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‘My Lord!’ • BCI chairman Mishra threatens strikes in letter to ‘beloved Narendra Modiji’, ‘our guardian, our guide’, ‘most efficient & able leader’

Manan Kumar Mishra composes an ode to the prime minister that’s also filled with threats about bad things that will happen if the government considers reforming the BCI away...

BCI chair to NaMo: 'My Lord! BCI is your Institution... you are our guardian, our guide... beloved... most efficient and able leader of the world'
BCI chair to NaMo: 'My Lord! BCI is your Institution... you are our guardian, our guide... beloved... most efficient and able leader of the world'

Senior counsel and Bar Council of India (BCI) chairman Manan Kumar Mishra has sent a letter to prime minister Narendra Modi, copying in the finance, law and commerce ministers, pleading with Modi to not challenge the BCI’s role in regulating the legal profession and the entry of foreign law firms and to bring the BCI back to the negotiating table about the future of the profession.

Mishra showered the PM with compliments in his 3 October letter, ranging from at least eight exclamations of “My Lord!”, telling Modi “you are our guardian, our guide”, professing his personal admiration for the “most efficient and able leader of the world” and referring to “the most able and efficient leadership of our beloved Narendra Modiji”, while assuring the PM that “Bar Council of India is your Institution”.

Mishra also recounted how he, as BCI chairman, had joined the BJP in 2013 and how he and all bar councils had publicly supported Modi’s election in 2014 (Mishra, who had contested elections on a BSP ticket in 2009 and for Congress in 2010, later joined the BJP and had controversially said in 2014 that “Mahatma Gandhi is reborn in Narendra Modi”, and openly called on all lawyers to vote for Modi).

However, nestled amidst his effusive praise for Modi, Mishra also stated that lawyers “will never accept to be regulated either by the Judges (former or sitting) or by the bureaucrats. The legal fraternity cannot compromise with its independence”.

Several times in his letter, Mishra delivered thinly veiled threats that if the government continued considering the proposals of renegade “babus” to reform legal regulation (potentially under a new regulator), this “may lead to strong protest by the Lawyers class” and “complete paralysis of work of the courts”, referencing when the BCI called for a series of strikes in 2012 against the Congress-led government’s attempt to wrest regulation of legal education from the BCI

Mishra in his letter asked Modi to “restrain” bureaucrats from “doing anything which could lead to strong reaction from the Legal fraternity” or “could lead to any conflict with Bar Council of India and the Legal fraternity”.

(The Law Commission, briefed by the Supreme Court, is currently holding consultations on how to reform the BCI’s regulation of the legal profession).

Signing off with “Obliged!”, Mishra struck conciliatory tones at the end of the eight-page letter, kindly requesting that a nine-member delegation of the BCI and state bar councils could “meet and to explain the things” to Modi in person, and that the BCI would be happy to give “primary consideration” to suggestions and recommendations from ministries.

Mishra told the the Hindustan Times, which had first reported the existence of the letter on 4 November, that he had not yet received any response from the PM’s office.

We have republished the letter below, which was first reported by Bar & Bench yesterday, and we have excerpted the more interesting parts below.

As we had reported yesterday, UK prime minister Theresa May carries a strong brief to encourage India to liberalise its legal market, with Modi saying that work on professional services was taking place.

Mishra told Bar & Bench that the BCI would meet with a UK delegation tomorrow to discuss liberalisation.

Full disclosure: In 2015 the BCI and Mishra had sent a legal notice to Legally India for our critical reporting on the AIBE (although Mishra has not taken any further action after our reply). More recently, he called Legally India editor Kian Ganz a “[small mosquito]… attempting to spread Dengue”, threatening in an email that BCI “members will take care of you” in response to our report on the lack of state bar council elections (which the Supreme Court later ordered the BCI to hold) and a Rs 48+ lakh trip planned by BCI members to Washington DC (which was cancelled after our report).

You don’t mess with the Manan

Mishra’s letter to Modi starts out politely enough, in that he would “humbly like to bring to your kind and immediate notice a very grave matter of serious and immense concern”, but then ominously warns that if the matter is not addressed “at the earliest, the entire legal fraternity throughout the country will feel extremely aggrieved and there will be far reaching repercussions among the Legal fraternity of the country”.

But first, in case there was any confusion, Mishra briefly explained to Modi what the BCI was:

The Bar Council of India is a body representing the entire legal community in India with it’s members having been elected to the Council by elected representatives of respective State Bar Councils. It comprises of people of caliber and form the crux of the legal brains of the country.

He then warned that Congress, to its own peril, had fought with the BCI and lost:

In the year 2012-13 a move to open up the gate had been undertaken by the Congress Government and it was strongly opposed by the Lawyers throughout the country: Ultimately that Government had to go back and withdrew such move.

While it’s not clear whether Mishra was referring to liberalisation or legal education here, in 2012 the BCI had called for repeated strikes against the Higher Education and Research (HER) Bill 2011. The BCI’s strikes were challenged in the Delhi high court as illegal, but the Congress government and BCI eventually sat together at a table and shelved the bill.

But Modi brought a change of heart

Wrote Mishra:

Subsequently Bar Council of India decided to act as per the policies of our Present Government:-

My Lord,

6) Todays Bar Council of India is your Institution. Under the changing circumstances, when we realized that our Government (under the most able and efficient leadership of our beloved Narendra Modiji) is desirous to open-up the doors for the foreign Lawyers and foreign Law firms, we immediately contacted Hon’ble Mr. Arun Jaitley ji and Hon’ble Mr. Sadanand Gowda ji (the then Union Law Minister).

Therefore, around June 2016 the BCI produced the draft rules to permit foreign law firms, wrote Mishra. But, then, relates Mishra, they encountered unexpected opposition from within:

However, soon the State Bar Councils and several Bar Associations raised the objections that any proposal relating to this matter seemed to be an extremely touchy and volatile matter for the vast majority of the legal fraternity. This news spread like wildfire. Strong opposition to this proposal poured in from all over the country. Our office was flooded with phone calls and visitors over this issue. The same transpired in the office of the State Bar Councils throughout the country also.

The issue was “thoroughly discussed, deliberated in a join meeting of all State Bar Councils” and the BCI on 13 August 2016 in Chandigarh, according to Mishra, where the “entire legal fraternity of all states being represented by their respective” state bar councils “vehemently opposed the stand of the Government” and the BCI.

Pesky babus!

He also explained the “main reason of withdrawal proposal by Bar Councils: Unnecessary remarks and subsequent conduct of some Bureaucrats", who Mishra apprehended “may try to mislead the Hon’ble Prime Minister and other Ministers on this issue”:

My Lord!

3) It is relevant to mention it here that main reason of strong protest by State Bar Councils, Bar Council of India and other Association was some of most irresponsible and uncalled for remarks made by a few of bureaucrats sitting in the Department of Commerce and Department of Law. They had made a comment about the regulation of Indian or foreign Lawyers/firms by the Bar Councils and by the Lawyers. There was absolutely no need nor any jurisdiction to make such unnecessary, reckless remarks by these officers, but we don’t know why such remarks were made and it was not even objected by the officers sitting in the Department of Law. This is strange.

Mishra then continued with a veiled threat about how after the duplicitous actions of bureaucrats, the previous Congress government “had to face the consequences":

... a handful of bureaucrats sitting in the Department of Commerce, Department of Law and Department of Human Resources Development of Union Ministry are in the habit of making such reckless remarks to have another Regulator for the legal profession or Legal Education.

These few officers have no other work except conspiring so that the Legal profession of the country could be regulated by them and by some of their pet nominees. They failed during Congress regime; they had kept those Hon’ble Congress Ministers in dark, they misled them and as a result, the Government had to face the consequences.

The opposition of the Advocates does not affect these officers or Babus, rather it affects the Government. These officers have no concern with the well being of the Government.

Bats for BCI independence, then proclaims allegiance

In his letter, Mishra proceeds to explain to “your Lordships” that lawyers “will never accept to be regulated either by the Judges(former or sitting) or by the bureaucrats. The legal fraternity cannot compromise with its independence”.

Mishra then wrote that he met twice with finance minister and senior counsel Arun Jaitley, and “took the advise of him also, as he is a popular Leader of the Bar and has always shown his positive attitude for the Legal fraternity. It is due to this reason that we have always been contacting him on all such crucial issues”.

(Jaitley had made statements in January 2016 supporting the entry of foreign law firms).

After insisting that the legal fraternity must be independent, Mishra then immediately continued his letter in a more conciliatory tone:

As a popular, efficient and most able leader of the largest Democracy of world, your Lordship will also never like allow such officers to think to touch the regulatory powers of Advocates by the Advocates/their elected representatives. We are sure about it as we know our Hon’ble Prime-Minister believes in democracy, therefore we are bringing the harsh truth to the knowledge of your Lordships.

Mishra then proceeded to outline his political credentials, and his admiration of Modi since 2013, while also confessing that some BJP leaders “do not like me":

My Lord!

Bar Council of India is chaired by me for last 5 years. I am strong supporter of your goodself. In 2013, I was the Chairman, I joined BJP because I was very much impressed with your leadership, your views and your ideas. Though some of the Leaders of BJP do not like me, but since I know that my Leader is the most efficient and able leader of the world, I don’t care for others (who are internally opposed to my ideal in my life).

Here, we must express our pains and predicaments to you, you are our guardian, our guide and Bar Council of India had accepted your goodeslf [sic] as the leader of the country long back i.e. at the time while your goodself was the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Gujarat.

In the long programme organized by Bar Council of India in Mahtma Mandir(Gandhinagar) on 1st March 2014 itself, the Bar Council of India, alongwith all other Bar Councils of States had wished you to be the Prime-Minister: you were the Chief Guest of that huge mega event and seven Hon’ble Judges of Supreme Court were on the dias.

Modi made BCI want to change

According to Mishra, the BCI realised that there was a “changed Global scenario” with Modi in power, and that:

our doors cannot be shut down and in order to co-up with the policies of our Union Government, the Bar Council of India shall pacify and convince the State Bar Councils and the Draft Rules shall be again sent to the concerned Ministries after inclusion of the practicable suggestion of Union Ministry of Commerce and foreign Affairs.

Mishra suggested that the BCI had planned to circulate a revised set of rules, but for the “shocking and unwarranted step of bureaucrats on 29.9.2016 involving some pocket organizations making attempt to usurp” the BCI’s functions.

Mishra, referred to the Indian Corporate Counsel Association (ICCA), which together with the Rasich Group consultancy prepared a draft bill to allow and regulate foreign lawyers (without BCI oversight, other than a BCI nominee on a panel headed by a retired Supreme Court judge), which we had published on 29 September.

The BCI had already referred to and criticised ICCA’s draft in the BCI’s unexpected abortion of its involvement in liberalisation talks; ICCA and Rasich responded in October rebutting the BCI’s allegations and proposing a way forward for talks.

In his letter to Modi, Mishra reprised his attack on “an inconsequential organization like ICCA” and “some Rasich Group”, objecting to their “irresponsible action of drafting a separate Bill”, which was circulated by “these officers/Babus” for the 29 September meeting without apparently seeking “permissions” from the ministries. Mishra claimed in his letter that “this is a serious matter which requires serious action against such mischief”.

Mishra also reiterated the BCI’s earlier suggestion that discussing liberalisation while the AK Balaji writ petition is still pending in the Supreme Court is “quite illegal and contemptuous", and that “unless the case is disposed of or the Bar Council of India withdraws this case, nothing further could be done”.

BCI letter to Narendra Modi about liberalisation and other things (via Bar & Bench) (PDF)

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