Pt. Kanhaiya Lal Misra – Northern India Patrika 19th Oct. 1975.
By SHANTI BHUSHAN
The last of the giants of Allahabad High Court has passed away. During the last quarter of a century Punditji strode the Indian legal scene like a colossal. He was a great lawyer, a matchless advocate, but above all he was a loveable personality who was kind to a fault.
I first heard of him before he had become one of the leaders of the Allahabad Bar. I was studying in the Allahabad University then. One Shri Sharma, who use to publish a single sheet irregular journal mainly devoted to the High Court News, came to meet my father. He showed me some of the issues of this journal, many of which contained predictions about possible appointments to the High Court Bench. I was familiar with some of the names mentioned therein, but not with the name of Pt. Kanhaiya Lal Misra. I asked Shri Sharma as to who this gentleman was, whose High Court Judgeship he was predicting. Shri Sharma spoke to me about the brilliance of Pt. Kanhaiya Lal Misra in very high terms. This was sometime in 1945, almost two years before Pt. Kanhaiya Lal Misra was appointed a Deputy Government Advocate in the High Court. I use to visit the High Court fairly frequently even during those days when I was studying for my B.Sc and I made it a point to find out and watch Pt. Kanhaiya Lal Misra in court during my next visit to the High Court. I found him in the court of Chief Justice, Sir Iqbal Ahmad, arguing a couple of second appeals for admission. He was dressed in a rather shabby black Khadi coat and a white Khadi pant. He also did not strike me then as a handsome man, but I was struck by the great confidence, with which he was making his points before that extremely sharp and quick judge, Sir Iqbal Ahmad. Even so, little could I then conceive of the sheer brilliance of his intellect and the poetic music of his language and the diction as also of the other great qualities of his head and heart with which I was to become so familiar in due course.
DEPUTY GOVERNMENT ADVOCATE
It was in 1947 that Pt. Kanhaiya Lal Misra was appointed Deputy Government Advocate, when a vacancy was created on my father’s resignation from the office of State Council and it was his performance in this post which became the foundation of his future glories. His masterly conduct, during that period of difficult Government appeals against acquittals immediately marked him out for very high positions in times to come.
In was in 1951 that Shri Govind Ballav Pant, a shrewd judge of men and their capabilities, subjected Punditji to, what I regarded, a test in the constitutional field by asking him to appear for the Government, in the Zamindari Abolition case, although this fell outside his domain as Government Advocate who was only responsible for criminal cases. Punditji’s grasp of the principles of constitutional law and the brilliance of his advocacy in a case in which the cream of the Indian Bar was on display with men like P.R. Das and Moti Lal Setalvad made Punditji’s elevation in the highest office of Advocate General of the largest Indian State a mere matter of time. Soon there after in 1952, when the office of the Advocate General fell vacant on the account of the demise of the great advocate Pyare Lal Banerjee, Pt. Kanhaiya Lal Misra was asked to adorn the great office. By this time, I had already come in fairly intimate professional contact with him, having appeared against him in 1959 for seven days in a full bench case involving a question relating to the delegation of essential legislative powers.
The years after 1952 were years during which Punditji rose from eminence to eminence in the all India field and came to be regarded by many as the best available all-round advocate in the whole of India. What distinguished him from many others was his completeness as a lawyer and an advocate. There was no field in law in which he was not equally at ease and he was as brilliant on the original side as on the appellate side. He was a very formidable cross-examiner and had no peers in the building up of a case at the stage of original trial.
Being of a retiring nature, my contacts with Punditji remained confined to cases and to court till the year 1962. My intimate contact with him on a personal level really began in 1962 and was at its peak from 1962 to 1967 during the period that I held offices of Senior Standing Council and Additional Advocate General. During this period, I was privileged to receive from him the same affection and regard as any member of his immediate family. It was during this time that I realized what a great soul Punditji was. I then was that, his brilliance as a lawyer and as an advocate, which was by now so universally acknowledged all over India, virtually failed into insignificance before his other human qualities. His compassion and concern for his fellow being, the complete absence of any malice towards anyone and his great interest in all aspects of human life created a deep impression on my mind. The simplicity of his personal life and his vast knowledge about almost everything also evoked any spontaneous feelings of great admiration and respect for him.
SUFFERING WITHOUT MURMUR
Punditji had a great capacity of undergoing physical suffering without showing it, and I had many occasions to witness this. During the last months of his life however I simply marveled at the manner in which he silently suffered when it was visible that the suffering was as great as to be beyond anybody else’s endurance. Even in these conditions he always had a word of cheer for the others. I saw him in June, July in August and finally on the 11th of October, just about 41 hours before his end. Even on this last occasion, he had a completely alert mind while his body was completely emaciated and there was so much swelling on his limbs and face that it looked almost frightening. He talked, to me with his head resting on the stool in front of him, on his bed. It was just once during the conversation that he fully raised his head and looked at me squarely in the face. That look of his shall haunt me for quite sometime to come. He talked to me about the Prime Minister’s election case and about the state of his physical health. He told me that there was nothing wrong with him because each one of his organs was functioning very well and yet added that nothing was right also as he was not in a position to move about.
I waited for as few minutes and then quietly took leave of him with folded hands. This was the last that I saw of Pt. Kanhaiya Lal Misra while living.
Punditji lived a full life replete with achievements and honours. He was such a versatile and noble man that the like of him may not be born again.
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