Farewell To Chief Justice AP Sahi By Justice P.N Prakash

Justice P.N Prakash
4 Jan 2021 4:40 PM GMT
Farewell To Chief Justice AP Sahi By Justice P.N Prakash

I often wondered what endeared Anna to his party men that they continue to adore him even after several decades of his passing away. I got an answer in the biographies of 'Anna' and 'M.G.R.' authored by my good friend R.Kannan, who is a U.N. Diplomat, D.M.K. ideologue and a prolific writer, all rolled into one. Kannan says that when the D.M.K. was in its nascent stage in the early sixties, crowds used to gather for their public meetings eager to see M.G.R. and after his speech, they would disperse without even waiting to listen to Anna speaking. Some frontline D.M.K. leaders, envious of M.G.R., cavilled to Anna saying, "We must build our party on firm Dravidian ideology and not on the popularity of film stars and allow them to hijack it". Anna, never one to doubt his own talents, would give them a patient hearing and dismissively say, "After all, M.G.R.'s success is our success".

William Von Hippel, the renowned evolutionary psychologist, in his classic, 'The Social Leap' says that envy and jealousy amongst peers is an evolutionary trait and cites Abraham Tesser's experiment in support of this theory. To quote Hippel,

"Tesser found that people were more likely to give helpful clues to their partner if he was a friend rather than a stranger, but this result held only when the task was described as unimportant. When the task was described as an important indicator of verbal skills, Tesser found that after failing at the task themselves, people were more likely to give helpful clues to strangers than friends. These data suggest that good performance on the part of a friend was more threatening than good performance on the part of a stranger. It's an ugly truth about people, but these results show that we undermine our friends when there is a risk they'll outperform us in important domains. This is what sexual selection has wrought."

That is why humans are very stingy in praising others, but generous in lending both ears to engender and propagate gossip.

The reader may be wondering as to why I am meandering. Like Anna, Chief Justice A.P Sahi is endowed with the great virtue of being enviless. I was once surprised to notice that he was keeping a close eye on the law journals for good judgments written by us and when he found one, he promptly called the Judge concerned and lavished praise. He happily identified himself with other's success and never felt threatened that he would be outshone. After being sworn in as the Chief Justice in the Raj Bhavan, he met us for tea and when we individually introduced ourselves to him, he had something good to say about each of us. It was indeed a pleasant surprise for me. He had done his homework well.

His sense of probity in financial matters became evident during his first visit to Madurai on 16.12.2019, when he paid the food court bill from and out of his pocket, not only for his consumption but for that of the whole entourage that accompanied him.

Chief Justice Sahi made himself freely available for his entire team and one could discuss matters with him even over the phone. He took administrative decisions, only after due consultation and deliberation, and once a decision is taken, he would implement it firmly. He practised the oft-quoted aphorism that the Chief Justice is first amongst equals as he departed from tardy protocol requirements to call on judges in their chambers. To many, this was a pleasant surprise. Like a true team leader, Chief Justice Sahi took everyone along.

He gave real meaning to Full Court meetings by making arrangements for the physical presence of Madurai Judges in Chennai and lent his ears to every shade of opinion. He listened patiently and calmly and decided wisely and independently. For the first time, he introduced the system of sending the minutes of the Full Court meetings to every judge and thus ushered in transparency.

Be it an administrative or judicial decision, he would not brook any delay. On the judicial side, his versatility in all branches of law is limpid from his judgments. In matters of disciplinary action, he was a stickler for the rule book. He dealt with delinquents with an iron hand.

Unfortunately for the High Court, the COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on his vision to improve the working of the system and for ushering in far reaching reforms. He is a voracious reader and this explains his ability to speak extempore in any gathering. Being a library worm, retirement would hardly have any impact on him as he has enough books in the Allahabad library to devour.

In the last leg of his tenure, like Dhoni, he pulled a winning sixer by opting to get admitted in the Government General Hospital when he was tested positive for COVID-19, even though he was lawfully entitled to take treatment in any private hospital. This was a master stroke for the COVID-19 frontline warriors, especially the medical community, who felt extremely encouraged by this gesture.

If Justice Kaul was Pataudi, Justice Sahi was Dhoni. Unfortunately, his was an unfulfilled captaincy due to the rogue COVID-19 pandemic. Though his captaincy was short-lived, he departs with our fullest and warmest good wishes for his next innings.

Views are personal.

(Author is a sitting Judge at the Madras High Court)

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