Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain: The case that shaped India’s political history.

Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain: The case that shaped India’s political history.

While the watershed case, Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain, proved the strength of India's democratic institutions, it also acted as the catalyst for the imposition of the Emergency. Based on detailed notes of the court proceedings, The Case That Shook India is both a legal and a historical document of a case that decisively shaped India's political destiny.

By Prashant Bhushan

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It’s been forty years since The Case That Shook India was published. The book has been out of print now for more than thirty-five years and during these years many people have asked me for copies of this book, including lawyers, law students and academics. I have been giving out photocopies of the book to several people and then many suggested that I should get it republished. I am aware that this book has inspired a number of students to study and practise law and hope that it continues to do so.

The Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain case was important for several reasons. It was the first time in independent India’s history that a Prime Minister’s election was set aside. It was also the first time that a constitutional amendment was struck down on the basic structure doctrine that had been propounded a couple of years prior, in the Kesavananda Bharati case (1973). It was also the first time that election laws had been retrospectively amended to validate the annulled election of the Prime Minister. The hearing of the case in the Supreme Court of India took place during the Emergency, when fundamental rights had been suspended, press censorship was enforced and therefore there was no public reporting of the case or its hearings. While it was being heard in the Supreme Court, my notes were probably the only ones available as a record of what really transpired during the hearing. I had taken detailed notes of the hearing including the questions asked by the judges and their responses by the counsels, many of which have been reproduced in the book.

The case also impacted Indian politics in a big way. The elections that ensued after the Emergency saw the wiping out of the Congress and the installation of the first non-Congress government at the Centre. That government however collapsed within two years, due to infighting amongst the leaders of the various parties who had hastily come together to form the Janata Party. This then led to the split of the Janata Party and the formation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

This was a landmark development in Indian politics. The BJP contested its first election in 1984, soon after Mrs Gandhi’s assassination, when it won only two seats. By the early 1990s, however, the BJP had stirred up the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign, and riding on its back, it won a substantial number of seats, which paved the way for its eventual victory in 1996. The ascendance of the BJP in the twenty-first century has been one of the most significant events of Indian political history. This can be attributed largely to the vacuum left by the Congress. Modi’s rise too can be attributed partly to the anti-corruption movement (Jan Lokpal movement) that took place in the country in the year 2011– 12. He used the momentum created by that movement to demolish the Congress with the promise of ending corruption, graft and black money. Arvind Kejriwal also did the same for coming to power in Delhi. Unfortunately, neither of them has appointed a Lokpal yet. In fact, it has been reported that Modi’s government has not worked to strengthen the anti-corruption institutions like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the whistle-blower law and even the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Excerpted with permission from The Case That Shook India, by Prashant Bhushan (Penguin Random House).