Reviewed by: Abhimanyu Arya

This is a book review on “The Case That Shook India” written by Mr. Prashant Bhushan, who is an Indian human rights lawyer, social activist and a politician. Although this book was published in 1978, it went out of print for quite some time. It was re-published recently by Penguin India.  This book depicts one of the landmark cases of the history of the Indian judiciary, that is “INDIRA NEHRU GANDHI v/s RAJ NARAIN” (also known as State of Uttar Pradesh v/s Raj Narain) in which the election of the then Prime Minister of India, Smt. Indira Gandhi was challenged by her opponent, Mr. Raj Narain which was heard at the Allahabad High Court. The court found her guilty for malpractices during her election campaign following which, she was barred for holding her office for next 6 years. Following the judgement from the High Court, a state of Emergency was declared from June 1975 till January 1977. The book focuses on the day-to-day proceedings lucidly, bringing out the matters carefully along with legal and political implications that led to 21-month period long Emergency, bringing the creases in the democratic fabric of India. Shanti Bhushan, an imminent lawyer and the author’s father, was appointed by Mr Raj Narain. The author, who was young back then, was allowed to witness the courtroom proceedings. This is how he got the first-hand information of the same. Although the proceedings are usually tedious, noting what was observed during the proceedings, is not an easy task, unlike other countries where you can just get the final judgement of the case.  
Keywords: Election, Case, Emergency 


To begin with, here is a quote by Suzy Kassem“A system is corrupt when it is strictly profit-driven, not driven to serve the best interests of its people.” In 1971, Mr Raj Narain, who was Mrs Indira Gandhi’s opponent, had contested in the general elections that year against her. She was a member of Lok Sabha from Rae Bareilly constituency. By two-to-one margin, her party Indian National Congress ® won with sweeping majority. However, after the election results wee declared, Mr Narain, who was not so satisfied, decided to file a petition in the Court, alleging that Mrs. Gandhi had won the elections using unfair means. This included bribery, government machinery and unfair advantage. He also alleged that she had used government employees as electoral agents and had organised campaigning activities during payroll.

Mr. Nanabhoy Palkhivala represented Mrs. Gandhi whereas Mr. Shanti Bhushan represented Mr. Narain. The case was in the High Court of Allahabad, under the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951 in which it was stated that the result of an election can only be challenged before the High Court under whose jurisdiction the election was contested. There were following issues which were framed:
  1. Whether Mrs. Gandhi had procured the services of Yashpal Kapoor for the furtherance of the prospects of her election while he was still a gazetted officer;
  2. Whether Yashpal Kapoor had bribed Swami Adwaitanand for the purpose of inducing him to contest as a candidate in the election;
  3. Whether at the instance of Mrs. Gandhi, members of the armed forces had arranged Air Force planes and helicopters for her, flown by members of the armed forces to enable her to address elec
    tion meetings, and if so, whether it amounted to a corrupt practice under 
    Section 123(7) of the Representation of People Act, 1974
  4. Whether at the instance of Mrs. Gandhi and Yashpal Kapoor, the District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police of Rae Bareli had arranged for barricades, rostrums and loudspeakers for Mrs. Gandhi’s election meetings, and if so, whether it amounted to a corrupt practice under section 123 (7) of the Representation of People Act, 1974
  5. Whether quilts, blankets, dhotis and liquor had been distributed by the agents and workers of Mrs. Gandhi in order to induce voters to vote for her; and
  6. Whether by using the symbols of cow and calf, Mrs. Gandhi had been guilty of making an appeal to religious sentiments and had therefore committed a corrupt practice under Section 123(3) of the Representation of People Act.


    The actual matter began after the issues were framed. There were a series of questions which were fired as a part of cross-examination. Since both the lawyers i.e. Mr Khare and Mr. Bhushan were well versed with law and had remarkable advocacy skills. They firmly presented their arguments.

    The cross-examination of Mrs Gandhi played a crucial role in bringing out the shocking reality of the 1971 general elections. The fact that she had unfairly influenced the people during her election campaign turned out to be true. The following facts were noted:
    1. Using undeclared funds;
    2. Using government machinery;
    3. Seeking the services of government officials;
    4. Making amendments to the election law with retrospective effect to legitimize ill practices during the elections;
    5. Persuading voters by providing them with objects; and
    6. Violating laws and concealing facts.
      There was an issue with regard to the Indian Air Force flight.  


      After a long trial, on 12th June 1975, the allegations which were levied upon Mrs Gandhi were proved. Justice Ja
      gmohan Sinha of the Allahabad High Court, found her 
      guilty of electoral malpractices and unfair influence upon the people, though the charges of “bribery” were dismissed, the Court held her election as null and void. She was ordered to be removed from her post. This was the first time in the history of the judicial system of India, that a powerful case like this had shaped the right frame of justice. Although Mrs Gandhi had filed for a petition regarding the decision at the Supreme Court, but that remained unchanged, but the Court gave a conditional stay of execution on the ruling on 24th June.

      Highlights of the book

      One of the highlights of the book is the day-to-day analysis which was made in depth. The arguments, cross-examination and every detail mentioned in this book is written in such a manner, in order to make sure that every reader gets to know the hard-core reality of this landmark case. Everything has been presented without any bias and the courtroom scenes have been excellently recreated, adding grip to the narrative. Indeed, there are twists and drama in the proceedings that follow.  There is no denying the fact that Indian courts have contributed more towards the development of law, doctrines and jurisprudence. Yet, the case was carefully observed and all the important facts were noted, which may not be very easy.
      One of the factors the author has ensured is that all the readers should understand the case. Hence the book is divided into 5 parts: a) Preliminary Court Proceedings; b) In the High Court; c) The Repercussions; d) Validity of the Constitutional Amended and e) Validity of the Election Law Amendments. Although from a certain point of view, the judicial language of the book can be heavy on the ordinary readers. The arguments by Mr Shanti Bhushan were so powerful that it was tough for the Opposition to present there arguments despite the fact that Mr Khare was also an experienced lawyer.

      The first half of the book is quite intriguing with courtroom proceedings, arguments, cross-questioning and other statements while the second half of the book is technical as there are several legal references which most of the readers are not familiar with.  
      This book and the subject, both have an important position. The book shows that how powers can be misused for one’s own benefit, but anyone has the power to stand up and face the mighty.  The book is not just a legal document but it is also an eye-opener for every individual. One of the important facts is the noting of the proceedings and how the most powerful person depend upon desperate measures for his benefit. The book is not just a story, it is an informative and valuable source of information for those who aren’t familiar with the actual circumstances which led to the infamous state of Emergency of 1975.
      The triumph of Raj Narain, the subsequent abuse of power and human rights through state of Emergency are some of the key points of this book. Although the author has tried to ensure that the readers understand the case from the pint of view, yet there are references to the articles of the Constitution of India, sections of various statutes, and to past judgements which include the case of Keshavanand Bharati.
      The author has excellently written this masterpiece which was literally difficult to maintain as such work would have been erased by the then government or it would not have been published. The judgement of this landmark changed the course of the Indian politics with imposing of Emergency and the formation of the Non-Congress government in the next general elections. There were certain loopholes back then. A valuable book with precise information.

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