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CASE SUMMARY: INDIRA GANDHI VS. RAJ NARAIN

Forty five years ago, on 25th June 1975, India saw its darkest phase in the history of independent India. Indira Gandhi proclaimed national emergency under Article 356 which lasted for 21 months. Two weeks earlier, Allahabad High Court had set aside the election of PM Indira Gandhi in the case of State of Uttar Pradesh v Raj Narain. There are two cases involved in this phase: the case in High Court which was normally an election petition and the case in Supreme Court which was a constitutional amendment and election law amendment case.

BACKGROUND OF THE CASE

Early general elections were to be held in March 1970 for Lok Sabha. Indira Gandhi chose to file her nomination from Rae Bareilly. The grand alliance chose Raj Narain as their candidate. Raj Narain was so confident of his victory that he led a victory procession through the streets of Rae Bareilly, thanking people for their support on 8th March, day before the final results were to be declared.

However, Indira won by a poll difference of more than 1,10,000 votes. The results devastated  Raj Narain and was carried out by the stories that the ballot papers were chemically treated. This led him to file an election petition before the Allahabad High Court against the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He alleged that Indira used unscrupulous practices while performing election campaigns and distributed liquor and blankets to the voters and also broke the expense limit in the election campaign.

Justice Jagmohan Sinha of Allahabad High Court found Indira Gandhi guilty of corrupting Representative Peoples Act, 1951 and declared the Indira Gandhi’s election void and she could not incumbent Prime Minister Office, further, denied her to take part in elections for six years.

Concurrently, Indira Gandhi appeal against the decision in the Supreme Court. However, Supreme Court was on vacation so the vacation judge Justice Krishna Iyer granted her a conditional stay on 24th June 1975. Now she could hold the office but could not vote in the Parliament.

Thereupon, a State of Emergency was declared by reason of ‘internal disturbances’. Meanwhile, she passed the 39th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1971, which introduced Article 392-A to prevent the Supreme Court to entertain the matter. The amendment stated that the election of President, Prime Minister, Vice- President, and the Speaker of Lok Sabha shall not be challenged in any court.

Therefore, the constitutional validity of the 39th amendment was challenged.

JUDGMENT OF THE SUPREME COURT

On November 7, 1975, the Supreme Court gave its decision. Significantly, this was the first    case in which Keshvanand Bharti case was cited by the Supreme Court. Submission by petitioner was upheld by the   apex court and declared draconian clause 4 of article 329A unconstitutional.

Moreover, the Supreme Court added the following features in the list of the basic structure laid down in Keshavananda Bharti case:

  1. Judicial Review
  2. Rule of Law
  3. Democracy which includes Free and Fair election
  4. Jurisdiction of Supreme Court under article 32.

All five judges wrote their opinion in the words of Methew J. – Insertion of Article 329-A (4) completely wrecked the basic structure of the Constitution. He believed- “A healthy democracy can only function when there is the possibility of free and fair elections. The impugned amendment destroyed that possibility and therefore violated the basic structure of the Constitution”.

Chandrachud J. underlined that -The said amendment is violative of the doctrine of Separation of power as it hands over the powers of the judicial function to the legislature. Further, he said that the 39thamendment is also violative of Article 14 as it displays inequality.

Ray C.J. found that the said amendment violated the Rule of Law.

Justice Khanna found that the said amendment violated the essential feature of democracy i.e. free and fair Election.

Justice M.H. Beg did not pronounce the validity of the constitutional amendment but declared the election law valid. By virtue of this, a review petition was filed against the judgment of Justice Beg, but it was dismissed.

Thus, because of several reasons, the Supreme Court repealed the 39th Constitutional Amendment as it was unconstitutional and violated the basic structure of the constitution. Further, The Supreme Court overruled Allahabad High court Judgment, declared Indira Gandhi free from all corruption charges, hence made her election valid.

CRITICAL COMMENT

  1. Was Allahabad High Court Judgment Fair?

Indira Gandhi was the only woman who became Prime Minister in the history of India and was brave enough to restrict the powers of the court, to challenge the political order of the country, to pretend the Parliament as her Dwelling House and seems to be above the law.

Justice Jagmohan Lal proved that the law is for everyone irrespective of the person’s background. Subsequently, Indira Gandhi piloted the 39th constitutional amendment and curtailed the power of the judiciary.

Declaring Indira Gandhi guilty by Allahabad High Court for election malpractices was a fair judgment, because if she was not guilty why she was supposed to declare emergency in the country? Why 39th Constitutional Amendment was imposed to curtail the powers of the courts?

Aforesaid questions were sufficient to prove that the Allahabad High Court judgment was a fair and should have been upheld by the Supreme Court instead it paints a grim picture of natural justice. The apex court held that the election of Indira Gandhi was valid.

2.     What if the 39th amendment did not repeal?

If the 39th amendment would have not repealed, then the Courts could have became the puppets of the politicians and the injustice would rife in the country. Till date, Law and order in India are not rigid as compare to other countries such as Britain, Japan, and Russia, etc. However, the Constitution of India is the biggest constitution over the globe but we are lacking behind in the imposition of laws rigidly.

However, The Hon’ble Supreme Court Struck down clause 4 of Article 329 and it was requisite as it curtailed the power of the courts.

 

3.     Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution of India-

Article 368 of the constitution provides Parliament the power to add or amend or delete any provision. By enforcing this article, Indira Gandhi tried to subdue the judicial powers of the courts in the form of article 329-A. Article 329-A restricted the Supreme Court from entertaining the matters of elections of President, Prime Minister, Vice President, and the speaker of the Lok Sabha. The Honorable Supreme Court was very much aware of the fact that this amendment is unconstitutional and violative of the doctrine of separation of power. It also harms the basic structure of the Constitution and therefore it strikes down clause 4 of article 329.

The decision in this case of Indira Gandhi V Raj Narain upheld the principles of Rule of Law   and Separation of powers, which signifies that overstepping by any pillar in a democracy can be stopped by the others if others function on their powers judicially.

Parliament can make new laws, amend them or remove them at the need of the hour as per the Constitution. But if the Parliament tries to make any law or amend any provision against the soul of the Constitution by any manner then Supreme Court can guard the Constitution like in this case.

Also, the Court proved that the Parliament is by law and not vice-versa. The importance of this judgment can be better understood by the incident of the passage of the 42nd amendment. The 42nd Amendment was the amendment that made the challenge of amendments in the court of law impossible. This was done so that the courts would lose their power to review any amendment made in the Constitution of India. However, this was struck down in the Minerva Mills case.

THE LESSON LEARNT AND TAUGHT

Indira Gandhi abused her powers as a Prime Minister in the election for personal benefits. The Allahabad High Court righteously found her guilty of corrupt practices in her election campaign and hence made her election void and also barred her from contesting any election for the next 6 years. The judgment in State of Uttar Pradesh V. Raj Nairain should be seen as a model for the judicial review. However, the honorable Supreme Court should also have upheld the judgment on this issue.

When the time came, Indira Gandhi, for her personal benefits and pride, declared an emergency in the Country citing internal disturbances. The constitutional rights were suspended and freedom of speech and press were withdrawn. Emergency nearly shifted our Country from the largest democracy in the world to a Dictatorship form of Government. It was our judiciary which saved the country from becoming a dictator ruled country. The Honorable Supreme Court of India proved through this judgment that it is the final interpreter of the constitution and the guardian of the Constitution.

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