, tuitions were fine, you managed to reach this far  Now, you are challenged where nobody cares. What was the sense of rejection? Sir, you talked about what you tried. You were one of the toppers, one of the most accomplished students; how was it? And then, finally, you landed up at Sharda ji's place.

Whatever I did in my academics, in my school days, All that fetched me was a scholarship and a gold medal for class 10th, my marks in English though, I was a Hindi medium student. 

So in Meerut, somebody getting 96% in English was a big thing. So students would come from far to see my mark sheet to say that yes, we wanted to see to believe it. And based on my class 10th mark sheet, in 11th, I was able to take tuitions in English for class 10th students. 

But the marks in My LLB, I was amongst the top 10. It did not help me in entering the law chambers. I tried my best to find some seniors in Delhi high court and I was unable to, because I did not have any adequate references. So almost everybody rejected me. So then I went to one of my friends who's now a partner in the non-litigation side in one of the big law firms Mr. Munish Sharma, his father, used to be a session Judge in Tees hazari. So I went to him and requested for an opening somewhere, so he gave me a reference to Mr. Satish Chandra Sharda, who was a civil lawyer at an office in Roshanara Road, opposite Plaza cinema. So I went to him, he said, all right and to join from this day and then I joined him but he made it clear that he won't pay me any stipend, so I had to be on my own. So I said, all right, I am here to learn. 

So with Sharda Ji, the benefit was that he had mostly institutional clients, so the clients were not on his head, because those days the clients those who were individual clients, they would be there on the head of the lawyer for their own cases, but institutional clients, by institutional, I mean, banks and insurance company. He had banks and insurance companies, so he would take it easy sometimes. So, I had the opportunity to do the miscellaneous arguments, and gradually the examination in chief and then gradually, maybe an odd cross-examination, within seven months. 

So, after seven months, sir, I'll just complete this story. You tried asking for some money to survive and you realised that he was quite offended with that. And finally, you realise that if I had to work for free. Why don't I work for Mr Sanjay Jain, rather than for anybody else

I asked him to support me with a particular amount, for which he said no. By that time, my savings from my college days were over. So I thought if I have to work for free, then I might as well work for myself.

So you decided to take the bull by the horn. You said I will go all out. That's a very defining moment. No pedigree, no third-generation lawyering. Now there is a disruption happening, which is news for everybody. You are going all out now. How did you chart this part? 

What I did was I realised that in the legal profession, there is no way to advertise so the only way is to use your goodwill. I didn't have the benefit of schooling in Delhi neither being in a college where the alumnus would be well placed that they can refer any work to me. So whatever goodwill i had was in my law faculty days in those three years and because I was in Mandir marg, so  I had people who were already established and those who saw me either as a debater or as a person who was involved in doing various activities as a president of the law centre. They had some implicit faith in me, so they gradually started referring work to me. So, my clients, in the beginning, were lawyers only.

A very interesting thing happened. You actually went to your father and you never took any favor from anybody. This is what I have learnt about your story but you said, you helped me somehow and he did help you with 15,000 rupees and it was a huge sum. You had a dilemma, shall I buy a scooter? Shall I buy a chamber in Tees hazari. So, tell me, sir, what did you choose, the scooter or the chamber? 

Well, I chose the chamber because I thought that once  I am here in the courts. I needed to have a place in the courts because at that point in time in 1986, the lawyers were given their identity by the place where they were operating from. 

So obviously, I didn't have the resources to have an office in any attractive place, like central daily or South Delhi. So I wanted to begin with an office, and the chamber was the cheapest option available, and then I thought about whether I come by scooter or I come by DTC bus, which I used to do; who would know. So ultimately, people come and meet me only in the chamber. So therefore, I made a chamber, and I made a decent one. 

What has stayed with me is how you are a disruptive lawyer, what you wanted to take in a matter, one of the critical clients came to you like in everybody's life, one critical client came, in my life, Dr Subhash Chandra came in five, seven years back and we started working for Zee for virtually everything. And that client came from the northeast, and you wanted to engage Arun Jaitly Ji for a very important matter, and he was not convinced that he can go to Guwahati High Court for this matter. He thought it was not the right forum. Tell us how a lawyer should be thinking disruptively when everything is against the wind?

My client had an issue in the intellectual property field pertaining to trademarks. Now trademark, as we all know, is an original side preposition and the minimum it has to be before a district judge. Now unlike Delhi High Court, Guwahati didnt have an original side, and he wanted to do the litigation only in Guwahati High Court. He was not willing to do it in just the district court of Guwahati, and the matter pertained to the state lotteries. So after the Suman lottery case in the Supreme Court, Supreme Court said lotteries could only be by the state government, but it was permissible for them to appoint sole distributors and the client was a sole distributor. So, I devised a scheme that if I have to be in the high court, I have to be in writ jurisdiction. So, how to invoke the writ jurisdiction?

So I  said that look, the intellectual property or the lot of trademarks is suggested by me, that is my client, I suggested to my state government. So, my state government only approves it so similarly, those who are copying my trademark, the other states, their sole distributors would have referred the trademark and their state governments would have approved it. 

So, I said that the decision of the other state governments, the decision-making process of the other state governments in approving a trademark which belongs to me, is arbitrary and unreasonable. It can be contested in writ jurisdiction. 

So when I went to him for the first time, he said look it is absurd that you want me to do original side litigation in writ jurisdiction, so I don't agree with it. But the next day I received a call from his office and he said that proposition that you are name is quite interesting. I can give it a try, and we will go. I said sir, we will succeed, don't worry. I just need you to give it a kickstart.

So the last question which is I'll be asking you, what is the music left? Which you want to play. 

Now of the music, I would say that as a lawyer, every day, the new challenges that I face gives me a lot of incentive and every proposition either of opinion or of litigation gives me a high

So I am quite happy and content. What I am doing at present, if any better opportunities come to me in my life in which I can serve the profession in some other capacity, I would welcome it. But I'm just expressing my gratitude to God that whatever he has blessed me with until now I am immensely grateful for that. 

I don't know whether I deserved it, or he has given me according to my capabilities or he is given me more. It is for others to judge, but I believe that if you don't enjoy a profession, you should not be doing it. I, I enjoy this profession the way I enjoy Kishore Kumar or Jagjit Singh or Lata Mangeshkar, or Asha Bhosle. 

So, it is, for me, each day is the music and sure for you too.

I will not even ask you what your advice to young lawyers is? Because you have told me just now, what is your advice, making it your music. Make it your liking and enjoy it.

Watch the full episode on the link below: 

Note: The automatic transcription has been lightly edited for a better reading experience. Some names and parts of the transcription may carry inadvertent errors that we are in the process of editing. Thank you for your understanding.

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