Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain

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Bench Comprised of

  1. A.N. Ray (CJ)
  2. H.R. Khanna
  3. M.H. Beg
  4. K.K. Mathew

Parties Name

Petitioner- Indira Nehru Gandhi

Respondent- Shri Raj Narain and Another

Introduction

Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain[1] is a landmark judgement in the history of the legal system. This case has brought many changes in the legal system and this was the first time when the elections of the President were set aside in India. This also led to imposition of emergency from 1975 to 1977. This was the first time when the case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala[2] was applied as a precedent to strike down the constitutional amendment made out of arbitrariness. In this case, some of the integral aspects of the Constitution were questioned which included powers of the judiciary, basic structure, separation of power, right to free and fair elections, and judicial review. 

Facts of the Case

In 1971, when the Lok Sabha General elections were to be held, there were two strong political contenders, Raj Narain and Indira Nehru Gandhi for the constituency of Rae Bareli. Post results, Mrs. Gandhi won the elections with a sweeping majority. However, after the results of the poll, Raj Narain knocked the doors of Allahabad High Court by filing a petition therein contending that Indira Gandhi has won the election by performing Election malpractices. On 12 June 1975, the High Court of Allahabad headed by Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha judged Indira Gandhi guilty of misusing government machinery u/s-123 (7)[3] of the Representative of Peoples Act, 1951.

Henceforth, the High Court declared that Mrs Indira Gandhi cannot continue as the Prime Minister and she cannot contest elections for a period of six years from then. Aggrieved by the decision of Allahabad High Court, Indira Gandhi filed an appeal in the Hon’ble Supreme Court. However, on 24 June 1975, SC for the reason being on vacation at that point of time granted a conditional stay on the execution of the order. However, the Supreme Court being on vacation during that time, granted a conditional stay to the parties of the case.

Thereafter, a state of emergency was declared by then President Fakhrudeen Ali Ahmad citing internal disturbance but the real reason that led to the emergency was the High court judgment in Raj Narain v. Uttar Pradesh[4].

While granting a conditional stay, the Supreme Court ordered the parties to appear before it on August 11, 1975. However, before the parties could appear, on August 10, 1975, the then President of India passed the 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1971 by inserting Article 329-A to altogether bar the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court from entertaining the matter. This was a ruckus created at the time of emergency. This 39th Constitutional Amendment was nothing more than a tyranny as it made the elections of the President, Prime Minister, Vice President, and the Speaker of Lok Sabha unjustifiable in the court of law. 

It was stated by Article 329A that the election of the Prime Minister and the Speaker cannot be challenged in any court in the country. It can rather be challenged before a committee formed by the Parliament itself. 

Therefore, the 39th Constitutional Amendment of 1971 was challenged in the Supreme Court in the case of Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain.

Issues Of the Case

  1. Whether or not Clause 4 of Article 329 A of the Constitution of India, was constitutionally valid?
  2. Whether or not, Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 1974 and the Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 1975, were constitutionally valid?
  3. Whether or not the election of Indira Gandhi was void?

Arguments by Petitioner

In the instant case, the contentions raised by the petitioner includes the following-

  • That in most of the countries, the Constitution leaves it to the Legislature to solve election-related disputes.
  • That it is not the matter of Courts to decide as to what degree of elections must be negotiated by the Constitution and the Legislature. 
  • That the majority of decisions pronounced in the case of Kesavananda Bharati cannot be taken as a precedent in the instant case to decide if the elections would be free and fair.
  • There are provisions in our constitution that depict that judicial review can be excluded in cases like the instant one which can be taken as a matter of policy.
  • That the landmark cases of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala as well as Shankari Prasad v. Union of India[5] did not cover electoral dispute as an issue and mainly focussed on the term ‘Amendment’.
  • That Rule of Law is not covered under the ambit of basic structure because apart from Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, our Constitution neither recognizes Doctrine of Equality nor does it give value to Rule of Law.

Arguments by Respondents

In the instant case, the contentions raised by the respondents include the following:

  • That the 39th Constitutional Amendment is violative of the basic structure of the constitution. This was argued by relying upon the 7-judge bench decision in Kesavananda Bharati Case.
  • That the amendment was unfair to the judiciary as it abridges the power of jurisdiction under election petition. 
  • That under Article 368 of the Constitution, Parliament is only competent to lay down principles governing the three organs. However, the power of the judiciary is to decide the constitutional validity of a law.
  • That the determination is invalid and it tends to abridge the democratic structure of the nation. 
  • That such law is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution which talks about Equality before law and Equal protection of laws. The instant law keeps the President and other people above the law which was unjustified for the common mass. 
  • That the Amendment is illegal because when it was passed the majority of opposition MP’s could not vote due to malicious detention.
  • That the amendment endangers Rule of Law as well as Separation of Power.

Judgement Of the Case

The landmark judgement given on November 7, 1975, was a matter of discussion all over the country. This was the first case when the landmark decision of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala or the newly propounded doctrine of Basic Structure was applied by the apex court. The Apex Court upheld the petitioner’s contention and declared the disputed Article 329A sub-clause 4 as unconstitutional. The apex court upheld the contention of the petitioner and declared the impugned Clause 4 of Article 329A unconstitutional. The clause was struck down on the ground that it violated the free and fair elections which was an essential feature that formed the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. 

The amendment destroyed the election and the laws inconsistent with it. However, Raj Narain was aggrieved by the decision and filed a cross-appeal and challenged both the amendment to the Representation of People Act and also the Thirty-Ninth Constitutional Amendment Act, 1975. The appeal was argued by both sides on the basis that the case was governed by the majority in Kesavananda case which ruled out that the power of amendment of the government did not extend to altering the Basic Structure of the constitution. 

The judgement was passed through a majority and the judges have laid their points of decision taking into consideration most of the issues raised. The judiciary in this case exclusively has played a significant role in protecting democracy and the constitution. The various grounds on which the challenge was based are as follows:

Justice Mathew said that the inserted clause destroyed the essential democratic feature of the Constitution. The disputed amendment destroyed many possibilities which was the reason that it was considered violative of the basic feature of the Constitution. He also held that without a judicial remedy elections would become ridiculed and thus would make it difficult to determine as to who has who has seized power and who has been legitimately elected 

Justice Chandrachud found the said amendment violative of the principle of Separation of Power as it intently transferred a purely judicial function into the hands of the legislature. Further, he was precise that this constitutional amendment is also violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India as it creates a sense of disparity among specific members and gives rise to inequality. 

Justice Ray found another basic feature violated by the said amendment i.e. rule of law. 

Justice Khanna held that Article 324 (A) of the Constitution is against the basic structure doctrine, however free and fair elections are an integral part of this basic structure. Furthermore, as Article 324(A) is not severable from the main Article so there arises a need to strike down the whole article, and the principle of severability cannot be applied.

So, the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court gave its orders regarding the above-mentioned issues, in accordance with the reasons mentioned in the above section and the similar issues along with their reasoning are mentioned herewith:

  1. On the issue of the constitutional validity of clause (4) and (5) of Article 329 of the Constitution, it was held that clause ‘4’ and ‘5’ of Article 329 A was unconstitutional as it was violative of the basic structure of the Constitution of India.
  2. On the issue of Constitutional validity of both the Acts, the Court held the Representation of People’s (Amendment) Act, 1974 & Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 1975 to be perfectly legal, constitutional, and free from all the fragilities.
  3. On the issue of whether the election of Indira Gandhi was void or not, the court was very much affirmed though questioned later and ruled that the election of Indira Gandhi from the constituency of Rae Bareli was considered to be legally valid. 

Analysis of the Judgement

The pronouncement, in this case, was considered to be a brave one as it taught the Parliament that they are not the only players in this democracy and the third pillar of the system, that is, judiciary is always there to check their actions and point them out in case of arbitrary actions. 

Was this a rational judgement? 

The decision, in this case, played a very important role, though the Supreme Court could not manage the issues mindfully. There were the following points that could have been dealt in a better way as a result of which the flaws on the grounds of justice, equity, and good conscience could be removed:

  • The court sheltered Indira Gandhi’s malicious acts which were held to be unlawful by the Allahabad High Court and failed to notice as to why these amendments were made primarily. 
  • The Supreme Court was ignorant in ruling out that the majority of the opposition voters could not participate in the voting as they were unlawfully detained under the Preventive Detention and called it the concern of Parliament.
  • The Apex Court did not pay heed to Indira Gandhi’s use of abusive power to adjust the laws which charged her with corruption. 

The court was well acquainted with the fact that Indira Gandhi had made the said amendments to persuade with her political strategies and had unreasonably imposed an emergency to protect herself from the lethal consequences. 

Despite all this, the Supreme Court struck down clause 4 and 5 of Article 329 and declared it as violative of the basic structure of the constitution. Thus, upholding the constitution. 

Did this judgement change with the existing law?

The judgement pronounced, in this case, is also a part of this adaptation. The 42nd Amendment of 1976 which made the challenge of Amendments in the court of law impossible has clearly shown that with the passage of time, each law has to be changed or amended. The aftermath of the judgement was such that later on clauses 4 and 5 were added to Article 368[6]

Conclusion

Thus, this landmark judgement has served its purpose despite being silent on some issues. The Judiciary successfully overpowered the Parliament by establishing its supremacy and upholding the constitutional validity of free and fair elections. This case upheld the Rule of Law as well as Separation of Power and made it clear that election is a subject matter that is exclusively dealt with by Judiciary and should not be interfered with by Legislature. However, on the contrary, the main aim of the Amendment was to reverse the order of the High Court that had pronounced Indira Gandhi as guilty of using malpractices was achieved as instead of resigning from her position, she imposed an emergency and instantly passed the 39th Amendment Act of 1975 which was later struck down by the Supreme Court. 

Further, the book titled ‘The Case that Shook India’ is a well-written book by Prashant Bhushan discussing the nuances and the nuisance created at that time. 


[1] AIR 1975 SC 2299.

[2]  AIR 1973 SC 1461.

[3] The Representative of Peoples Act, 1951, s. 123 (7).

[4] 1975 AIR 865.

[5] AIR 1951 SC 458

[6] The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 368.

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