Reminiscences of an ex-Marxist – VR Krishna lyer’s autobiography creates a flutter

via By Sushma Kumar - published on November 3, 2009

Vaidyanathapuram Rama Ayyar Krishna Iyer, known all over as VR Krishna Iyer, could be one of the rare species of public figures who begins his day by addressing a prayer meeting of the Sai Baba Trust, rushes to speak in a luncheon seminar organised by rationalists and concludes the day with a passionate speech on the necessity of having permanent communist governments both at Thiruvananthapuram and at New Delhi. He is a versatile personality to the core.

Iyer has come out with Wandering in Many Worlds, his autobiography, published by Pearson Ltd., India For a man who turned 95 on this November 1, Iyer has displayed sharp memory while penning down his ‘sunset reminiscences’. He was born at Palakkadu, started his career as an advocate in Thalassery where he excelled professionally at a young age itself. Iyer was elected an MLA in the 1957 assembly elections and became a member of the EMS Namboodiripad ministry, the first-ever democratically elected communist government anywhere in the world. Iyer held various sensitive portfolios including home, justice, law and revenue in the ministry which was dismissed by the President following the infamous Liberation Struggle, a mass movement led by leaders of the Church and the Nair community.

Iyer returned to the Bar after his attempt to get re-elected to the assembly was foiled by voters of the constituency. He was elevated to the Kerala High Court and sworn in as a judge in 1968 following a suggestion made by his political guru EMS that “state power was a necessary tool for transformation of India into a socialist republic”.

Although Iyer does not proclaim that he is a member of the Communist Party, it is clear from his words that he is a fellow traveller. In 1973, Iyer was sworn in as the judge of the Supreme Court and he retired in 1980. Since his retirement, Iyer has been in the centre stage of social activities like fighting for civil liberties, especially for terrorists, jehadis and fundamentalists, environment-related issues and the likes.

Wandering in Many Worlds stands out because of Iyer’s no-holds-barred attack on the country’s judiciary system. The “colossal case load where litigation is pending in court in Himalayan dimensions” has been highlighted by the judge himself. Last heard, there were more than four crore cases pending in various courts across the length and breadth of the country. Iyer blames judges who hear cases but not pronounce verdict and advocates who seek unreasonable adjournments and hundreds of vacancies of judicial officers lying vacant as the reasons for the mounting litigations. He even charges that the Central Intelligence Agency has access to Indian justices. This is yet another instance of bemoaning by a WAR (wisdom after retirement) veteran. But he has ignored the fact that Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, has brought down the backlog of cases and the state is all set to become the one and only state in India, which will have no pending cases by 2010. That is something unpalatable to the likes of Iyer for obvious reasons.

What made Iyer prominent all over the legal world was the “landmark” order he granted as a vacation judge in the Supreme Court in the Indira Gandhi case in 1975. The then Prime Minister’s 1971 election from Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh was set aside by Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court following a petition filed by the defeated candidate Raj Narain. His contention that Smt Gandhi had violated all poll norms and had misused official machinery to ensure her success in the election was accepted by the High Court. The Prime Minister presented herself before the High Court and was grilled by Shanti Bhushan, Narain’s lawyer.

Justice Iyer, who heard the appeal in the apex court, declared that Smt Gandhi could continue as Prime Minister but she would not be a member of the house pending appeal. Though it was an interim order, Smt Gandhi got enough space to amend the Constitution to suit her needs and this was submitted in the court as a fait accompli. Legal experts even now chuckle when any mention is made of Iyer’s order and his action of distributing the copies of the ‘judgement’ to the thousands who had gathered in the court premises because of the volatility of the case.

Other than that, it is the usual vintage Iyer in full flow throughout the book. He has immortalised his love and adoration for his wife Sarada who unfortunately left for her heavenly abode leaving Iyer to grieve. Though memory has not failed him in chronicling some of the most important events of his momentous career, there are certain unique incidents which he has conveniently forgotten to mention. Iyer is totally silent about the stormy days of the first EMS government, which culminated in the killing of 15 persons in police firing at Angamali and Thiruvananthapuram. This police action has been described as the brutal hallmark of the 1957-59 communist regime, which was marked with cell rule by the local Marxist chieftains. It was the police firing which prompted the union government to invoke Article 356 of the Constitution and dismiss the EMS ministry in 1959.

Iyer claims that he had visited the house of a victim of police firing, which occurred when he was the home minister. Chroniclers of communist regimes in Kerala like K Jayashankar say that the visit came after four decades of the incident! A person like Iyer who claims he is so concerned about civil liberties should have shown the courage to resign from the government immediately after the police firing.

For a jurist, who swears that he has no political leanings, Iyer is vocal throughout this reminiscences about his prejudice against the USA. While he lambasts US and former President Bush for Yankee authoritarianism in the military intervention in Iraq, the learned judge is silent about the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, which resulted in the anointment of his friend Najibullah as the President of that country. It was the USSR’s misadventure which led to the formation of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and other gruesome terrorist organisations. But Iyer has been plagued either by a selective amnesia or loyalty to his one and only fatherland LK Advani has rightly summed up Iyer. “You are a handmaiden of the Soviet Union,” Advani reportedly told Iyer when he sought BJP’s support in the 1987 presidential election.

Overall, it is an interesting book resplendent with Iyer’s command over the English language, especially his sarcastic and vitriolic observations about his brother judges. This autobiography is yet another mirror, reflecting the erosion happening in the country’s judicial system. The earlier we take note of it, the better it is.

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