Friday 3 October 2014

Some Stories of my grandfather Dr. Kailash Nath Katju ( 1887-1968)

My grandfather, Dr. K.N. Katju, was a leading lawyer in Allahabad High Court from 1914 onwards ( he practised in the District Court, Kanpur from 1908-1914), and later became Governor of Orissa ( 1947-1948), Governor of West Bengal ( 1948-1951), Union Home and Law Minister ( 1951-1955), Union Defence Minister ( 1955-1957), and then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh ( 1957-1962).

He was a quiet, reticent man, so he seldom spoke about himself.  So I knew very little about his personal life until after his death in 1968.

I learnt about these stories from others, and his autobiography, 'Experiments in Advocacy ', published by Universal Law publishing Co.

(1)This story was related to me by Dr. Harish Bhalla, a doctor of medicine based in Delhi, who is also a socio-medical crusader and cultural promoter and a pioneer and de-addiction expert fighting the menace of addiction to drugs in the country. He is Secretary General of the Dr. K.N. Katju Memorial Trust which organises lectures and symposia on legal subjects of national importance, which are widely attended. His family is from Jaora, a small town in Western Madhya Pradesh, and he has studied in Bar High School ( now known as Mahatma Gandhi High School), Jaora where Dr. Katju had also studied.

 " While studying in primary class in M.G. High School in Jaora  in the early 1950s we looked back and saw a senior respected leader with a Gandhi cap sitting in the last row and realized it was Dr.K.N. Katju, the Union Home and Law Minister. We were amazed and scared, but our teacher put his finger on his lips indicating that we should all maintain pin drop silence. After sitting there for some time, Dr. Katju left. Our teacher then told us that since Dr. Katju had studied in the same school and had been a primary class student in the same school room, he comes here every year  only to go back into sweet nostalgia of his childhood days.

Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the handsome, visionary, dynamic Prime Minister of India comes to see Jaora, the home town and birth place of Dr. Katju, who brings him to his school, takes him to meet his old teacher Bhure Khan, his childhood friend Modi Seth, and we are dancing before Chacha Nehru and Chacha Kailash Nath Katju like Chin Japanese kids.

Dr. Katju takes Pt. Nehru to show the Chambal River and asks him to build a dam on it to solve the electricity and water problems of Western Madhya Pradesh, and today Western Madhya Pradesh and Eastern Rajasthan are surviving on that dam only.

 Dr. Katju as Union Home Minister or Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh comes to Jaora, locks up his official car in a garage, and moves on foot in the town, greeting old friends and/or their children or grandchildren.

Pt. Nehru comes in 1951 to Jaora to ask the people there to vote for Dr. Katju in the Lok Sabha elections , but Dr. Katju tells him that it is insulting to him to bring Pt. Nehru to ask the people of Jaora to vote for him."

(2) This story was related to me by Justice J.S. Verma ( 1933-2013), former Chief Justice of India.
" In 1958 or so I was a very young lawyer who had just started law practice in Satna District Court, in Madhya Pradesh.

One day I was sitting in my office when the secretary to the District Magistrate of Satna came to me and said that Dr. K.N. Katju, the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh would like to come in to meet me. I was bewildered and confounded, and thought that the secretary had gone off his head. I was just a 25 year old unknown, struggling lawyer, why would the Chief Minister want to meet an obscure young lawyer of a district court ? However I went out, and sure enough, Dr. Katju was standing beside his car waiting to be invited into my tiny office.

 I requested him to come in. He said that he was travelling to his home town Allahabad and while passing Satna thought he should find out about conditions in Satna District Court. I offered him a cup of tea, and told him all I knew. He told me that since he had himself been a lawyer he was deeply concerned about the functioning of the law courts and the conditions of the legal profession in India, particularly Madhya Pradesh. After speaking with me for about 45 minutes he drove off."

(3)  This story was related to me by Justice Ranganath Mishra ( 1926-2012), former Chief Justice of India.
  Dr. Katju was Governor of Orissa from 1947-1948. At that time Justice Mishra was a very young man, 21 years old, who was getting married in Cuttack, the then capital of Orissa. ( Bhubaneshwar, the present capital, had not been built in those days as the capital).

At the time of the marriage, Dr. Katju stepped into Justice Mishra's house and said that although he had not been invited, it was his duty as a neighbour ( the then Raj Bhawan was next to the Mishra's home) to come to give his blessings to the young couple. Having done so, and having met the family members, he departed.

(4) When Dr. Katju was Governor of Orissa, the then Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, came to Cuttack. He asked Dr. Katju whether he was prepared to go to some other state as the Governor. Dr. Katju said that he would go wherever his party sent him. This very much pleased Lord Mountbatten, who said " That is a soldier's answer ", and on returning to Delhi he persuaded Pt. Nehru to send Dr. Katju to a bigger state as the Governor. And that was how Dr. Katju was sent as Governor of West Bengal, which was a much bigger state than Orissa, and where he remained till 1951 when he joined the Union Cabinet as Home Minister.

(5) This was a story told to me by Justice Venkatachaliah, former Chief Justice of India, about an incident which happened when he was a very junior lawyer practising in Karnataka High Court.

In the early 1950s Dr. Katju was the Union Home and Law Minister.

At that time the then Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court, Justice Medappa, was hostile to the then Chief Minister of Karnataka, Hanumanthaiyya, for some reason, and wanted to send him to jail. So the Chief Justice asked someone to file a contempt of Court petition against the Chief Minister, and got it listed before a bench comprising of himself and a very junior judge whom he had got appointed as a Judge.

 The Chief Justice was retiring shortly, so he heard the arguments on that contempt of court petition, refusing all requests for adjournments, and listed it for delivery of judgment on a Friday, which was  one day before his retirement on Saturday. The State Government declared Friday as a holiday ( for Good Friday, and I believe that ever since Good Friday has been a holiday in Karnataka High Court ), so that the judgment could not be delivered, but the Chief Justice said that the judgment would be pronounced on Saturday, which was his last working day ( although High Courts are ordinarily closed on Saturdays).

The Chief Minister panicked, and rushed to Delhi and met Dr. Katju, and related to him all that had happened. He then asked Dr. Katju what should he do ? Dr. Katju said that he could not interfere in judicial matters. When the Chief Minister persisted in saying that something needs to be done, Dr.Katju said " Read the Bhagavad Gita ".

The Chief Minister thought that Dr. Katju was crazy. Here am I , about to be sent to jail, and here was the Union Home and Law Minister giving me religious sermons !

So he went back to Bangalore, and asked someone to approach the junior Judge who was sitting on the bench with the Chief Justice in the contempt case.

Sure enough, the junior Judge went off to his village, and when frantic messages started coming from the Chief Justice to come back to Bangalore so that the judgment could be delivered the next day, his staff replied that he was sitting in an akhand yagya !

The Chief Justice then tore up the judgment he had prepared, and cursed the junior Judge ( whom he had got appointed as a Judge), calling him a coward.

(6) A certain judge of the Allahabad High Court told me this story the day he took oath as a Judge.
 He belonged to a poor farmer's family. He had no money to study in the Allahabad University. Someone told him that Dr. Katju, a leading lawyer of Allahabad High Court, gives scholarships to poor students. So he went to Dr. Katju's house on Edmonstone Road ( later Tashkent Marg) and met Dr. Katju. Dr. Katju said that he would pay all his tuition, and boarding fees, and all that he wanted in return was that in later life he in turn would give scholarships to poor students.

The Judge told me he was regularly giving scholarships to poor students ever since he started earning enough

(7) Someone told me this story, but I forget who it was.
 When he was the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Dr. Katju was once on tour in some district. Unfortunately his car broke down in some rural area when it was dusk. The administrative officials panicked ( there were no mobile phones in those days, and no electricity in that area), but Dr. Katju told them not to worry, but just find out some villager's hut where he could sleep and some chapatis and a vegetable which he could have for dinner.

 This was, of course, arranged, and so after eating a few chapatis Dr. Katju went off to sleep in a villager's hut on a small cot.

(8) In 1948 or so when my grandfather Dr. Katju became Governor of West Bengal, a leading business house approached my father Shiva Nath Katju ( who later became a Judge in Allahabad High Court ) and offered him the post of legal adviser to their group of companies on very high remuneration, obviously because they thought they could thereby ingratiate themselves with Dr.Katju.

My father was temped to accept this offer as he could thereby earn a lot of money, but before he did so he wrote to his father Dr. Katju about it. Dr. Katju replied that he was very happy that his son had acquired such eminence at a relatively young age, and was made this lucrative offer, overlooking much more senior and much more eminent lawyers in Allahabad High Court, but if he accepted it he ( Dr. Katju) would resign as Governor of West Bengal, as he could not bear the disgrace.
 On receiving this admonition my father refused the offer.

(9) This story was told to me in California by Mr. Zawar Hasan, the Mamu of Beena Sarwar, the well known Pakistani journalist ( whom I regard as a sister as her parents were from my home town Allahabad), when I met him at his son's residence.
 Zawar Saheb had been an Allahabad University friend of my uncle Brahma Nath Katju ( who later became Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court )

  Once in 1948 or 1949 when Dr. Katju was Governor of West Bengal, my uncle went to Calcutta to be with his father Dr. Katju, While there he one day.took a Raj Bhawan car to take a ride of Calcutta . On returning he got a scolding from his father Dr. Katju who said " Yeh kya tumhare baap ki car hai ?". Thereafter he never took the Raj Bhawan car anywhere.

(10) After Dr Katju had died in 1968 the news magazine " Blitz' once published a piece stating that Dr. Katju's sons had taken advantage of their father's position as a Minister to become Judges. My uncle, Brahma Nath Katju, who was then a Judge of Allahabad High Court, consulted me as to what we should do.

The truth was that my father Justice S.N. Katju, became a High Court  Judge only in 1962 after his father Dr. Katju had retired from public life. My father was then at a relatively older age of 52, while many lawyers became Judges at the age of 40 So my father could never become Chief Justice of the High Court or a Supreme Court Judge, while others rose to those high positions.

 My uncle became a High Court Judge only in 1972, that is, long after Dr. Katju had retired from public life.
 I advised my uncle to just ignore the matter..


  1. Look at the state of law in West Bengal today!

  2. The story by Justice Venkatachaliah spoke about how a Judge can go blind with enormous power at his disposal to any level. This frightening situation for the health of Democracy in India. The Collegium system which was appointing kins of Judges as Judges in the Judiciary was scrapped due to many instances like this. Now it is duty of Sound minded judges to become whistleblower & speak or act against corruption at all levels of Judiciary