Author: Siddharth Negandhi, 1st Year, LL.B, Jitendra Chauhan College of Law, Mumbai.
The article has been written by the author while pursuing the internship programme with us.
PETITIONER: Indira Nehru Gandhi (SMT.)
RESPONDENT: Raj Narain & ANR.
BENCH: A.N. Ray (CJ) & H.R. Khanna & K.K. Mathew & M.H. & Beg & Y.V. Chandrachud.
COURT: The Supreme Court of India.
CITATION: 1975 AIR 1590, 1975 SCC (2) 159.
DECIDED ON: November 7, 1975.
FACTS OF THE CASE:
The case of Indira Nehru Gandhi vs. Raj Narain was a remarkable judgement as it had been the first time ever in the saga of independent India that a Prime Minister’s election was overturned. General elections took place in India to the 5th Lok Sabha in the year 1971. Raj Narain, the leader of Ram Manohar Lohia’s SSP competed against Indira Gandhi in the elections of Rae Bareilly held in Uttar Pradesh. Thereby, Indira Gandhi proved to be victorious and defeated Raj Narain in the mid-term polls from the constituency of Rae Bareilly by a margin of about 1,12,300 votes and getting hands-on 352 seats out of 518 seats in the ongoing elections. At that point of time, Indira Gandhi strived and campaigned heavily for herself and her congress party and came out in flying colours with respect to the elections. On the other side, Raj Narain was extremely certain and assured that he is going to win the elections. He was confident too that extent where he even took out a triumph rally before the results were declared. Raj Narain was disheartened when he didn’t win the elections and that too with enormous margin.
Being unable to digest the defeat, Raj Narain made up his mind to appeal against Indira Gandhi’s election and accused her of embracing and adopting corrupt and malicious practices during her election campaigns so as to invalidate the election. Challenging the Prime Minister’s election, Raj Narain filed an Election Petition in the Allahabad High Court on 24th April 1971. Raj Narain, the petitioner alleged that Indira Gandhi had made use of government vehicles for her election campaign and had also distributed blankets and liquor among the voters so as to sway them. The petition also said that Indira Gandhi’s election campaigns were aided by various government officers, which also included the armed forces and the local police. Raj Narain also claimed that she exceeded the campaign expenses limit which was Rs. 35,000. The petition also stated that Yashpal Kapoor had endorsed Indira Gandhi by means of performing speeches amid 7th January 1971 to 25th January 1971.
The petition involved allegations on Indira Gandhi of contravening the election code embossed in the Representation of the People Act of 1951. After hearing the petition, Mr Justice Jag Mohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court held that the election of Indira Gandhi is non-viable and void on the grounds of corrupt practices. The Allahabad High Court had further disqualified Indira Gandhi from holding an elective office for six years. Also, the Allahabad High Court had allowed the Election Petition of Mr Raj Narain with costs. Mrs Gandhi, not so satisfied with the High Court’s decision, preferred an appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is on vacation at that time granted a conditional stay and thereafter which emergency was declared due to internal disruption. Simultaneously, Indira Gandhi passed the 39th Constitutional Amendment which introduced Article 392A to the Constitution of India. Article 329A expressed that no court of law can question the election of the Speaker and the Prime Minister and it can only be brought up and challenged before a committee formed by the Parliament itself. Hence, not allowing the Hon’ble Supreme Court to decide Indira Gandhi’s case. The Hon’ble Supreme Court laid down the doctrine of basic structure which stated that the Parliament’s unlimited power to amend the constitution is subject to only one limitation i.e. it should not violate or breach the basic structure of the Constitution. The basic structure as laid down by the judges were:
- Individual freedom.
- Separation of power.
- Unity and Sovereignty of India.
- Federal character of the constitution.
- Republican and democratic form of government.
- Secular character of the constitution.
- The supremacy of the constitution.
Article 368 of the constitution provides the Parliament to amend the constitution by way of variation, addition or repeal of any provision as per the procedure laid down therein, which is different from the procedure of ordinary legislation. The Hon’ble Supreme Court applied the basic structure doctrine and expressed that Clause (4) of Article 329-A needed to be struck down on the ground that it hindered the standard of free and fair elections. As per Article 329(b) election disputes are to be presented before any authority as provided by the law. The only manner to adjudicate any dispute arising out in an election petition is by a judicial view and Article 329A(4) takes away these rights and hence needed to be struck down.
- Whether or not, Representation of the People (Amendment) Act 1974 and the Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 1975, were constitutionally valid?
- Whether or not Clause 4 of Article 329 A of the Constitution of India, was constitutionally valid?
- Whether or not the election of Indira Gandhi was void?
The petitioner, Indira Gandhi argued before the Supreme Court that the said allegations put on by Raj Narain against her in the Allahabad High Court is false in nature and there’s no credibility to it. The petitioner also stated that Yashpal Kapoor had provided his resignation letter to the President on 13th January 1971 which was acknowledged on 25th January 1971 with impact from 14th January 1971 by the manner of a notice published on 6th February 1971. Further, Indira Gandhi had selected Yashpal Kapoor as her agent for elections on 1st February 1971 and Yashpal Kapoor ceased to be a government officer after 13th January 1971 so, the assistance provided to the petitioner after that day was not a corrupt practice.
The respondent, Raj Narain argued that the said amendment is violative in nature with respect to the salient features of the constitution. The respondent placed reliance on a 7 judge bench decision in Kesavananda Bharti. The respondent relying upon the 1973 decision contended that the Parliament under article 368 is only competent to lay down general principles governing the organs of the state. The argument also involved that the impugned amendments tend to take away the democratic structure of the nation endangering the rule of law and separation of power. The respondent also brought forward the fact that many of the opposition leaders were under preventive detention due to which they were unable to vote in the Parliamentary proceedings or give their recommendations when the 39th Amendment was passed and therefore, the act needs to be struck down.
The constitutional bench provided its decision on November 7, 1975. The Supreme Court upheld the contention of Raj Narain and declared the impugned clause 4 of Article 329-A as unconstitutional. In the words of Mathew J. Article 329A (4) destroyed the basic structure of the Constitution viz. the resolution of an election dispute by ascertaining the adjudicative facts and applying the pertinent laws. Also, a healthy democracy can only function where there is the possibility of free and fair elections. Chandrachud J. found that the 39th amendment is violative of the principle of separation of powers as it intently transferred a purely judicial function into the hands of the legislature. Ray C.J. expressed that democracy is a basic feature of the Indian constitution and Parliament does not have the power to pass a retrospective law validating an invalid election. This exercise is nothing but an example of despotic use of unrestrained and unfettered power. Hence, due to various reasons, the Court struck down the 39th (Amendment) Act, 1975 as it was unconstitutional and violated the basic structure of the constitution. And the Supreme Court set aside the Allahabad High Court’s judgement and freed Indira Gandhi from all the corruption charges and acquitted her, thereby making her election valid.
ANALYSIS TO THE CASE:
I personally believe that the judgement given by the Hon’ble Supreme Court was a total bummer on the grounds of Justice and Equity. The manner in which Indira Gandhi cleverly managed to impose a national emergency and also got the opposition members arrested under preventive detention paved the way for her to pass the 39th Amendment Act of the Constitution. After which she also passed the People’s Representatives (Amendment) Act, 1974 and the Election Laws (Amendment) Act 1975. It is crystal clear that Indira Gandhi brought these three major amendments into existence to write off all the grounds and reasons on which she was found to be guilty in the High Court of Allahabad. She ill-used the powers conferred upon her as a Prime Minister to her own advantages. It was evident that there was some sort of political influence as the Constitution was constantly being tinkered and the Supreme Court is the only pillar of the constitution stated that the respective matter is out of their jurisdiction and also it couldn’t deal with the matter.
 Hemant Varshney, Indira Nehru Gandhi vs. Raj Narain- Case Summary, lawtimesjournal (Aug 22, 2018), http://lawtimesjournal.in/indira-nehru-gandhi-v-raj-narain/.
 Saumya Saxena, The case that led to emergency: Indira Gandhi vs. Raj Narain(1975), ipleaders.in( May 27, 2019), https://blog.ipleaders.in/emergency-indira-gandhi-v-raj-narain/.
 Pooja Meena, Indra Gandhi vs. Raj Narain- case analysis, lexquest.in, (May 1, 2015), https://lexquest.in/indira-nehru-gandhi-v-raj-narain-case-analysis/.
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