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IN THE COSMOS of the Indian establishment, the Supreme Court is a central galaxy. Its brightest stars, the senior advocates, can be seen gliding across the plaza outside the chief justice’s courtroom with an imperial hauteur, in their distinctive robes and “monkey suits” (as lawyers call the waistcoat worn by judges and seniors of the bar). Around each of these seniors orbits a small entourage: not only an assistant (usually carrying phones and bags), but three or four juniors, along with one or more independent advocates—lawyers who have not yet attained seniority, and work with the seniors on a case-by-case basis.
In an era when fortunes can be made and lost on the whims of government policy (or the manipulation thereof), billions of rupees hinge on the decisions of the Supreme Court, which has become the ultimate arbiter in innumerable disputes between corporates and the state. Today, the country’s top lawyers, who charge upwards of Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million) for a single court appearance, are some of the capital’s most powerful figures, Delhi’s closest equivalent to the Wall Street investment bankers that Tom Wolfe once dubbed “masters of the universe”.