About Govind Swaminathan Anakkara Vadakath
A famous Barrister of his times practicing at the Madras High Court
S Govind Swaminadhan was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. His father was Dr S Swaminadhan, a leading barrister of Madras who specialised in Criminal Law. He also served as Principal of the Madras Law College. Govind’s mother Ammu was a leading social activist later becoming a member of the Constituent Assembly of India and an MP. Govind was born on 9th October 1909. Govind had two sisters one of whom is the eminent dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai. The other sister is Capt Lakshmi Sehgal who actively participated in Netaji Subash Bose’s INA and was more recently the Presidential candidate of the Opposition parties in the year when Dr APJ Abdul Kalam became the President of India. Govind’s brother S Krishna Swaminadhan was a senior corporate executive.
Educated initially at St Paul’s, Darjeeling, Govind was sent off to England at the age of 12 where he later took his Bachelor’s degree from Brighton College, his Masters from Christchurch College, Oxford and the Bar at Law from the Inner Temple, Inns of Court, London.
Returning to India in 1935 he practised under the eminent lawyer VL Ethiraj, who had interestingly, begun his career under Dr Swaminadhan. Soon Govind Swaminadhan set up independent practice. In 1939 he married Sulochana Santhanam in Lahore and the couple had four children. Till the 1950s, Govind Swaminadhan was engaged in very many criminal cases and also held the office of Crown Prosecutor. One of the early cases in which he appeared as defence counsel was in the trial following the murder of Lakshmikantham. Some of the trials where he officiated as Crown Prosecutor included the Alavandar Murder Case and the City Gardner Murder Case. In later years his civil and constitutional law practice became substantial.
In 1965 he became Senior Central Government Standing Counsel. In 1969 he became Advocate-General of Tamilnadu and held that office till 1976 when he resigned in protest against the Emergency. He resumed private practice and was active in it till the 1990s. In recognition of his work in the legal sphere, the International Bar Association in 1994 conferred on him the title “The Living Legend of The Law”.
An active life in law did not mean lack of other pursuits. Govind Swaminadhan gave cricket commentaries over the AIR, was involved with the Madras Race Club, the Madras Riding Club and was Commandant of the Home Guards. He was an active member of the Madras Players in its initial years and was Founder of the Consumer Action Group. He was also President of the Bala Mandir and Chairman of the Vidyodaya School for Girls.
This eminent personality of Madras passed away on 30th September 2003.
A tribute to him, in the form of a book titled “A Gentleman Lawyer”, edited by well known lawyer Sriram Panchu and Aparna Mukherjee Vasu has recently been released. The book is a compilation of reminiscences by Mr Swaminadhan himself, several of his speeches, recollections by friends, colleagues and acquaintances and tributes from judges and juniors. The book is a delight to read and a very interesting feature is a collection of drawings by Justice V Balasubrahmanyan, which take a humorous look at life in law. This collection had been presented to Govind Swaminadhan and adds colour to the book.
Govind Swaminathan Anakkara Vadakath's Timeline
October 9, 1909
Madras, British India, Madras Presidency
September 30, 2003
The Hindu dated 2/10/2003
A keen mind, a warm heart
Govind Swaminathan was a man of many parts - lawyer, social worker and sportsman. A tribute by HABIBULLAH BADSHA.
TO say that Govind Swaminathan is no more will be a cliché. He has left behind the warmth of summer and the fragrance of spring. As a lawyer, he excelled in every branch of the law. As a man he stood firmly by his ethics. As a friend he was steadfast. Many mistook him to be arrogant. He was blunt but did not hurt anyone's feelings knowingly.
As a criminal lawyer, he was outstanding. His art of cross-examination was outstanding. He used to tell his juniors: "Never ask a question to which you do not know the possible answer." As a student, I used to come to court to watch him conduct his cases and cross-examine witnesses. He was Advocate-General for many years but his ambition was to become Public Prosecutor. However, that post eluded him.
He had a distinct sense of humour. When I was enrolled in the First Bench, he extended his hand. I thought he was going to congratulate me. He said, " My sympathies are with you." Not many knew about his interest in art, culture and music or social service. He always supported the Guild of Service's fund-raising efforts. Under his guidance, the Home Guards did excellent work. He was also involved with educational institutions and was the President of Balamandir for many years. Whenever anyone wanted to utilise his services for social causes, he voluntarily offered them.
He also had the humility to admit that he did not know everything connected to law. When it came to matters like Land Reforms Act, Hindu Religious Endowments Act, he openly stated that he needed to be educated but when he argued it was a different picture.
As Senior Advocate, he protected his juniors even when the judges tried to find fault with them. He wanted his juniors to be happy and they too were loyal to him. He was extremely polite to his opponents and often took up cudgels for them too.
He was fearless and not cowed by any judge. He stood his ground when he believed in the case. He was firm in his arguments but showed utmost courtesy to the Bench. He used to tell us that despite personal reservations about the qualities of some judges, we have to show respect to the seat they occupy. As a Law Officer, he was exceptionally fair. He would not hide any file from the Court. He would not be a party to any wrongdoing by the Government.
I remember his advice to me when I became Public Prosecutor. He said that as a Law Officer, I should bring all the facts, even those against the prosecution, to the notice of the Court. It was the duty of the Law Officer to assist the Court, not win cases for the Government. If the Government was in the wrong, it was the Law Officer's duty to advice withdrawal of the wrong order or notification. His contribution to legal ethics was the most outstanding feat of his life. Sadly, it is this aspect that is fast disappearing.
He was also a fine sportsman interested in horse riding, golf and cricket. His commentary during cricket matches was scintillating.
As President of the Bar Association, he maintained the dignity of the Bar and helped the Bench interact with the advocates. There were no stormy sessions for both the Bench and the Bar understood each other during his tenure as President.
His death is not the end but the beginning of a new adventure.
The writer is a Senior Advocate in Chennai.