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Striking may ‘spoil’ NLSIU like BHU, JNU, students told by BCI chief MK Mishra (who really loves illegal lawyer strikes)

BCI’s MK Mishra delivers show-stopper of a speech at NLSIU (via YouTube)
BCI’s MK Mishra delivers show-stopper of a speech at NLSIU (via YouTube)

At NLSIU Bangalore’s first convocation under its freshly-baked vice-chancellor (VC) Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy on Sunday also in attendance, alongside dignitaries galore, was Bar Council of India (BCI) chairman and senior counsel Manan Kumar Mishra, giving a rousing 10-minute speech.

Sure, things could have been awkward. After all, BCI had gone on record to oppose the appointment of Krishnaswamy (even accusing, without much evidence, that he had stoked student protests that apparently helped in eventually reducing the inexplicable procrastination in his appointment).

(Fortunately for the dignitaries’ comfort, the BCI co-chair Ved Prakash Sharma had later clarified to The Hindu: “I thought that the strike was engineered by him, but I was wrong. But now everyone is happy with his appointment and we are all satisfied.”).

Not a dry eye

And so, Mishra was off to a great start to his speech at the 1 hour 16 minute mark (YouTube), effortlessly garnering applause with crowdpleasers such as NLS being “one of the top spots of premier institutions of legal education ... in the whole world”.

He also expounded on how it was “shocking and quite painful [it] is that majority of products of NLUs prefer to serve the corporates, you are not ready to face the struggle”, alluding to the well-known fact amongst students that most senior counsel pay juniors a pittance if anything, while earning crores. Perhaps fearing he was losing his audience of would-be foreign and Indian law firm drones, he won more applause with the zinger that the legal profession was indeed “the best one”.

Mishra also used the opportunity to moot more participation of the BCI: “I would like to say that the legal education committee of Bar Council of India is a very powerful and more competent than any other commission”, and that it was very “strong, efficient and unparalleled” in its regulation (he was probably remembering the BCI’s efficient accreditation of 300 new law schools in five years, and its powerful and entirely unprompted decision to not allow any more for three years).

Mishra tugged further at heartstrings of all Indians when he told students that they were at the “vanguard” of protecting society and that “if you are asked to support violence, corruption or oppression have the courage to say no”. It was only three years ago that Mishra had delicately chastised the violence of the “patriotic... true citizen” lawyers who had beaten up an unlawful “anti-national” assembly at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

Quitting while ahead

Mishra really should have stopped there though if he wanted to keep students happy, who were still no doubt on a high barely a week after their successful strike that in-part achieved the installation of NLS’ very own former undergraduate Krishnaswamy as their VC.

Towards the end of his speech, around the 1 hour 24 minutes mark, Mishra told the packed auditorium in paternalistic tones: “My dear friends, as your parent body it is my duty to warn you that strikes, hedonism [? inaudible] are no good things but it is good only up to a limit.”

Adopting a grave expression, he continued: “BHU, JNU Delhi the very premier institutions of this country but their strong student unions, their increasing tendency to strikes, protest have spoiled them. Today they are nowhere.”

Mishra shook his head sadly at that point, frowning emphatically perhaps in memory of the much-bygone era of the greatness of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) Varanasi and JNU, and pausing.

Irony overload

The ironies are hard to overstate.

Mishra is a BCI chairman who has been fonder of lawyer strikes than even national law university (NLU) students nowadays.

In fact, Mishra made a call in April 2017 call for a national lawyers’ strike, to oppose the Law Commission’s fairly well-considered proposals to reform the profession (Mishra incidentally having used several untruths to buttress his call).

Those Law Commission reform plans included the recommendation (after a long consultation that the BCI participated in) to encode in statute the Supreme Court’s ban of most advocates strikes, and the BCI in its submissions to the Law Commission had also suggested that some regulation of strikes was maybe a good idea. To quote the Commission’s report:

The Supreme Court had consistently been declaring that advocates do not have a right to call for strikes and held that the lawyers’ strikes are illegal and that effective steps should be taken to stop the growing tendency.

In numerous cases beginning from Pandurang Dattatraya Khandekar v. Bar Council of Maharashtra, Bombay; to Ex Capt. Harish Uppal v. Union of India, it was held that the advocates have no right to go on strike. The Courts are under no obligation to adjourn matters because lawyers are on strike. On the contrary, it is the duty of all Courts to go on with matters on their boards even in the absence of lawyers. In other words, Court must not be privy to strikes or calls for boycotts.

Those judgments by the courts of the land have long been ignored by many advocates, the regulator and the multifarious bar associations.

Some other recent instances of strikes the BCI has been directly involved in include:

Lest we forget, some district courts’ lawyers had been on strikes for more days than they had been working: several courts went on strike for an average of 110 days per year between 2011 and 2016, and one court was closed for strikes for 158 days per year.

In contrast, unlike the chairman’s exhortations to NLSIU students on Sunday, the BCI has done precious little to control any of that; more arguably, the BCI and state bar councils have happily encouraged, aided or abetted much of this (mis)conduct of advocates.

Or, more charitably, the BCI has simply neither the will or the power, in the Realpolitik sense, to go up against thousands of advocates who enjoy going on strike very much indeed.

BCI Fan is an outspoken fan of the BCI. Any opinions are BCI Fan’s own.

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