Tuesday, 03 June 2014 12:17

K L JHAVERI 1921-2014

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Kantilal Laxmichand Jhaveri was a distinguished lawyer and political activist who stood shoulder to shoulder with Nyerere in the march towards Tanganyika`s independence. He was born in India and grew up there during the crucial years of India`s own struggle for freedom. As a student, he joined Gandhi`s `Quit India` movement and was jailed as a result. Then, after completing his BA and LLB at Bombay University, he came to Tanganyika in 1948 to marry and settle in Dar es Salaam.

He was soon admitted as an advocate and set up what quickly turned into a thriving practice. In a very short time he established a reputation for high professional integrity and competence, and earned the respect of his fellow practitioners, judges, clients and all who came into contact with him. At the same time, having been fired up by Gandhian ideals, he was intuitively drawn into the spirit of a rising nationalism in Tanganyika itself, in tandem with the rest of East Africa. He threw in his lot with Julius Nyerere and this shaped a twin public persona, both as a political activist and a legal luminary.

Unsurprisingly therefore, Jhaveri was part of Nyerere`s legal defence team when the latter was charged with criminal libel by the colonial government in 1958 on account of certain public utterances that, in a democracy would have been regarded as legitimate criticism of an overbearing officialdom. The team was headed by a senior counsel from London, D N Pritt, QC, of the Kenyatta fame, with Jhaveri and M N Rattansi as his local counterparts.

In March 1959, he was elected to the last pre-independence Legislative Council as member for Dar es Salaam. Events however were moving fast and a fresh general election was held for a reconstituted National Assembly in July 1960 in preparation for eventual independence. This time Jhaveri was re-elected unopposed, on both occasions his nomination having been endorsed by Julius Nyerere, who himself was elected likewise as the other member for Dar es Salaam. He completed his full five years as MP from 1960 to 1965. During this very active period in his life, he was also elected as President of the Tanganyika Law Society in 1964 and later served two further terms in the capacity. He was also, among other things, a member of the Judicial Service Commission and of the Africanisation Commission, as well as a governor of the Shaban Roberts School and a veteran leader of the Asian Association. The crowning glory of his legal career came in 1983 when he was appointed a High Court judge by Nyerere. All through these years, he regularly represented Tanzania at various gatherings and conferences both in East Africa and abroad.

In 1999 he published his memoirs, appropriately entitled Marching with Nyerere: Africanisation of Asians, in which he reflected on the transformation of Tanzanian society and how he had played a part in that with an increasing sense of identification and patriotism. His description of the attempted coup in January 1964 and how he negotiated the tricky events of those tense days reads like a mini-thriller! The book also contains a detailed account of the legal shenanigans at Nyerere`s trial leading to his conviction (reminiscent of Kenyatta`s five years earlier), though barely a year after that he was to be hailed as the country`s leader in waiting! In 1999, Jhaveri also published a satirical critique of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair under the mischievous title of `Monicama-Sutra: A Story of Presidential Impeachment`!

It was to Urmilaben, a second-generation Tanzanian, that he was married in 1948. They were to remain loyal companions all through their long life together. His benign influence was to radicalise her and she began to involve herself in many local women`s social and cultural activities across the nation as a leading member of Umoja wa Wanawake. Following his example, she also completed her own book of personal reminiscences at the ripe age of 82 under the most catchy title of Dancing with Destiny. It was published just a few days after his death, though he had read it in manuscript before he passed away. In retirement, they had moved to New Delhi in 2009 for health reasons and to be with their son Atool Jhaveri and daughter Abha Kapoor and their grandchildren who all survive him.

K L Jhaveri`s name will forever feature in modern Tanzania`s history as a stalwart citizen of the country`s rise to nationhood.

Ramnik Shah
© 2014


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