• Team Lawtsapp

Indira Nehru Gandhi V/s. Raj Narain

Updated: Apr 15

Indira Gandhi doesn’t require any introduction but let me tell you a little about Raj Narain, he was the political contender against Indira Gandhi for Rae Bareilly Constituency in 1971 Lok Sabha (lower house) General Elections.

Mrs. Gandhi won the election & congress won the house with sweeping majority. However, after the results of the polls, Raj Narain filed a petition before High Court of Allahabad contending that Indira Gandhi has performed Election malpractices. On 12 June1975, The High Court of Allahabad speaking under Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha found Indira Gandhi guilty of misusing government machinery u/s-123(7) of Representative of Peoples Act, 1951.[1] Therefore, the court held that Indira Gandhi cannot continue as the Prime Minister of the nation, further, she cannot contest elections for another six years. Aggrieved by this decision Indira Gandhi went to appeal this ruling of Allahabad High court in Supreme Court. However, SC being in vacation at that point of time granted a conditional stay on execution on 24 June 1975.

The most important fact is that Indira Gandhi vs. Raj Narain was the landmark case that created history and led to the imposition of Emergency in India from 1975 to 1977. The case made a huge blow to the doctrine of Basic structure of the Constitution.

Let us focus about Background of the case. In 1971, when the 5th Lok Sabha elections were held, Indira Gandhi and her party emerged victorious, securing a total of 352 seats out of 518 seats in the said elections. She fought her election from the Rae Bareilly Constituency and against her there was Raj Narain, leader of Ram Manohar Lohia's SSP. Even though he was confident of his triumph against Mrs. Gandhi, he lost by a huge margin. Disappointed with the defeat, he filed an appeal to nullify the election and accused Indira Gandhi of using corrupt practices in the election campaign to claim victory. On 24th April, 1971, he challenged the Prime Minister's election by filing a petition in the Allahabad High Court and accused Gandhi of violating the election code in the Representation of the People Act, 1951. He expressed that her election campaigns were assisted by many Government officials, who was inclusive of armed forces and local police (it was a very serious claim). Apart from that, he alleged that Indira Gandhi has used Government vehicles for her election campaigns, distributed liquor and blankets to the voters to influence them to vote for her, exceeding the campaign expenses.

As a verdict, the Allahabad High court declared Indira Gandhi's election void on the grounds of corrupt practices on 12th June 1975, the court found Indira Gandhi guilty of misusing Government machinery under Representative of people's act, 1951. As a result, she was barred from contesting into elections for another six years. Aggrieved by this decision, she appealed in Supreme Court, but SC being in vacation at that point, granted an executional stay. Thereafter, a state of emergency was declared by the then President Fakhrudeen Ali Ahmad stating that the reason for it was internal disturbances but it is very much clear that the ‘real reason' that led to emergency was the judgment of Allahabad High Court in the case of Raj Narain v/s Uttar Pradesh. And on 10th August 1975, 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1971 was passed by inserting Article 329-A in the Constitution which altogether barred the jurisdiction of Supreme Court form entertaining the matter of elections- making the elections of President, Prime Minister, Vice-President and the Speaker of Lok Sabha unjustifiable in the court of law. The Constitutionality of the 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1975 was challenged in the Supreme Court in Indira Gandhi v/s Raj Narain.

When the 39th Amendment was passed by the Indira Gandhi Government, most of the members of the Parliament were absent and arrested under Preventive detention. It was seen that this amendment destroyed separation of powers and judicial review which also are an integral part of the basic structure of the Constitution. It destroyed the notion of equality whereas there isn't supposed to be differences between people holding high offices and people who are elected to the Parliament. Since most of the opposition MP's were under preventive detention, they could not vote in the parliamentary proceedings and give their opinions regarding the amendment which benefited the Congress party. This was claimed by Raj Narain. However, the court said that this matter was related between both the Houses of Parliament was cannot be interfered upon by the judiciary.

Respondents argued, that the petitioner revolved around the 39th amendment which was affecting the ‘basic structure of the Constitution' and also takes away the power of jurisdiction of courts under election petition which was unfair to the judiciary. They presented that the function of the Legislature is to legislate and can make and pass laws. However, the power to decide the constitutional validity of a law lies with the judiciary. Rule of law and judicial review are the integral part of the constitution and cannot be altered. The Amendment was passed when there wasn't majority of MP's in the house who cannot vote in favor or against it. And lastly, Article 368 does not empower Parliament to amend Constitution to decide who wins or loses the election.

The petitioners contended that the majority decision of Kesvananda Bharti judgment cannot be taken as a precedent to decide whether the elections would be free and fair. They said that when the Constitution of various countries does leave their election disputes to the Legislature, there are a various article in our Constitution as well which show the judicial review can be excluded in such cases as a matter of policy. Coming back to the landmark case, they that how Kesvananda Bharti and Shankari Prasad both did not cover the ambit of electoral disputes and rather they dealt with the meaning of the word ‘amendment'. Lastly, they argued that the rule of law is not a part of basic structure and apart from Article 14 our Constitution recognizes neither doctrine of equality nor rule of law.

The court provided its judgment on 7th November, 1975 and was the first case in which the landmark decision of Kesvananda Bharti case was applied. The apex court upheld the contention of the respondent and declared clause (4) of Article 329-A as unconstitutional. Justice Mathew said that Article 329-A (4) destroyed the basic structure of the constitution. He was of the view that a ‘healthy democracy' can only function when there is possibility of free and fair elections and the respected amendment destroyed that possibility. Chandrachud J. found that the amendment was violation of the principle of ‘separation of powers' as it willfully transferred a function into the hands of the legislative which was purely judicial. He was also of the view that the amendment is volatile of Article 14 as it creates unequal positions of specific members of the Parliament against others.

Ray C.J held that one more basic feature was violated by the said amendment i.e. the rule of law and Justice Khanna was of the opinion of violation of norms of free and fair elections. The bench also held that the amendment was volatile of the principles of natural justice i.e. Audi Altered Partemwhich means ‘listening to the other side' as it was denying the right to fair hearing of those who were challenging the election of the members mentioned in the Amendment.

Hence, it was on varied reasons that the 39th Amendment act, 1975 was struck down as it was unconstitutional and volatile of the basic structure of the Constitution.

Critical Analysis

The decision in the Indira Gandhi vs. Raj Narain case was a brave one taken by the judiciary to put the ‘greedy' Parliament in its place in the Constitution. It was showed to the Parliament that they are not the only one in the democracy and judiciary will always be there to uphold the Constitution from the harmful acts of the Parliament.

However, even though the judgment was theoretically right, it was in many ways flawed on the grounds of justice, equity and good conscience. It was pretty much evident that the amendments were made to expel all grounds on which Mrs. Indira Gandhi was found guilty of by Allahabad High Court. However, the Supreme Court failed to notice that why these amendments were made in the first place.

When many opposition leaders were under Preventive detention, they could not vote against the amendment (again it was a calculated move by the Gandhi party), Supreme Court said that it was a matter of the Parliament and the judiciary can have no say in it which was ignorant of the Supreme Court. It was unmindful in managing the issue when Indira Gandhi abused her powers to adjust those laws which charged her of corruption.

The Hon'ble Supreme Court was very much aware of the way that Indira Gandhi had made the amendments to fulfill her political exigencies and had unpredictably forced crisis to spare her from being proved guilty. Raj Narain needed to sit tight for a considerable length of time and what he got was undesirable thinking. However, the Supreme Court did strike down clause 4 of Article 329 being volatile of the basic structure.

Authored by: Shobhit Dagur

Saraswati Vidya Mindir Law College

11 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All