Saturday 12 July 2014

Pandit Kanhaiyya Lal Mishra in the Bombay High Court

In the 1950s and 1960s Pandit Kanhaiyya Lal Mishra ( 1903-1975 ) strode like a colossus in the Allahabad High Court bar. He was Advocate General of U.P.for about 15 years from 1952 onwards. In 1957 he was offered Judgeship of the Supreme Court, which he declined.

He had been brilliant since his youth. When he sat for the I.C.S. examination he got an unbelieveble 100% in the English paper . The well known writer and critic, Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, who had examined Kanhaiyya Lal Mishra's answer copy, wrote to Prof. Dunn of the Allahabad University " It is Englishmen who conquered India, but it is Kanhaiyya Lal Mishra who has conquered English".

I heard Pt. Kanhaiyya Lal arguing in the Allahabad High Court, though in his declining years, but even then his command over the English language and articulation was marvellous. I simply cannot describe it, it had to be heard to be believed !

As Advocate General he appeared for the State of U.P. against the well known socialist leader, Ram Manohar Lohia, who was in jail and had challenged his detention order before the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court. Lohia had decided to argue his case himself, but since he had no knowledge of law, Pt Kanhaiyya Lal would search for the relevant case law and carry the judgments to the jail where Lohia was detained, and tell Lohia the points and judgments in his favour. When people came to know of this they enquired from him why he was helping his opponent ? Pt. Kanhaiyya Lal replied that as a law officer he regarded his job not so much as winning a case as helping the Court to arrive at a correct judgment, and unless the version of both sides was known the truth could not be arrived at.

Pt. Kanhaiyya Lal could have easily become one of the top lawyers in the Supreme Court, but he was not prepared to shift from Allahabad, which he loved.

Once he went to argue a case in the Supreme Court, and after hearing him, Justice S.R. Das,himself a great jurist, remarked in Court " Mr. Mishra , why do you not come more often to the Supreme Court ? In the cases you appear it raises the standard of our judgments ".

I may now relate the occasion when Pt. Kanhaiyya Lal went to argue a case before the Bombay High Court.

The facts of the case were as follows :
The U.P. Legislature had ordered arrest of Mr. R.K. Karanjia,the then Editor of 'Blitz' weekly for the alleged wrong reporting of some proceeding of the U.P.Legislature. Mr. Karanjia challenged the order of the U.P. Legislature by filing a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution before the Supreme Court. That petition was allowed by the Supreme Court on the ground that Mr. Karanjia had not been produced before a Magistrate within 24 hours of arrest, as required by Article 22(2) of the Constitution.

Mr. Karanjia then filed a suit for damages against (1) The Bombay police, and (2) the U.P. Legislature. It was heard by a Single judge, Acting Chief Justice Koyaji.

Eminent lawyers appeared in the case. Mr. Palkhivala appeared for Mr. Karanjia, Mr. Seervai for the Bombay police, and Pt. Kanhaiyya Lal Mishra for the U.P. Legislature.

Bombay lawyers used to regard Allahabad lawyers as not their equals. So they did not attach much importance to Pt. Kanhaiyya Lal's appearance in the case, and thought that most of the time he will only be a spectator, while the real fight will be between the two giants, Palkhivala and Seervai.

Palkhivala argued first ,for Karanjia.

Then came the turn of Pt. Kanhaiyya Lal. He argued for 3 or 4 days for the U.P. Legislature. At the end of the first day Seervai sent a message to the entire Bombay bar as well as the Bombay University that a miracle was taking place in the Court of Justice Koyaji, and if they wanted to know what advocacy was they should give up everything they were doing and come to hear the Advocate General of U.P. in the Court of Justice Koyaji. On receiving this message the Bombay University declared closure so that the teachers and students could hear Pt. Kanhaiyya Lal. Every one flocked to the Courtroom of Justice Koyaji to hear Pt. Kanhaiyya Lal.

After Pt. Kanhaiyya Lal finished his arguments, Mr.Seervai rose to address the Court, on behalf of the Bombay police.. He said " Before I begin my arguments I would like to express my feelings to Your Lordship. When the Advocate General of U.P. had come to my chambers for consultation before this case started, he was so quiet that I thought he will not contribute anything., but after hearing his arguments I feel that even if I argue my arguments will only wash off the beautiful varnish with which he has coated this case ". After arguments were over justice Koyaji remarked " I could not assimilate all that Mr. Mishra argued, but I wish to say that never in my long career as a Judge have I ever heard such an argument ".

The suit was dismissed by Justice Koyaji.

An appeal was then filed by Karanjia before a division bench of the Bombay High Court consisting of Chief Justice Chagla and another Hon'ble Judge.

Mr. Palkhivala, who again appeared for Karanjia began his argument by saying that his client had a strong case, and the suit had been wrongly dismissed by the learned Single Judge. To this Chief Justice Chagla remarked :" If your client had a strong case why has his suit been dismissed ?". Mr. Palkhivala replied " Because Mr. Mishra had mesmerized the learned Single Judge ". The Chief Justice then observed " In that case he may mesmerize us ". After hearing arguments the appeal was dismissed.

After the case was finally over the Bombay lawyers asked " Mr Mishra, is there any other lawyer like you in the Allahabad High Court ?". Pt Kanhaiyya Lal replied " there are dozens of lawyers like me in the Allahabad High Court".


  1. Rohit Srivastava12 July 2014 at 19:34

    thank you sir, for sharing this beautiful piece of bar experience..!!

  2. Thanks for the memories - Munnan

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