The experiences bestowed by Kanchi-Mahaswami — Part 35 : Victory in the case, job for Arumugam!

Author : Sri S.Gurumurthy

Translator : C.Rangarajan

Chennai-based lawyer, K.R.Ramamani, who was an expert in Tax laws was appointed to represent the Express group in this case. He was ably assisted by my Guru, J.Gowrikanthan (JG). From the Express group, three of the advisers (M.Vaidyanathan CA, Lawyer T.N.Seetharaman & myself) were part of this case. Of all the five people, I had the least experience. The rest of them were well experienced and Jambhavans in their respective field. Settlement commission was created during the emergency and ours was the first big case. The commission’s first chairman was Colonel Ganapathy and the first member was Venkatachalam. Both of them were honest, bold, and had high integrity. They were unbiased and fearless too. Such officers are rare to see today.

The lists that got changed in the PM’s letter

CBI had confiscated all the documents from the Express group. It included all the pieces of evidence that we had used to represent before the settlement commission. It was very difficult to get a copy of the documents from the CBI. It rarely shares the documents with the accused too. We were in need of few original documents and photocopies of some.

We prepared two lists. Goenka met the PM, Morarji Desai to explain the problem and was asked to send the list of documents required. I came back to the Express house and told his secretary to prepare two sets of lists & send them to the PM office — one that seeks the photocopies and the other to submit the originals to the commission. I returned to Chennai. CBI has agreed to the same. Then, Goenka had asked to come to Delhi with photographer Harry Miller. Further, he told me to meet CBI office Chiranjeevi lal along with the documents list & letter sent to the PM office. We went to the CBI office; A huge shock was waiting for us.

Our requests have been switched. Wherever the originals were sought, we were presented with the photocopies and vice versa. Next week, the case was scheduled for hearing in the settlement commission. Again, we cannot go back to the PM. What shall we do? I met Chiranjeevi Lal; He had recent heart surgery and told us to meet with a Tamil Inspector, Sivaji. I got an idea. It was a two-storeyed building. I gave some advance notes to Harry and then requested Chiranjeevi lal that we would take the documents to the terrace for natural light photography. He had agreed to that and told Sivaji to accompany us. I was enquiring about Sivaji’s family and other matters. We got the idea that he would be coming to Mumbai to submit the documents before the commission.

Sivaji was not aware of the switching of the lists. Harry was managing the situation as per our requirements and brought in the correct set of documents for photos. We gave the list with the originals to Sivaji and bade goodbye to him. I came and explained this to Goenka. Goenka told me not to worry and briefed the PM office. Later, I explained the same to Chiranjeevi Lal and he too had approved my act.

Icecream vs Volcano

The case was held in Mumbai. Our group met on the 25th floor in the Express towers. We discussed the questioning pattern by the commission and our response to that. JG said that for one question, we might not have the answer. I told him that there is a partial answer to this question. All had asked me to share the part answer. Four companies gave money to Express traders to buy the shares of IISCO in the ratio of 40:35:15:10. The first company that had invested 40% absorbed the equal loss. For the remaining companies, the allocation was arbitrary. If the commission questions the remaining allocation then we may get into trouble. To the best extent possible, we should avoid getting into this line of questioning.

Ramamani was a soft person, patient, and manages the debate with a sense of humour. If he was like ice cream and Goenka was like a volcano. Goenka wanted to present his complete story starting from Nehru’s request to buy the shares, how did he manage the money, Indira’s role, and other details. Others were not in agreement. He fulminated and threw down the case papers. All of us kept quiet.

We were totally confused. I took him aside and requested him, “Have faith in us. Commission has huge respect for Ramamani. We should allow him to maintain his poise. Please share the details with him quietly”. After that, they met each other. Later, when we asked about the discussion, Ramamani jocularly mentioned that Goenka talked about three points — persecution, persecution, persecution and we all laughed it away. Ramamani’s humour was a big antidote to us as we were in a state of tension. Even in that situation, Ramamani has not lost his sense of humour and patience. The next day, we were asked to appear before the commission.

You need not come, today

The case was happening for two days. We presented first. Most of the lawyers will talk at the top of their voices. Ramamani speaks in a lower tone & quietly. Commission was keenly listening to him. For the questions, he gave the answers, very patiently. All of us helped him. It was my first big occasion experience. It was a treat to watch the way he argued the most important case for the Express group that would decide its fate. It was not easy to list out his arguments and an important lesson for me in the presentation on such important matters.

We were seated as follows — Ramamani & Seetharaman (1st row), Gowrikanthan (2nd row), Vaidyanathan & myself (3rd row), and Goenka (4th row). It was my responsibility to pacify Goenka. Goenka would force me to tell Ramamani to inform the commission about Indira’s excesses. He was very angry with me. After waiting for two hours, he openly announced that he would argue his case. The commission also heard this. His tantrums were noticed by the commission.

After we completed, the IT department started presenting their arguments. Day 1 had come to an end. We were all satisfied with the proceedings except Goenka. He was threatening us to share his point of view and if we don’t then he would seek the commission’s permission to argue. Again, we kept quiet. Then we had decided that Goenka should not come to the commission and it was left me to bell the tiger.

The next day morning dressed in his traditional khadi-panch kach & kurtha, he went to the temple and at sharp 8 am, he came to the Express towers. In the elevator I had asked him, “Ramnath Ji, do you trust me”? He replied that he would die for me. Then I said, “I would fall at his feet. Please do not come to the commission office, today. They were not happy with your proceedings, yesterday (I lied)”. That shook him and made him quiet. Then he replied that he was not coming and informed the same to the remaining four. After that, he discussed with us amicably and with a sense of relief, we went to the commission.

Goenka was able to understand the role of intermediaries between the court and parties since it takes away the emotional element. On day 2, the afternoon, the arguments were about to come to end. Commission member, Venkatachalam asked, “Mr.Ramamani, how are the profit-loss are apportioned among the partners”. Needless to say that we did not like that question. Ramamani prompted JG to respond and he managed the commission with a beautiful reply. The commission accepted that point of view and that brought down the curtains on the inquiry.

Victory in the case and Arumugan got the same job back!

In the next four weeks, we were anxiously waiting for the judgment and that period got stretched in our mind to four years. Then, one day, I got a call from Goenka,” We won and come home. ANS is with me and he wants to see you”. I was totally in a jubilant mood and went to his home. He showed me the news item and mentioned that the full order would come by the next day. I got embraced by both of them. We were flooded with sweets. All of us were speechless. AN Sivaraman recollected our initial discussion and told Goenka to reward me sumptuously. I was working as a consultant with a retainer. Goenka mocked me and asked me to quote a number. Then, I told him to confirm the same. Goenka agreed. I requested him to restore Arumugam’s job. Goenka was shocked and said, “Because of him, I got a heart attack”. I pleaded with him and he agreed to that request, finally.

The commission’s rulings was final and binding on all. It cannot be questioned in any court of law. All the false charges laid out by CBI were dismissed. I can never forget the very important case in my life.

To be contd…