Nanabhoy “Nani” Ardeshir Palkhivala (January 16, 1920 – December 11, 2002) was an Indian jurist and economist.
Palkhivala had a deep respect, indeed reverence, for both the Constitution, and for the cardinal principles he saw embedded in it: “The Constitution was meant to impart such a momentum to the living spirit of the rule of law that democracy and civil liberty may survive in India beyond our own times and in the days when our place will know us no more.” In 1954, He first articulated his famous statements on the inviolate nature of the constitution.
Nani saw the constitution as a legacy that had to be honored while simultaneously being flexible. Quoting Thomas Jefferson, he said, the constitution must go “hand in hand with the progress of the human mind”. He was however a firm opponent of politically motivated constitutional amendments (His favourite quotation was from Joseph Story, who said: “The Constitution has been reared for immortality, if the work of man may justly aspire to such a title. It may, nevertheless, perish in an hour by the folly, or corruption, or negligence of its only keepers, the people.”).
Not only did Nani Palkhivala interpret the constitution as a message of intent, he also saw it as a social mandate with a moral dimension. As he later stated in the Privy Purse case “The survival of our democracy and the unity and integrity of the nation depend upon the realisation that constitutional morality is no less essential than constitutional legality. Dharma (righteousness; sense of public duty or virtue) lives in the hearts of public men; when it dies there, no Constitution, no law, no amendment, can save it.”
Although Nani Palkhivala was one of the leading interpreters of constitutional law and a most ardent defender of the civil liberties guaranteed by the constitution, his legacy also includes the aforementioned authoritative book, The Law and Practice of Income Tax, which he co-authored with his mentor Sir Jamshedji Behramji Kanga.
Although anyone who deals with the convoluted mess that is the Indian tax code will invariably regard the work as a primary reference, the tome has also secured international recognition and served as a tax law draft guide at the International Monetary Fund.
Palkhivala received a great deal of recognition from academics, academic institutions and the government.
In 1963, Palkhivala was offered a seat in the Supreme Court, but declined.
Nani Palkhivala was appointed Indian Ambassador to the United States in 1977 by the Janata government (the first non-Congress Government in India) headed by Morarji Desai and served in the capacity till 1979. He received honorary doctorates from Princeton University, Rutgers University, Lawrence University, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Annamalai University, Ambedkar Law University and the University of Mumbai. The laudation from Princeton called him “… Defender of constitutional liberties, champion of human rights …”, and stated, “he has courageously advanced his conviction that expediency in the name of progress, at the cost of freedom, is no progress at all, but retrogression. Lawyer, teacher, author, and economic developer, he brings to us as Ambassador of India intelligence, good humour, experience, and vision for international understanding….”