Mukul Rohatgi is likely to return as the 16th Attorney General (AG) of India after KK Venugopal demits office on September 30. Rohatgi was the 14th AG for a three-year tenure from June, 2014. “With a political shift (the Modi 1.0 government had just taken over), the task is indeed daunting,” he had told FE in 2014, before assuming the office of the government’s chief legal advisor.
Many felt that Rohatgi’s handling of cases in the Supreme Court for Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made him a favourite choice for the coveted post. He had represented Modi and his government in the 2002 Gujarat riots cases, when the latter was the chief minister of the state. He had also dealt with the fake encounter deaths and the Best Bakery case. Other landmark cases that he handled include Aadhar privacy, the National Judicial Appointment Commission, phasing out diesel buses and introducing the CNG fleet.
“The reason why they (the Modi government) have now probably once again requested him to accept the post of AG is he has remained loyal to the regime even after demitting the AG’s office in 2017 and appeared in several matters for it. With the passage of time, his impact in court has only increased,” says Rian Karanjawala, founder and managing partner, Karanjawala & Company.
In the courtroom, Rohatgi always means business. His forceful presentation of facts, in a modulating tone, accompanied by gestures, has made him a unique figure. Some accuse him of being too belligerent, but he always ensures that his voice is heard.
“You just have to brief him for ten minutes and he has a sense of knowing what to put across the court. He has good court craft. He has a great ability to relate to people and to handle his clientele,” says Karanjawala, who is also a long-time pal of Rohatgi. From Facebook and WhatsApp to telecom giant Vodafone-Idea in the AGR case, Rohatgi has represented many high-profile clients. One such matter that made the headlines was the high-voltage battle between the Ambani brothers over natural gas. Rohatgi has also defended J Jayalalithaa in corruption cases and represented the accused in Commonwealth, 2G and coal scam cases. He never gives up a case halfway and does his best to take it a logical conclusion, according to lawyers.
Adds Sandeep Narain, SC Advocate-on-Record, “I have known Rohatgi since the mid-80s when he was practising in the Delhi HC. His professional acumen stems from his passion for law and his sharp analytical skills. ”
Laywer Ninad Laud, Rohatgi’s junior, says “The ease with which he picks the winning point in every case, in the heaps of briefs he argues everyday, is awe-inspiring.”
Rohatgi was born in Mumbai, but did his studies in Delhi. He did B.Com (Hons) from Hansraj College. He was interested in becoming a chartered accountant. “I graduated with a third division, lost interest in the subject and decided to pursue law,” he had told FE earlier.
Since his marks couldn’t fetch him a spot in the Law Faculty in Delhi University, he joined Government Law College, Mumbai, where he met his best friend — late finance and law minister Arun Jaitley and Karanjawala. In 1981, Rohatagi started his independent practice and did all sorts of cases, ranging from property and family disputes to IPR battles.
Rohatgi was designated as a senior lawyer in 1993 and shifted practice from the Delhi HC to the Supreme Court. In 1999, he became Additional Solicitor General in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government.
His father Awadh Behari Rohatgi, contributed a lot to shape his personality as a lawyer. Rohatgi and his father would talk endlessly about court matters and his father would always sum up things with his practical observation and advice.
Rohatgi’s father had started as a lecturer in the Law Faculty of Delhi University and later practiced in Delhi and became a judge of the Delhi HC in 1972. Rohatgi owes his voracious reading habits and punctuality to his father.
Rohatgi loves his morning walks. Travelling has always been his passion as has swimming. He is known for philanthrophy. While he isn’t religious in the ritualistic way, he does believe in God. He is extremely social.
His wife Vasuda comes from a family of lawyers. Both his sons are lawyers.
Being one of the most favourite go-getters for the corporate world, his absence shall be felt again by the industry once he assumes AG’s office for the second time.