Indira Nehru Gandhi Vs. Raj Narain

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Raj Narain
Equivalent Citation – AIR 1975 SC 2299
Case No.: Appeal (civil)  887 of 1975
Petitioner:
Indira Nehru Gandhi
Respondent:
Shri Raj Narain & Anr. 
Date of Judgement: 07/11/1975
Bench:
A.N. Ray (C J) & H.R. Khanna & K.K. Mathew & M.H. Beg & Y.V. Chandrachud
Referred Cases:
1. I. C. Golaknath & Ors. Vs. State of Punjab & Anrs.
2. Kesavananda Bharati Vs. State of Kerala
3. Minerva Mills Ltd. & Ors. Vs. Union of India

Background

Raj Narain was the political contender against Indira Gandhi for Rae Bareilly Constituency in 1971 Lok Sabha 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.

Thereafter, a state of emergency was declared by the 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.

The Supreme Court while granting conditional stay ordered the parties to appear before it on 11 August 1975 however on 10 August 1975 the President of emergency – stricken India passed 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1971 by inserting Article 329-A to altogether bar the jurisdiction of Supreme Court from entertaining the matter.  This amendment made the elections of President, Prime Minister, Vice-President and the Speaker of Lok Sabha unjustifiable in the courts of law.

Therefore, this 39th Amendment was challenged in the Supreme Court in Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain.[2]

Issue

Constitutional validity of 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1975

Respondent’s Arguments

  1. The respondent argued that the said amendment is violative of basic features of Constitution. The respondent relied on 7 judge bench decision in Kesavananda Bharti[3].
  2. The respondent relying on above 1973 decision contended that the Parliament under Article 368 is only competent to lay down general principles governing the organs of the state.
  3. Since the determination is valid or not is a judicial prerogative under Article 329 & 136 respectively, the impugned amendment tends to take away the democratic structure of the nation.
  4. The said amendment is illegal because during its passage in the house a number of opposition M.P.s were maliciously detained under detention laws.
  5. The 39th Amendment is irrational & doesn’t pass the classification test as to why classification between members holding higher/lower post is necessary. This amendment is violative of Article 14 of the constitution.
  6. The said amendment not only destroys basic structure, it also endangers rule of law & separation of power.

Judgment

The court gave its decision on November 7, 1975. It must be kept in the mind that this was the first case when the landmark decision of Kesavananda Bharti was applied by the apex court.The apex court upheld the contention of the petitioner and declared the impugned Clause 4 of Article 329A unconstitutional.

In the words of Mathew J. the said clause destroyed essential democratic feature of the Constitution viz. the resolution of an election dispute by ascertaining the adjudicative facts and applying the relevant laws. He was of the opinion that a healthy democracy can only function when there is possibility of a contest of free & fair elections. The impugned amendment destroyed that possibility therefore it is violative of Basic feature of Constitution.

Chandrachud J. found the said amendment violative of the principle of Separation of Power as it intently transferred a pure judicial function into the hands of legislature. Further, he was certain that the said amendment is also violative of Article 14 as it creates an unequal position for specific members against others.

Ray C.J. found another basic feature violated by the said amendment i.e. rule of lawwhereas Justice Khanna found the violation of norms of free & fair elections. The bench also found the said amendment violative of the principles of natural justice i.e. Audi Altrem Partem since it denies the right of fair hearing who is challenging the election of the members mentioned under the amendment. Democracy is a basic feature of Indian Constitution. The amending body i.e. Parliament is not empowered to pass a retrospective law validating an invalid election. This exercise is nothing but an example of despotic use of unrestrained and unfettered power.

The said amendment ought to transfer such determining powers to the Parliament. However, a legislative body cannot find adjudicative facts like a judicial body therefore, in the opinion of bench the impugned amendment is nail in the coffin of democracy.

Therefore, on the varied reasons the court struck down the 39th (Amendment) Act, 1975 finding it unconstitutional and violative of Basic Structure of the Constitution.

Critical Analysis

The decision in Indira Nehru Gandhi was a brave decision reminding the greedy parliament its place in the constitution. The Parliament was taught that they are not alone in this democracy and that Judiciary is there to uphold the Constitution and save Democracy from harmful actions of Parliament. The court in this case upheld the principle of Separation of Power which builds checks and balances in the democracy to check that there is no sort of encroachment and overstepping. The Government of the day in order to save itself from Allahabad High Court decision passed the draconian 39th amendment. It was of the view that amidst Emergency the judiciary will also kneel down and abandon its duty to uphold Constitution. However, the Judiciary resolved the crisis and struck down the draconian amendment passed to validated an invalid election.

The court proved that Parliament is by law and not its vice versa. Parliament’s recent course to establish its supremacy and the attempt to make itself above the constitution was ruined by the Judiciary. The court upheld the essence of democracy i.e. Free & Fair election. The court at different points in the decision reiterated the importance of Free & Fair election. It held that without a system where the people cannot elect their representatives through free and fair contest of elections is surely not a system of democracy. The impugned amendment tried to make election of PM, President, Vice President & Speaker of Lok Sabha unjustifiable which is totally against the essence of democracy. The amendment tried to make the election of most important politicians unjustifiable i.e. no matter how much illegitimate their election, one cannot challenge it: that too in a democracy. The court however, shed water on Parliament’s or to say Indira Gandhi’s malicious amendment and made Rule of Law emerge triumphant.

Prashant Bhushan who was the co-counsel in State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narainhad written a book discussing all the nuances of the case in detail. In the book titled “The Case that Shook India” he has written that this case has proved the vigor of democratic institutions of India. This case upheld both Rule of Law & Separation of Power. The court made it clear that validation/invalidation of an election is purely a question of judicial nature and it cannot be performed by legislature. Since, like a judicial body legislature cannot find adjudicative facts therefore, this transfer of pure judicial function cannot be termed as constitutional.

Actually, in the pith of the substance the amendment was aimed at reversing the High Court’s decision which invalidated the election of Indira Gandhi from Rai Bareilly Constituency. This was really a cowardly act to use an important provision like Constitutional Amendment to satisfy their political exigencies. The Prime Minister of the nation after finding herself guilty of such violation of Election laws should have resigned with the left dignity instead she imposed emergency to save herself and over that passed a draconian law as 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1975. However, the Judiciary came to the rescue and upheld the sanctity of Constitution as well as Democracy. The court unanimously held the 39th Constitutional Amendment violative of the Basic Structure and struck it down.      

The importance and the aftereffects of the judgments can be well and clearly understood from the quick passage of 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 which made the challenge of Amendments in the court of law impossible (however this amendment was struck down in Minerva Mills). The parliament in its desperation and fury on the judiciary passed a law by the virtue of which the courts lost the power to question any amendment of the constitution.              

Conclusion

 This judgment of the Supreme Court was the first in which the basic doctrine was applied to save the constitution from malicious attacks. The five judges bench by holding the impugned 39th proved to the parliament that they are just elected to make laws which are beneficial to the “people of India” & not those laws which are beneficial for them. This judgment was the triumph of Rule of Law because once again it was the law that proved to be triumphant and not those who make it. The apex court proved that law is supreme and it cannot be brought to knees even by the chosen ones.

India is the largest democracy in the world. The essence of a democratic government lies in the conduct of free & fair elections. The parliament tried to mold this basic essence towards their end so that they could have the prerogative to validate an invalid election. One could only imagine and fear the imagination that this regressive amendment would have brought to the Indian Democracy. Besides, what is the meaning of Democracy i.e. for the people, by the people & of the people if there are no free & fair elections? The amendment privileged the specific members’ elections being challenged in the court which is like stripping a person of his legal right to remedy.

It was very brave of the judiciary that along with the Emergency turmoil it came up with such a brave and important decision where it was proven that Indian Constitution will not bend its knees against such malicious bunch of politicians. The apex court must be honored for such a important decision against the mighty Indira Gandhi Government.  

Aftermath of Indira Gandhi

Parliament after facing such a severe loss at the hands of the Judiciary was so furious that it planned to make a law by the virtue of which no court in the future would have jurisdiction to entertain a challenge of Constitutional Amendment. In pursuance of the above objective the Parliament amended the Constitution through 42nd Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1976 also known as Mini-Constitution.

The argument advanced against the passage of sucha brute amendment were two-fold

  1. Supremacy of Parliament
  2. Criticism of Basic structure

The proponents of the amendment argued that there are no basic or fundamental provisions in the Constitution and every provision is equal in status for the purposes of Parliament. This was basically the implication that there is no limitation whatsoever in the competence of Parliament with respect to its amending power. Such arguments were in direct defiance to the landmark rulings of Supreme Court in Golaknath[4] Kesavananda.

Therefore, to achieve the said objectives Clause 4 & 5 were added in the Article 368 with the following effect:

  1. Clause 4 was added to make it clear that from this date onwards there shall be no challenge in the courts on the issue of constitutionality of any amendment passes by the Parliament. This was to ensure the bar on the jurisdiction of the courts to entertain a challenge on amendment i.e. directly barring the jurisdiction of Supreme Court. This clause also had the power of validating earlier amendments invalidated by the Supreme Court such as 25th Amendment’s 2nd limb, 39th amendment etc.
  2. Clause 5 starts with the phrase “For the removal of doubts”. This clause was added to make it explicit that there is no limitation on the power of parliament with respect to its amending competence. Implying that not only can parliament amend Fundamental Rights it can also amend the basic structure of the Constitution.

[References]

[1]Raj Narain v. Uttar Pradesh 1975 A.I.R. 865. 

[2]Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain A.I.R. 1975 S.C. 2299.

[3]Kesavananda Bharti v. State of KeralaA.I.R. 1973 S.C. 1461.

[4]Golaknath v. State of Punjab, 1967 A.I.R. 1643, 1967 S.C.R. (2) 762.

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Hemant Varshney
Hello Readers, I am Hemant Varshney student of B.A.LLB.(Hons.) at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh). Since the beginning of my life as a law student I had a great liking in the Constitutional Laws of various nations. However, apart from Constitutional Law I am also interested in Criminal laws, Human Rights Law and Arbitration laws. I also have great liking in novels both fiction (especially philosophical) and non-fiction. In my free time I often watch Netflix series, Hollywood movies, Web series etc. I love to listen songs almost all the time of the day. I am also a fitness enthusiast and try to keep myself fit. The motto of my life is “Hard work is the key to success” therefore, I try to not to give up in any circumstance and fulfill my obligations no matter how worse the situation is.