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Indira Gandhi Vs Raj Narain – Case Analysis

Introduction

Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain, popularly known as the ‘emergency case’ or ‘election case’ is a landmark judgement in Indian Judicial history for numerous reasons. India witnessed the first case in its history when a Prime minister’s election was invalidated. The aftermath that followed the judgement resulted in huge chaos. It is a case when the parliamentary powers were tried to be misused by questioning the judiciary of its powers. The judiciary was expected to kneel before the parliament by establishing parliamentary supremacy. This was the case that led to one of the most infamous incidents, the imposition of a national emergency from 1975-1977 throughout the nation. This was the time when fundamental rights were curtailed. The constitutional validity of 39th constitutional amendment was called in question.

It all started in 1971 when Indira Gandhi contested the general elections from Raebareilly seat and won against her opposition candidate Raj Narain. Allahabad High court nullified the election of Indira Gandhi on grounds of various election malpractices which went against the election laws. Mrs. Indira Gandhi appealed against the verdict to the Supreme court. But, the Indian judiciary subsequently witnessed a dramatic chain of events by which election rules were amended to validate the nullified election of Mrs. Gandhi. In this article, we shall analyze this landmark case in the later part.

Background And Facts Of Indira Gandhi Vs Raj Narain Case

It was year 1971 when 5th general elections (Lok Sabha elections) were held in India. Smt. Indira Gandhi and Raj Narain were both contesting the election from the Raebareilly constituency of Uttar Pradesh. Indira Gandhi was contesting on the Congress party ticket and Raj Narain from Ram Manohar Lohia’s SSP ticket. Raj Narain was optimistic about winning the election by a huge margin from the constituency but when the results were declared it was a landslide victory for Indira Gandhi as she managed to secure 352 seats out of 518 seats and was re-elected the prime minister of India. For Raj Narain, the result was obnoxious. He decided to raise voice against her election by filing a petition in the Allahabad High court alleging grounds of bribery, using government machinery for election campaigns, and government resources to gain an unfair advantage in contesting the election.

It was also alleged by Raj Narain that the campaign process of Indira Gandhi was in violation of the election code mentioned in the Representation of People’s Act, 1951. The Allahabad High court found her guilty of misutilising the government resources under Section 123(7) of the Representation of People’s Act, 1971 and held her election to be void. The high court ordered that Mrs. Gandhi could not hold office of Prime minister and that she could not contest elections for 6 long years. The court order gave the Congress party twenty days to replace Indira Gandhi and appoint a new prime minister.

Being aggrieved by the decision, Indira Gandhi decided to appeal against this judgement of Allahabad High court in the Supreme court. The Supreme Court was on vacation at that time. The vacation bench put an executional stay on the implementation of the High court order till further hearing. It was stated in the stay order by justice Krishna Iyer that Indira Gandhi could attend the sessions of the parliament but was barred from participating and voting in debates of Lok Sabha. While the matter was yet to be heard in the supreme court, then president Fakrudeen Ali Ahmed declared National Emergency on ground of internal disturbance.

In the meanwhile, a new Article 329A was introduced by way of 39th Constitutional Amendment to the Constitution of India which said that the election of Prime minister and Speaker could not be challenged in any court of law in India. The Supreme Court’s power over the Indira Gandhi case was taken away by this Amendment. The validity of the 39th Constitutional Amendment was challenged.

Issues Raised In Indira Gandhi Vs Raj Narain Case

  1. Whether Article 329A Clause (4) of the Constitution of India is Valid?
  2. Whether Representation of People’s (Amendment) Act, 1974 And Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 1975 are Constitutionally Valid?
  3. Whether Indira Gandhi’s Election is Valid or Void?

Judgements of the Case

Whether Article 329A Clause (4) Of the Constitution Of India is Valid?

In the landmark judgement of Kesavananda Bharti vs State of Kerala, the Supreme Court of India declared that Article 329A clause (4) of the Constitution of India was liable to be struck down because it violated the basic structure of the constitution. It also held that the Thirty-ninth (Amendment) Act was illegal. The amending power of the constitution by the parliament is subject to certain restrictions which means parliament cannot alter the basic structure of the constitution by exercising its unlimited amending powers. Justice H.R. Khanna held that holding free and fair elections is an integral part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India and the inclusion of 329A clause (4) was against this important principle and hence violative. The basic structure of the Constitution could not be curtailed by parliament even by exercising amending powers under Article 368 of the constitution.

The judges listed the following as contents of the basic structure of Indian Constitution:

  1. Supremacy of the constitution
  2. Republican and democratic form of government
  3. Secular character of the constitution
  4. Federal character of the constitution
  5. Separation of powers
  6. Unity and Sovereignty of India
  7. Freedom of individual
  8. Judicial review

The court also held that the judgement in Kesavananda Bharti vs State of Kerala, that Article 329A was in violation of Audi alterem partem principle which is the principle of natural justice according to which no one should be condemned unheard as the right to a fair hearing of a person challenging the election cannot be denied. The amendment destroyed and abrogated the principle of equality for there is no intelligible differentia between ‘persons holding office’ and ‘other persons elected to parliament’. Rule of law is the basis for democracy and judicial review is the basic structure of the constitution which cannot be taken away. The court further said that after the Anwar Ali Sarkar’s case the classification must be based on intelligible differentia. The rule of law excludes arbitrary action in any sphere of the government.

Whether The Representation Of People’s (Amendment) Act, 1974 And Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 1975 Are Constitutionally Valid?

When the Thirty-ninth Amendment Act was passed, several parliamentarians were absent as they were detained under the Preventive Detention Act. The 39th Amendment to the Constitution destroyed various basic principles of the law of the land such as separation of powers and judicial review. Raj Narain contested these laws on the ground that they destroy the basic structure of the constitution.

Raj Narain contended that the opposition leaders were under detention as per the Preventive Detention Act so they could not attend the voting during the parliamentary proceedings and also could not give their opinions while the act was passed hence liable to be struck down but the court denied to interfere into this matter because it was a matter between the two houses and they couldn’t determine its constitutional validity. It was held by the court that, the constitutional validity of a law depends on the existence of the legislative power entirely, and aside from the limitation laid down in Article 13 no other prohibition is there on the Legislature. Parliament was within its powers to frame laws with regard to elections as per article 368 of the constitution.

It was discussed in this judgement that parliament has powers to limit election expenditures and other election-related matters. Apart from these powers, parliament also has the power to consider what will be called the office of profit, to determine what will be grounds for disqualification and the power to state what will constitute a corrupt practice and what will not. Article 122 was cited which says that the court is prevented from inquiring into any irregularity in parliamentary proceedings, article 122(1) says that ‘validity of any proceedings in the parliament shall not be brought into question on ground of any alleged irregularity in procedure’. Article 122(2) says that the court will not have jurisdiction to call into question any conduct of business or maintenance of order in the parliament of any officer or member of parliament during the course of parliamentary proceedings.

The court in the Indira Gandhi case held that the arguments regarding the invalidity of representation of people’s (amendment) Act, 1974 and the election laws (amendment) Act, 1975 had no substance.

Whether Indira Gandhi’s Election Valid or Void?

The court held that Indira Gandhi’s election was valid and she can continue to hold the seat of the prime minister as there was no clear proof of election malpractice from her end. It was held that the personal election expenditure of the candidate is not included in the election expenses of the party to the allegation of Raj Narain that Indira Gandhi had exceeded the election expenditure limit by violating the election rules.

Yashpal Kapur was a gazetted officer of the government of India and the respondent alleged that he procured his assistance to Mrs. Gandhi while still in service so that amounted to corrupt practice. To this, the supreme court found that Yashpal had submitted his resignation letter on 13 January 1971 to the president. The letter was acknowledged on 25th January 1971 and it was in effect from 14th January 1971. Indira Gandhi had chosen Yashpal as her agent in the elections from 1st February. This will not be considered as corrupt practice as he had ceased to be a government officer from 13th January itself.

The court found no clear proof that Yahspal had given speeches endorsing Mrs. Gandhi between 7th January and 25th January 1971. Hence the Allahabad High court’s order that Indira Gandhi would be barred from contesting elections for 6 years and that she should resign from the post of prime minister was overruled by the supreme court.

Aftermath

This was the first time in the history of Indian democracy that the election of the prime minister was called into question in a court of law. Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain, is regarded as the case which propelled the thought of imposition of a National emergency throughout the country which is considered as one of the darkest in Indian history. All fundamental rights except the right to life were suspended. The opposition leaders were put under detention. There was total anarchy in the country. The controversial judgement of ADM Jabalpur vs Shivkant Shukla was delivered during the national emergency between 1975-77 which is popularly known as the habeas corpus case where justice Bhagwati held that a person’s right not to be unlawfully detained can be suspended. Justice Khanna dissented from the ruling and resigned and justice Beg was declared chief justice. Emergency was revoked in 1977 and it saw the fall of Indira Gandhi in the 1977 election and the rise of Janta dal. Raj Narain won the election and was declared the health minister. Shanti Bhusan, the counsel for Raj Narain who had argued against Indira Gandhi was made Rajya Sabha MP. The 42nd amendment to the constitution which took place in 1976 is also termed the ‘mini constitution’ because it brought several changes into the constitution. In the election manifesto, Janta dal had promised to restore the constitution as it was before the constitution. They brought the 43rd and 44th amendments in 1977 and 1978 respectively to somewhat restore the constitution. The Morarji Desai government tried to repeal the 42nd amendment act but could not because the Congress party was in majority number in the Rajya Sabha.

On the recommendation of Shah commission which was a commission set up to inquire into the injustice caused during the emergency days, Indira Gandhi was arrested under the prevention of corruption Act.

Conclusion

“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely” as said by John Dalberg holds great significance in the present case of Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain. Indira Gandhi got blind with absolute power and to retain the same attempted to dismantle the basic structure of the constitution by bringing in vague legislations like article 329A.

Judiciary uplifted the balance of powers between the parliament and judiciary which was attempted to be crushed by establishing parliamentary supremacy. Indian constitution has a unique balance of both judicial and parliamentary supremacy, unlike US where there is judicial supremacy and UK where there is Parliamentary supremacy. The balance of both judicial and parliamentary supremacy in the Indian constitution makes our constitution unique. This is the basic structure of the constitution which cannot be taken away by an act of parliament. The smooth functioning of the world’s largest democracy depends on both the parliament and the judiciary working together while respecting the law of the land.

Indira tried to bring a draconian amendment to validate her election by way of 39th amendment to the constitution act and imposed a nationwide emergency. The supreme court made it clear in its judgement that the validation or invalidation of election results is completely a matter of judiciary and legislature cannot interfere with it and declared the 39th amendment to the constitution as unconstitutional upholding the rule of law.

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Swayam Raychoudhury

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