A POWERFUL ADVOCATE
Acharya Sitaram Chaturvedi
Eminent Writer & Prof. BHU
After Malaviya’s performance at the Calcutta Congress, the friends and advisers, including Raja Ram Pal Singh, urged him to devote a little more of his time to political affairs. They were convinced that in Malaviyaji they had discovered a political leader of great promise. Some of them prevailed upon Malaviya to take up the study of law as necessary preparation for a Political career.
This pressure from various quarters obliged Malaviya to devote himself to the study of law during the time that he could spare from his duties as an associate editor of The Indian Opinion. While he was a student of law, he prepared a comprehensive note on Constitutional Law which proved, if any proof was needed at all, his ability to master the most difficult branch of legal knowledge.
In this he was helped, no doubt, by his keen intelligence and phenomenal memory. The only handicap in the study of law was lack of time. A more serious setback came from a sudden calamity in the family. Just when his law examinations were drawing near, his younger brother, Manoharlal, took suddenly ill and died. This tragedy left Malaviyaji numb and devoid of all enthusiasm for pursuing his studies. Some of his friends, however, persuaded him with great difficulty to continue his studies and to appear for the examinations. So, in 1891, he passed his law exam with credit. After two years, he joined the bar at the Allahabad High Court.
Madan Mohan Malaviya quickly made a mark as a promising member of the bar. He shone forth as a brilliant advocate, he was scrupulous in taking up cases. He never took up a dubious case under any circumstance and undertook only that amount of work which he could do justice to. His devotion to his profession was so sincere, that one of his colleagues in the newly-founded National Congress complained to Mr. Hume, who was one of the leaders of the party at that time, that Malaviyaji was not finding sufficient time to devote to national cause. But Mr. Hume supported Malaviyaji, and said, “It is all right. He must devote all his energies to his professional responsibilities.” And then, turning to Malaviyaji, he said, “Mr. Madan Mohan! God has granted you keen intellect. If you work sincerely for ten years in this profession, you will surely beat all your contemporaries and then you will be better qualified to serve your people and country on account of the respect and name that you will have earned by then.”
His work as a lawyer kept Malaviyaji so busy that he hardly got time even to attend to his daily routine. Unlike his fellow advocates, he was so obliging that a number of his friends, relatives and others of low means could find in him a sincere friend and guide who would attend to their court cases without charging any fees. Right up from early morning would his client knock at his doors and would not permit him to perform even his morning prayers. He was so obliging and true to his professional morals that he attended to his daily prayer only after he had disposed of all his clients. It was then that he would take his meals.
Malaviyaji was responsible for bringing Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru to Allahabad and starting him off on a successful career at the bar. Writing about Malaviyaji as a lawyer, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru had to say: “Within a few years of joining the Bar, he built up a solid and substantial practice on the civil side which placed him immediately after the leaders of those days, namely, Pandit (afterwards Sir) Sunderlal, Pandit Motilal Nehru and Mr. Chaudhary. In the profession, he was known to be a lawyer of very keen intellect, extremely fair in the presentation of the cases, courteous to his opponents but above anything else, he was the shining example of a lawyer who combined his scrupulousness to the last degree with ability of high order. I know it for a fact that successive Chief Justices and none greater than Sir John Stanly and Sir Henry Richards held him in high regard not only for his ability but for his spotless character.”
Malaviyaji had three great talents that went to make him a successful lawyer- thorough preparation of his brief, effective speech and the art of putting his case persuasively. He quoted precedents and pressed his points of law and facts in such a cool and a convincing manner, that it was always difficult for his opponents to disprove his facts or his arguments.
A lesser person than Malaviyaji would have been content with this success. But not Malaviyaji. He had other, more consuming passions. The most powerful of these was his dream of establishing a truly Indian University. His father, with whom he often shared his feelings, advised him that if he wanted to work for the establishment of the University he was to give up his legal practice. Malaviyaji took this advice in all earnestness. The news of his sudden resolve to give up his legal practice came as a shock to many of his friends. One of the Judges of the Allahabad High Court, on hearing this news, is quoted as saying, “Malaviyaji had the ball at his feet but he refused to kick it.”
When Gopala Krishna Gokhale, the great patriot, was hailed for his sacrifices, he quoted Malaviyaji’s example with great admiration: “Why do you call me a great sacrificer? What sacrifice have I made? I was born in a poor family and became a teacher. From teachership I rose to my present status. I was a poor man and so remain to this day. The sacrifice is that of Pandit Malaviyaji. He was born in poverty and from poverty rose to the position of an eminent lawyer earning thousands of rupees per month. He tested richness and when the call came to him from within to serve his motherland, he sacrificed all and again courted poverty. His is the sacrifice, the real sacrifice, not mine.”
But the lawyer in Malaviyaji did not die. It lay dormant only to rise whenever an occasion arose. And such an occasion did arise in 1922, when on February 4 of that year, a police post at Chauri-Chaura in the Gorakhpur District of U.P. was set on fire by an excited mob of patriots. Twenty-one policemen were roasted alive in the unfortunate incident. Two hundred and twenty-five persons were arrested on the charge of arson and murder. No local lawyer was coming forward to defend them. The Sessions Judge of Gorakhpur had sentenced One Hundred and Seventy of the accused to capital punishment. When the cases came up for hearing before the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court, all eyes turned towards Malaviyaji. Though Malaviyaji was out of the profession for nearly two decades, he readily took up the case, prepared the brief and pleaded on behalf of the accused.
He concluded his arguments with a fervent appeal to the judges to impart justice tempered with mercy and thanked them heartily for giving him patient and kind hearing.
After Malaviyaji had finished his arguments, the Chief Justice rose from his seat and addressed in these words:
“The wonderful ability with which you have pleaded this case has earned you the gratitude of all the accused, and their families shall ever remain grateful to you for the same. I, on behalf of my and I believe on behalf of my colleagues Mr. Justice Piggot also, congratulate you on arguing this case in such a brilliant manner. Nobody else could have presented this case better than yourself. No better laurels can a lawyer aspire for in his legal career than this.”
It was a miracle. One hundred and fifty of the accused were saved from the gallows.