Nani Palkhivala, 82, India's foremost constitutional lawyer and a vocal champion of human rights who served as ambassador to the United States in the late 1970s, died of a heart attack Wednesday in Bombay.
Palkhivala had an unusual career. Not only was he preeminent in constitutional law, but he was also a businessman and a popular lecturer on India's economy who wrote a classic text on Indian tax law.
He represented Indira Gandhi after the 1971 election when she was accused of election fraud by her defeated opponent. Palkhivala took her case out of principle, even though he had opposed her government.
The High Court of Allahabad ruled against Gandhi in 1975 but granted a 20-day stay for her to lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court. Opposition leaders launched a civil disobedience campaign to force her to step down. When she responded by imposing a state of emergency, Palkhivala resigned as her attorney.
He was appointed ambassador to the U.S. after Gandhi lost reelection in 1977 to Morarji Desai. The choice of the well-regarded human rights advocate was widely seen as a sign that the new Indian government wanted better relations with the Carter administration.
However, Palkhivala was recalled in 1979 after an embarrassing incident in which he was photographed helping Lillian Carter, President Carter's mother, put on a shoe. Many Indians, who regard shoes as unclean, were shocked.