Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain & Anr

In an unprecedented move, the 39th Constitutional Amendment barred the Court's jurisdiction from taking cognizance of the election mal practise done by Ms Indira Gandhi. By reading the case you will learn that the Amendment was held invalid as it violated the doctrine of Separation of Powers.
CITATIONAIR 1975 SC 2299
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMChief Justice A.N. Ray, Justice H.R. Khanna, Justice K.K. Mathew, Justice M.H. Beg, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud
DATE OF JUDGEMENT07.11.1975

Introduction

The first time in Independent India’s history that a Prime Minister’s election was set aside created a huge uproar in the judicial system of our country. It was then that the Kesavananda Bharti case’s doctrine of Basic Structure was applied and a constitutional amendment was struck down on the basis. The case was important for various reasons that shall be discussed below.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: Raj Narain was up against Indira Gandhi during Lok Sabha General Elections for the Rai Bareily constituency in the year 1971. Indira Gandhi won the election with a huge number of votes in her favor. After the results, Raj Narain filed a petition before the High Court of Allahabad and accused Gandhi of malpractices during the concerned election. After being held guilty of corrupt practices by the High Court, Indira Gandhi made an appeal before the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the then President, Fakhrudeen Ali Ahmad declared a national emergency for the purported reason of ”internal disturbances” as provided under Article 356 of the Constitution of India, originally. Subsequently, one day before the date of hearing, the President also passed the Constitution (39th Amendment) Act, 1975 by inserting Article 329-A. As per the newly inserted Article the Supreme Court was absolutely barred from entertaining the matters relating to elections of the President, Prime Minister, Vice-President, and Speaker of Lok Sabha. It was this Constitutional Amendment that was challenged by way of the present case.

Issues

The main issue in the case was: Whether or not the Constitution (39th Amendment) Act, 1975 was constitutionally valid.

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Contention of the parties

The constitutional validity of Article 329-A was challenged on the following grounds:

  1. The Article destroyed or damaged the basic feature or basic structure of the Constitution as laid down in His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalavaru v. State of Kerala[1];
    • The control over the result of the elections and their validity is vested in the Judiciary under the provisions of Article 329 and Article 136. The jurisdiction of judicial determination is taken away by Article 329-A, and, therefore, the democratic character of the Constitution is destroyed;
    • The Amendment destroyed and abrogated the principle of equality for there was no intelligible differentia between ‘persons holding office’ and ‘other persons elected to Parliament’;
    • Rule of law is the basis for democracy and judicial review and the same cannot be taken away;
  2. The condition of the House which passed the Amendment was illegal
    • A number of Parliament members of the two Houses were detained by executive order without being given any reason and representation.

Summary of court decision and judgment

When Raj Narain presented his petition before the High Court of Allahabad, the Court in 1975 found Indira Gandhi guilty of corrupt practises with the assistance of gazetted officers during the 1971 elections. The Court in the case of Raj Narain v. State of Uttar Pradesh held Gandhi guilty under Section 123(7) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Accordingly, Indira Gandhi was disqualified for a term of 6 years from contesting elections.

The 5-judge bench of the Supreme Court upheld the contentions of Raj Narain & Anr. and struck down the Constitution (39th Amendment) Act, 1975.

Analysis

Separation of Power is an important doctrine applied in the Indian scenario. The feature ensures the Independence of Judiciary to make the organ accountable and free from bias. If the power of the judiciary is clamped by way of Articles like 329-A, it would destroy the democratic character of our country. Along with the independence of judiciary, separation of powers also gives rise to judicial review.

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Additionally, free and fair elections are a characteristic feature of every democracy and an election which is invalid due to the principles of elections must remain so if proper grounds of invalidation exist.

The 5-judge bench recognized the essential democratic feature of the Constitution of the resolution of an election dispute by application of laws. The Court went on to hold that the Amendment was violative of the principle of Separation of Power, Article 14 as well as the rule of law. The Amendment also violated the principle of natural justice as enshrined in audi alteram partem as it denied the right of fair hearing to the person challenging an election of a particular set of authorities. Thus, the Court correctly struck down the Constitutional Amendment and applied all laws and principles appropriately.

The Court gave its judgement while an Emergency was in force and fundamental rights were suspended. The learned bench upheld the essentials and characteristics of democracy and proved that no organ or law can be above the Rule of Law.

Conclusion

This landmark judgement did not only change the judicial scenario of our country but also impacted the political arena in a big way. After the judgement, Congress was not able to make the government and the first non-Congress government took over at the Centre.


[1] (1973) 4 SCC 225.