Former Law Minister and senior advocate Shanti Bhushan passed away on Tuesday. He was 97.
He always stood for truth both as a Law Minister in the Morarji Desai Cabinet between 1977 and 1979 and as a senior advocate who fought alongside his son and noted civil rights lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, for judicial accountability and transparency.
In his memoir ‘Courting Destiny’, Mr. Bhushan quotes the cricketing legend Don Bradman to say that one can successfully combine the values of dignity, integrity, courage and modesty with pride, ambition and competitiveness.
The fierce integrity of Mr. Bhushan came to the fore when he stood up to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and successfully got her disbarred for election malpractices. An event which culminated into the Emergency. But Mr. Bhushan’s argument that “no political leader was above the law, and whenever a top leader had to relinquish office, the nation could always find a successor” has outlived those dark years.
Later, he defended the Basic Structure of the Constitution and the inviolability of fundamental rights against the 39th Constitutional Amendment before a Bench led by Chief Justice A.N. Ray, who had superseded three senior judges of the Supreme Court to become top judge. Mr. Bhushan was able to convince the Bench that “every Constitution has some basic features which make it unique and give it an identity”.
He later wrote that “if some amendment changed democratic Constitution into a dictatorial one, naming the dictator and giving the dictator power to name a successor, it cannot be perceived as an amended Constitution of India”.
In the Habeas Corpus case, when Opposition leaders were detained during the Emergency, he defended the rule of law. His main argument in the case was that rule of law always protected the liberty of citizens and they could be deprived of their liberties of free speech and right to life only in accordance with law.
As Law Minister, Mr. Bhushan introduced the 44th Constitutional Amendment to save the basic structure of the Constitution and uphold the power of judicial review of laws curtailed by the controversial 42nd Amendment introduced during the Emergency.
He joined the BJP in 1980 but resigned from the party six years later. He was a founding member of the Aam Aadmi Party. “One’s destiny is ordained by the Almighty, but in order to attain it, one has to painstakingly court it,” Mr. Bhushan had once written.