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Rohatgi post under cloud

New Delhi, June 9: Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi’s appointment as attorney-general appears to be under a cloud after Ram Jethmalani’s letter to the Prime Minister opposing his candidature.

Amid suggestions that Narendra Modi is having second thoughts, law ministry sources indicated the Centre was likely to take a decision this week after weighing the pros and cons.

Legal circles are puzzled by the unusual delay in appointing Rohatgi despite his name being informally cleared by the government earlier.

Sources said Jethmalani had said in his letter to Modi that Rohatgi did “not have the stature” to occupy the post and that he had “not taken any categorical stand on the issue of black money”.

Jethmalani had filed a PIL in the apex court seeking recovery of black money stashed by influential persons in foreign banks.

Ironically, Jethmalani and Rohatgi had jointly appeared for industrialist Anil Ambani in the gas-sharing dispute he had with elder brother Mukesh, who was defended by another senior counsel, Harish Salve.

“Please don’t ask me anything. I have several communications with the Prime Minister but I don’t want to make anything public,” Jethmalani told The Telegraph from Detroit where he has gone for a medical check-up.

Salve told this newspaper from London that he was not in the race for attorney-general. He termed as “wild speculation” reports that he was mulling accepting the post.

Thought to be India’s most brilliant and highest-paid advocate, Salve would have been the automatic choice for the post had he shown interest. But he has a flourishing private practice. There are also indications he may shift to London as he has a huge arbitration-related practice there.

The names of constitutional expert Anil Divan and Ashok Desai are also doing the rounds for attorney-general. But both are over 70 years old, and their age could go against them.

Divan is considered close to Jethmalani and hails from Modi’s home state, Gujarat. Rohatgi has the backing of finance minister Arun Jaitley.

Earlier, Rohatgi had told this correspondent: “My top priority would be to streamline the litigation process in the country. I want to ensure that frivolous and vexatious litigation come to an end.

“Efforts would also be made to cut down litigation involving government departments and public sector undertakings.”

The confusion about Rohatgi’s appointment came on a day senior counsel Ranjit Kumar formally took charge as solicitor-general. The post is second in importance only to the attorney-general.

The names of senior counsel Maninder Singh, L. Nageswara Rao, P.S. Patwalia, Niraj Kishan Kaul and P.S. Narasimha have been cleared for additional solicitor-general.