ML Bhakta: The consummate polite professional

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Mr ML Bhakta, the senior partner of Kanga and Company, passed away recently at the age of 89 due to heart failure.

ML-Bhakta
ML Bhakta

Even in the past few years, Mr Bhakta had continued to remain active in the legal profession and his advice and professional services were still much sought after. Mr Bhakta had been handing over progressively more work to other partners and had expressed his desire to retire on 1 April 2022.

He was politeness and courtesy personified,” said Lalit Bhasin, president of the Society of Indian Law Firms and the Bar Association of India, who knew Mr Bhakta for close to four decades. “I had never seen him getting agitated, much less getting angry,” he said. “His clarity of thought and expression was unique and he provided the correct guidance to clients. [His passing] is a grave loss to the Indian legal fraternity.”

Preeti Mehta, a partner at Kanga and Company who Mr Bhakta had mentored along with most other partners at the firm, said: “Despite being the senior partner, even in very high-stakes transactions, he would tell me to lead the discussions and negotiations, rarely stepping in.

He had a motto: ‘Everything is urgent unless said the matter is very urgent’,” said Mehta. “He gave us immense opportunities and a free hand in dealing with matters, irrespective of gender.”

Mr Bhakta had recently stepped down as a member of the board of directors of Reliance Industries, the largest private sector company in India, after serving as a non-executive independent director for more than 40 years.

He also served as a director on the boards of prominent companies such as Larsen and Toubro, Bennett Coleman and Company, Syndicate Bank, Kirloskar Oil Engines (Kirloskar Group), Duncan (GP Goenka Group), Arvind Mills (Lalbhai Group) and SKF Bearings India.

“On the completion of any highstakes matter, he would always appreciate his junior colleagues in the matter by congratulating and wishing them well, thereby boosting the morale of younger lawyers,said Shailesh Vaidya, also a partner at Kanga and Company.

Mr Bhakta had been with Kanga and Company since the start of his career, joining in 1955 under the tutelage of Mr Tricumdas Dwarkadas, one of the founders of the firm. He amassed a vast knowledge and experience in law, particularly in the areas of corporate law, banking and taxation, and later led the firm from 1970.

“Till his dying days, Mr Bhakta had a photo of Tricumdas Dwarkadas on his desk, whom he really respected and revered,” said Janak Dwarkadas, a senior advocate at the Bombay High Court and a grand-nephew of Tricumdas.

From early childhood I have memories of visiting his house each year for the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. He was a big believer of Lord Ganesha and had around 100 of his idols at home. His home became a meeting point for clients, chartered accountants and others during the festival, and he would take notice if you did not attend.”

Dwarkadas remembered Mr Bhakta for his thorough professionalism and his value of other people’s time as well as his own. “I respect that because [in our profession] we are paid for our time,” he said.

Mr Bhakta was fond of reading, both fiction and non-fiction, and travelling, but due to the pandemic he was unable to pursue the latter.

Mr Bhakta’s peers remember him for being extremely alert, clear and agile, even in his later years.

He was soft spoken and yet unwavering in his opinions founded on sound legal principles,” said Prasanna Mysore, an arbitrator and former general counsel. “He always held the view that business disputes are best sorted in a conciliatory manner, and going to court is like courting controversy and irreconcilable differences. Today, mediation is gaining ground, but he rooted for it three decades ago. He was a man of principles and a non-partisan outlook. I pray for his noble soul.