Old friends of Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud call him Danny, a nickname given to him by one of his teachers at the 162-year-old Mumbai Cathedral School, to ex-students Salman Rushdie and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto counting. His parents, former CJI Yashwant Chandrachud and classical singer Prabha Chandrachud, call him “Dhanu”. In Bambaiya slang he is known as “Genie Aadmi”. Those who have followed his career chorus with undisguised pride, “Danny is the CJI that India needs now!”
Colleagues at the CJI credit Mumbai for “molding” him as a forward-thinking liberal. Up to 6,844 cases were closed between November 9, 2022, when he took office as CJI, and December 16. As he recently said, “No case is small or big enough for trial.” Cheers!
At a recent high profile wedding reception in Mumbai attended by India’s Law Eagles, rumor had it that the CJI himself would make an appearance. I looked out for a sighting in the 1,000-strong crowd. I have long admired the learned judge for his bold views on contentious issues.
A “casual lawyer” who loves cricket and music, Chandrachud, 63, is known for his dry wit and silent disparagements. I love a particular anecdote: when an attorney asked for a date later than January 13, the CJI joked, “Is it a promising date suggested by an astrologer?” The attorney confessed it was his wife’s birthday. The CJI replied, “Very good reason…” and a new date was promptly set.
Chandrachud is married to lawyer Kalpana Das (his first wife Rashmi tragically died of cancer in 2007). The couple have two foster daughters and he has two sons from his first marriage.
Chandrachud’s sweeping judgments as a Supreme Court Justice have made him a legal legend. He’s turned his dad’s judgments on his head twice, which is pretty bold by any standards considering the old boy’s impressive reputation. His penchant for reviving stagnant issues and pushing for reform has made him a public hero. Awe-inspiring admirers refer to his various progressive verdicts – like the recent banning of the medieval “two-finger test,” used to determine whether sexual assault survivors are “accustomed to sex.” In September 2018, a five-judge chamber of the Supreme Court that included Chandrachud decriminalized homosexuality in a historic ruling celebrated around the world.
While they waited for the feisty CJI to make a cameo at the wedding, several senior lawyers chimed in with their opinions on the man they describe as a “shrewd tactician, an astute politician, a radical thinker and a courageous activist who… the prime minister’s ear has”. .
Whether or not he has NaMo on the shortcode, the fact remains that he has played key roles at pivotal moments. As in the Sabarimala case, where a majority of the five-judge Constitutional Chamber ruled that preventing the entry of women of menstrual age was unconstitutional. Equally transformative was the ruling, which upheld the right of women, regardless of marital status, to seek a safe and legal abortion up to 24 weeks into their pregnancy.
It goes without saying that any individual who resists the system and is perceived as a man in a hurry to change the establishment will attract his share of harsh critics and stir up controversy. Luckily for the dynamic CJI, his army of admirers (count me!) far outstrips the fuddy duddies interested in maintaining the status quo. Looking at some of the mixed comments about the CJI on that wedding night, I could also sense the envy of the old guard. They were clearly angered by a man who fearlessly goes where others are afraid to tread.
Lagey raho, Danny!