How Shanti Bhushan won the case against Indira Gandhi which led to Emergency

Mohammad Bilal
Mohammad BilalFeb 01, 2023 | 16:10

How Shanti Bhushan won the case against Indira Gandhi which led to Emergency

Former law minister and lawyer Shanti Bhushan fought a case for Raj Narain against PM Indira Gandhi in 1975. Photo: India Today

Former Law Minister and lawyer Shanti Bhushan breathed his last at his Delhi residence on Tuesday (January 31) .Bhushan was not keeping well for sometime and he died after a brief illness. He was 97 years old.

A skilled lawyer, Bhushan served as the Union Law Minister from 1977 to 1979 in the Morarji Desai-led government. He joined the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1981 but left the party within six years.


In 2012, he was also a member of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) but left the party soon with his son Prashant Bhushan.

But above all, Shanti Bhushan is most remembered for fighting a case against Indira Gandhi in 1975 as a legal counsel of Raj Narain, which led to the subsequent disqualification of Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister, which prompted her to impose emergency.

Shanti Bhushan

Shanti Bhushan's changes to the petition: The petition was brought to Shanti Bhushan by Raj Narain on April 22, 1971. This, after he lost the election in Rae Bareli to Indira Gandhi.

  • However, the petition appeared to be more of a vehicle for a propaganda than an election petition to Bhushan. Prashant Bhushan, in his book 'The Case that shook India'', writes that when the petition was placed in front of Shanti Bhushan and a reply was sought from him on the chances of success of the petition, Bhushan's reply was "Negligible".
  • To make it more convincing, Bhushan added three more charges to the petition and it now had eight charges. From procuring the services of a government gazetted officer to the candidature of a third candidate, Swami Adwaitanand, Indira Gandhi was accused of number of corrupt practices that could have cancelled her election victory from Rae Bareli.
  • The case was largely built on the argument that the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had availed services of her office despite the fact that she stood as a candidate from the Rae Bareli seat.
  • She was accused of using the services of Yaspal Kapoor, a gazetted officer of the government, whom she had appointed as her election agent during the election.
  • The petition was filed at the Allahabd High Court on April 24, 1971 by Raj Narain with Ramesh Srivastava, while the court framed the charges on August 19, 1971.
  • Gandhi appointed SC Khare, a senior lawyer of the case to be her lawyer while Shanti Bhushan was the counsel of Raj Narain.
    Photo: India Today



Bhushan lays a trap for Indira Gandhi: As the court proceedings went on, the Allahabad High Court also fixed the recording of Mrs Gandhi's evidence on March 18, 19, and 20.

  • On the very first day of the cross-examination, Shanti Bhushan had very cunningly kept his questions easy so as to give Gandhi a little bit of confidence. But little did she know that it was all part of Bhushan's masterplan.
  • After the first day of cross-questioning ended quite well, Bhushan was asked by many as to why he went so easy on her. Piloo Moddy, a politician from Swatantra Party said to Bhushan: "Why don't you heckle her? Annoy her a bit!".
  • To this, Bhushan smiled and said that he had given her a bait and made her feel confident. "Tomorrow she will walk into a trap," he said. And indeed he meant it and the next day, the tables indeed turned.
  • Bhushan caught her off-guard by throwing a question regarding the decision of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) about her constituency. Till then, she had been saying that she took the decision of contesting from Rae Bareli on February 1, 1975. But, her additional written statement by the AICC said that the decision was taken on January 29, 1975.
  • When confronted with this statement, Indira Gandhi said that it was drafted in a legal language which she didn't understand. 
  • The plan worked for Shanti Bhushan. The next day, the headline of some newspapers ran as "Prime Minister did not know of the AICC decision about her constituency" and "PM cannot follow legal language."
  • Indira Gandhi was on the back foot and this was a big moral victory for Shanti Bhushan and Raj Narain.
  • For the next two months, both Bhushan and SC Khare continued to put up their arguments in front of the court and Indira's fate was left hanging in thin air. The arguments concluded on May 23, 1975, which was also last working day for the High Court before the summer vacations. 
  • Judge Sinha, on being asked about the judgment said that he would deliver it by June. On June 12, 1975, Justice Sinha finally delivered the verdict.
    Indira Gandhi. Photo: India Today



The judgment: Against all odds and continuous pressure from the government to give a favorable verdict, Justice Sinha declared the election of Indira Gandhi from Rae Bareli as null and void and debarred her from holding election for the next six years.

  • "The election of Smt. Indira Nehru Gandhi, Respondent no,1 to the Lok Sabha is declared void." And he left the court room immediately after announcing the verdict.
  • The court-room roared with chants of 'Raj Narain ki Jai', 'Shanti Bhushan ki Jai'. Though Raj Narain was in jail but Shanti Bhushan was also not present in the court. 

Where was Bhushan at the time of judgment? Bhushan was at a hotel in Bombay (now Mumbai) then and he was informed about the judgment by his brother Vijay Kumar from Delhi. When media persons asked him whether he thought Mrs Gandhi should resign, he simply said that he had no doubt that she was under an obligation to resign.

  • But Bhushan soon realised after few days that Indira Gandhi did not intend to resign. She had other intentions.

The emergency: It was a plan by Indira Gandhi to hold on to power. On the midnight of June 25, 1975, Gandhi imposed Emergency in the country. 

  • All the political leaders like Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Raj Narain, Piloo Moody and Ashok Mehta were arrested in Delhi. While senior leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani were picked up in Bengaluru. Other leaders were arrested in the cities they were that night.
  • The next morning Mrs Gandhi came on air to inform the people that the President had declared an Emergency to thwart the "Opposition move to imperil the country's security."
  • For the next two years (1975-1977), the country remained under Emergency.
Last updated: February 01, 2023 | 16:29
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