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Issue No.: 554 | August 2013
 

Rustom C Cooper

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Dr. R. C. COOPER accountant and tax practitioner, formerly non-executive Chairman of The Times of India Group, Vice-Chairman of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Vice Chairman of the Indian Red Cross and president of the Indian Merchants’ Chamber passed away in London on June 18.


In a reply to our message of condolence, his daughter Farida Cooper wrote that her father suffered a cardiac arrest as he was preparing to go to bed at night and died peacefully According to Farida her father left India in the mid-seventies and settled in Singapore where he started his own financial and infrastructure consultancy, Coopers Private Limited – which included as clients, individuals, corporates and enterprises in developing countries.
 
He was a President of the Rotary Club of Singapore and had the honour of having the 3rd Prime Minster of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong who was known to him, as Guest of Honour at his Installation Dinner. Dr. Cooper was also the first representative of the Zoroastrian faith on the Inter-Religious Organization of Singapore (IRO).
 
His career and interests in India were of course known to us. The photograph published on this page is when he was in his mid or late forties (we prefer to see him as we last remembered him) when he took on Government of India and got the Supreme Court to annul Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s ordinance and parliamentary approval to the nationalisation of the country’s 14 leading banks. He was the General Secretary of the Swatantra Party.
 
Between the early sixties and the early seventies he was part of the national leadership of the Swatantra Party. And it is this period I recall my close association with him insofar as his political work was concerned. He was literally conscripted into the Swatantra Party by Sir Homi Mody, himself a distinguished member of the Constituent Assembly, and who was among the party’s founders, to help him in his task as the Party’s national treasurer. In 1969 when Minoo Masani succeeded Prof. N. G. Ranga as the president of the Swatantra Party Cooper was his choice for General Secretary of the Party. The election of national office bearers of the Party was held in 1969 in Bangalore. When Cooper was elected General Secretary he was uncomfortable. He told me that with both the President and the General Secretary being Parsis, it would come to be known as a ‘Parsis Party’. He would therefore speak to Masani about his fears and persuade him to choose someone else who was not a Parsi as General Secretary and he himself would be happy to continue as Treasurer. I advised Cooper that before he spoke to Masani who had already made up his mind, he should meet Rajaji and share his misgivings with him. So that evening we met Rajaji at his residence. After hearing him out Rajaji wanted to know whether there was any other problem other than the fact that he and Masani were both Parsis that bothered Cooper? Was he confident that he would be able to discharge his duties as General Secretary? Equally, importantly would he have the time to give what that position demanded? When Cooper replied in the affirmative. Rajaji dismissed his fears as baseless. He said that the Swatantra Party needed office bearers who were competent and men of personal integrity. His religion was of no concern though Rajaji said he had great respect for the teachings of Zarathustra. I still remember the happy smile on Cooper’s face to hear what Rajaji had to tell him and even more when as we were leaving Rajaji blessing him for a successful tenure.
 
Thereafter for the next two years Dr. Cooper established a regular regimen to attend to his work as General Secretary. Three days a week on an average he would walk down from his office (a ten minute walk) to the party office with his sandwich box and we would deal with party matters. When this time was occasionally not enough he would find ways to create time for party work despite his numerous professional and social engagements. He was decisive, clear and revealed a complete understanding of Party policy.
 
After the Swatantra Party’s defeat in the 1971 elections, Masani resigned from the Party’s presidentship. Cooper followed suit so that the incoming president would be free to choose his own team. He also decided to retire from active politics But this did not end his interest in public affairs, particularly political developments that were very worrisome to all those who believed in liberal values and the need for good governance based on the rule of law. So as a private citizen he engaged in shooting off letters from time to time to the Prime Minister on a number of issues of national concern.
 
This tribute to the memory of this outstanding person would be incomplete without our sharing with readers a background note as a preface to one of the letters he wrote to Mrs. Indira Gandhi to protest her "Debasement of Justice” when three judges of the Supreme Court were superseded because their rulings on Bank Nationalisation displeased her and her government On behalf of the readers of Freedom First we convey to his wife Zarine Cooper, daughters Feroza and Farida and his brother Khorshed Cooper our heart-felt condolences on their bereavement. We share their sense of loss.
 
Debasement of Justice

R. C. Cooper
Upon arbitrary nationalisation of (14) biggest banks of India on July 19, 1969, obviously for political purposes, I challenged the nationalisation ordinance and the subsequent act of Parliament in the Supreme Court of India. My petition was heard for seven long months by the Full Bench of the Supreme Court. Legal luminaries appeared for both sides. My petition was argued by a series of most eminent lawyers of the country headed by Mr. N. A. Palkhivala, the most brilliant advocate India has produced in the present century. The Government’s side was headed by the Attorney General Mr. Niren De
 
After most exhaustive arguments, the Full Bench of the Supreme Court, consisting of eleven eminent judges decided in my favour 10 February, 1970 by an overwhelming majority of 10 to 1in the famous case "Rustom Cavasjee Cooper versus Union of India.” Among the judges were justices Shelat, Hegde and Grover. Two of them were ex-judges of High Courts. 
 
Right from the start, Mrs. Gandhi’s government regarded this matter as a political struggle. When the time came, sometime in 1973, to appoint a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, upon the retirement of Justice Sikri, al the eminent judges who had so far held their offices with great distinction were superseded without any reason.
 
There was not the slightest doubt in the mind of any right-thinking man in India that the three judges were passed over only because their rulings displeased the Government. This feeling was fully strengthened by the fact that the new appointee to the office of Chief Justice was none other than the judge who had dissented from his other 10 colleagues.
 
Throughout the length and breadth of the country, there was uproar in the judicial circles and among the intellectuals, against this high handed a couponrxsms.com/cialis-coupon coupons ction of the Government. The irony was that the then Law Minister, Mr. Gokhale, himself a retired judge of the Bombay High Court, took this most unprecedented action to please the Prime Minister. This act could not be justified on any grounds.
 
On May 3, 1973, in my letter to the Prime Minister, I pointed out the inequity and the inherent danger as a result of this action of her government. The day after the supersession of the three judges (it must be said to the credit of the legal profession and independence of the judiciary at that time), the work came to a standstill for just a day, not only in every High Court of the country and the Supreme Court of India; but in every single judicial tribunal throughout the c country, whether it be the Income Tax Tribunal or the Labour Tribunal or any other such body. This was a mark of protest. I personally led the deputation to the President of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal which also shut its doors for a day, because not a single advocate was prepared to argue before any bench.
 
Excerpt from Dr. Cooper’s letter of May 3, 1973 to Mrs. Indira Gandhi:
 
 "I cannot close this letter without quoting the comments of three of the ablest lawyers of this country: Mr.  M. C. Chagla: "Today is the blackest day in the administration of justice. Something which we all admired in our life and the principles for which we stood is fast disappearing.”
 
Mr. Ram Jethmalani: This is the most shocking display of executive arrogance. "It only proves the thesis that a subservient President, in conspiracy with a self-seeking Prime Minister, can supplement democracy without parliamentary concurrence or approval. Such fatal combination exists at the moment.
 
Mr. C. K. Dapthary, Former Attorney General of India and President of the Supreme Court of Bar Association:
"One apprehends the coming at a later stage of a new quality of justice – debased justice based on political expediency compelled by the executive.”
 
"...I would fervently make an appeal, which I have repeated in previous letters: "Please do not destroy the freedom of an entire country merely to perpetuate your own power. You should be able to clearly distinguish between your friends and enemies. As has often happened in the past, the very people on whom you are banking so heavily will be cause of your downfall
 
"This is not only my personal view. Hundreds of eminent people in this country share this feeling. I
sincerely trust you will give a second thought to what you are persistently doing.
Yours sincerely,
 Dr. R. C. Cooper”
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Obituary

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