Shanti Bhushan (1925-2023) was an Indian politician, legal activist, and jurist, who practised as a senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India. Bhushan served as the Law Minister of India from 1977 to 1979 in the Morarji Desai cabinet. On 31 January 2023, Shanti Bhushan passed away at his home in Delhi following a brief illness.
Shanti Bhushan was born on Wednesday, 11 November 1925 (age 97 years; at the time of death) in Bijnor, United Provinces, British India (now Uttar Pradesh, India). His zodiac sign is Scorpio. He is an alumnus of Ewing Christian College, Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. Early on, Shanti developed a keen interest in law and reasoning and decided to pursue a career in law.
Height (approx.): 5′ 7″
Hair Colour: Salt & Pepper
Eye Colour: Brown
Parents & Siblings
Shanti Bhushan’s father, Vishwamitra, was an eminent lawyer in the Allahabad High Court.
Wife & Children
Shanti Bhushan was married to Kumud Bhushan. He had two sons, Prashant Bhushan and Jayant Bhushan. Both of them are lawyers. He also had two daughters, Shalini Gupta and Shefali Bhushan.
As a lawyer, Shanti Bhushan defended his clients in several significant cases and even took up various cases of public interest. With exceptional analytical skills, Shanti Bhushan surprised many senior advocates, who were on the other side of the legal battles. Bhushan often noted elements of honesty and simplicity in his analogies, which made his submissions coherent even to a layman. One of the costliest lawyers in the country, Shanti Bhushan set the trend of charging high-fee even for cases of public interest.
Prominent Cases and Clients
- Shanti Bhushan represented the veteran socialist leader Raj Narain in an election petition filed against the then-Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi. Apparently, Raj Narain filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court against Indira Gandhi, accusing her of electoral malpractices after he lost the election to Gandhi in Rae Bareilly. Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha held Gandhi guilty in the case and declared her election to the Lok Sabha void. The court also disqualified her from contesting for six years. The judgement spurred a series of political crises in the country which ultimately led to the imposition of the Emergency in India.
- In 1994, Shanti Bhushan defended two men who were accused of their involvement in the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts case.
- Bhushan argued for Arundhati Roy in a 2002 contempt case against her in the Supreme Court of India
- In 2008, he appeared as a counsel for Shaukat Hussain Guru for his appeal against a ten-year sentence issued to him as he was held guilty in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack.
- In 2009, Bhushan represented Transparency International in Uttar Pradesh Provident Fund (PF) scandal, allegedly involving a few Indian judges. A three-judge bench comprising Justices B N Aggrawal, V S Sirpurkar and G S Singhvi abandoned the hearing of the case after his “contemptuous” remarks. The bench termed Bhushan’s behaviour as that of a street urchin.
- He also represented former Prime Minister of India H. D. Deve Gowda in a petition related to the allocation of land for Bangalore – Mysore expressway.
- Bhushan has also appeared for Rajendra Singh Lodha regarding the assets of the Birla Corporation.
- In November 2010, Bhushan stuck to his allegation that there was corruption in the Indian judiciary. He refused to apologise to the Supreme Court, saying that he was willing to be jailed for his contempt.
- In 2011, Shanti Bhushan appeared as a counsel for V.S. Achuthanandan in the Supreme Court in a corruption case against UDF leader R. Balakrishna Pillai.
- Shanti also argued on a PIL in the Supreme Court, seeking a court-monitored investigation into the Rafale fighter jets deal.
Shanti Bhushan entered politics as a member of the Indian National Congress (Organisation). He served as a member of the Rajya Sabha from 14 July 1977 to 2 April 1980. After a brief stint with the party, Shanti represented his client Raj Narain in the Allahabad High Court, challenging Indira Gandhi’s election victory. After Bhushan won the case, Indira Gandhi imposed an Emergency in the state. In 1977, Indian National Congress (Organisation), merged with the Janata Party. After the Emergency was lifted, Janata Party came to power and Bhushan was appointed as the Law Minister of India in the Morarji Desai cabinet. He served in the position till 1979. During his term, he introduced the 42nd Amendment to the Indian Constitution, which repealed many provisions introduced by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. He was one of the founding members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was founded on 6 April 1980. Six years later, he resigned from BJP after the party failed to follow his advice over an election petition. In 2011, Bhushan associated himself with the anti-corruption movement helmed by the social activist Anna Hazare. He was one of the founding members of the Aam Aadmi Party in 2012 and acted as a guide for the then-fledgling party.
In 2013, tension arose between Bhushan and senior party leaders as he was against the decision of forming a minority government with Congress support. However, their differences were resolved after Arvind Kejriwal decided to step down as CM after his government served for 49 days in Delhi. Bhushan was instrumental in paving the way for Aam Aadmi Party’s arrival on the national stage. In an interview, a former senior party member while talking about Bhushan’s role and responsibility in AAP said,
He was an active part of all key meetings held initially, where the party’s constitution and structure were discussed. He was an ace lawyer with immense respect in legal circles, also guiding the party in legal positions and issues related to its main plank of anti-corruption.”
He resigned from the party after three years.
In 2008, Shanti Bhushan wrote the book Courting Destiny: A Memoir, in which he shared his life experiences. Later, he also released the book My Second Innings.
Shanti Bhushan was a vocal activist against corruption. In the 1980s, Bhushan, along with V. M. Tarkunde, Fali Sam Nariman, Anil Divan, Rajinder Sachar, and Colin Gonsalves, founded the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, a Non-governmental organization that conducts litigation on public interest matters. He was actively involved in pressing for accountability in the Indian Judiciary by setting up Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reform (CJAR). In 2018, Bhushan filed a plea in the Supreme Court of India, challenging the roster practice of allocation of cases by the Chief Justice of India. The court in its judgement ruled out that the Chief Justice of India was ‘the master of the roster’ and had the prerogative and authority to allocate cases to different benches of the apex court.
On 31 January 2023, at around 7 pm, Shanti Bhushan passed away at his home in Delhi due to age-related ailments. He was aged 97 years. Mourning his death, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took to Twitter and wrote,
Shri Shanti Bhushan Ji will be remembered for his contribution to the legal field and passion towards speaking for the underprivileged. Pained by his passing away. Condolences to his family. Om Shanti.”
Law Minister Kiren Rijiju also expressed his grief on Bhushan’s passing away. He tweeted,
My deepest condolences to the family members on his passing away. My prayers for the departed soul. Om Shanti.”
- Shanti Bhushan was certainly one of the tallest lawyers in Allahabad.
- Apparently, Shanti Bhushan donated Rs. 1 crore to the Aam Aadmi Party on the day the party was founded.
- Known for his punctuality and empathic arguments, Bhushan was never afraid of speaking his mind. According to one of his fellows, he could even take on the judges and the judges paid special attention to his arguments.
- According to one of his fellow practitioners, Bhushan once made a list of ‘corrupt judges’ and submitted it to the Supreme Court.
- Reportedly, his parents named him Shanti (peace) as he was born on the day commemorating the end of the First World War.
- Shanti Bhushan was offered the judgeship by the Allahabad High Court when he was 37 years old. Although he accepted the offer, he could not become a judge as the minimum age limit for the post of a High Court Judge was increased to 40 by the then-Chief Justice of India, P.B. Gajendragadkar. After he turned 40, he was offered the judgeship twice. However, Bhushan declined it.