This action is totally within our constitutional framework and it was
undertaken in order not to destroy the constitution but to preserve the
constitution and safeguard our democracy.
– Indira Gandhi
to the Lok Sabha on 22nd July, 1975
This article is analysis of the benchmark case – Indira Gandhi v/s. Raj
1975. The year 1975 had witnessed mesmerising developments in the judicial
arena. It is rightly said that Indira Gandhi's case had shaken the entire
nation, and the ripples are felt even today. There were far reaching
consequences of this judgement.
This laid down the benchmark which clearly
proved, that whenever the Parliament would be greedy, the Judiciary would show
that democracy always prevails. The essence of the judgement is present even
today, as courts continue to rely on the principles which have been elucidated
in the case. It also highlights additional aspects for a working definition
which can be applied to various and even rapidly changing historical contexts.
This article is about the Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain Case Analysis –
Celebrating 45 years.
Indira Gandhi vs. Raj Narain
 was the landmark case that created history and
led to the imposition of Emergency in India from 1975 to 1977. It is the case
which questioned the powers of the judiciary, a showcase of how Parliament
expected the judiciary to kneel down before them. Parliament tried to establish
its supremacy in the course of this case but put in place by the judiciary.
This case questioned so many integral aspects of the Constitution such as its
Basic structure, power of jurisdiction of courts, separation of three organs of
the state that are: Legislative, executive and judiciary, functions of
Legislature, right to free and fair elections, rule of law and judicial review
and lastly, political justice.
Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain
(Indira Gandhi's case) is widely renowned to be
the scapegoat for the political debacle that took place in the mid 70's. It was
the immediate, though not the real cause of the ensuing revolution.
fell in a slumber on the night which began on 26th of June 1975 and ended on
21st of March 1977, with a resounding defeat of Mrs. Indira Gandhi and her
Congress party, at the polls. This started when Raj Narain, who had contested
elections against Indira Gandhi from Rae Bareilly, cried foul after the results
of the elections were declared. He claimed that Indira Gandhi won due to corrupt
practices and due to her clout as the Prime Minister. He also alleged that Mrs.
Gandhi used her position to take undue advantage from government servants and
the Air Force.
With the case shredding light on so many aspects of law and political background
of India, even a book was written on it named as:
The case that Shook India by Prashant Bhushan, who was the son of the advocate
for the case and had firmly concentrated every part of the case. It was the
first time in the history of India that election of a Prime Minister was set
The case made a huge blow to the doctrine of Basic structure of the
Constitution, which was held that it couldn't be amended a few years prior in
the landmark judgment case of Keshvananda Bharti vs Union of India (1973).
The hearing of the case in Supreme court took place during the emergency during
which the fundamental rights were suspended and press censorship was enforced,
due to which there were no public hearing or possible reporting of the case. The
case was a big impact on Indian politics.
In 1971, when the 5th Lok Sabha elections were held, Indira Gandhi and her party
emerged victorious, securing a total of 352 seats out of 518 seats in the said
elections. She fought her election from the Rae Bareilly Constituency and
against her contesting was Raj Narain, leader of Ram Manohar Lohia's SSP. Even
though he was confident of his triumph against Mrs. Gandhi, he lost by a huge
Disappointed with the defeat, he filed an appeal to nullify the election and
accused Indira Gandhi of using corrupt practises in the election campaign to
claim victory. On 24th April, 1971, he challenged the Prime Minister's election
by filing a petition in the Allahabad High Court and accused Gandhi of violating
the election code in the Representation of the People Act, 1951. He expressed
that her election campaigns were assisted by many Government officials which was
inclusive of armed forces and local police.
Apart from that, he alleged that Indira Gandhi has used Government vehicles for
her election campaigns, distributed liquor and blankets to the voters to
influence them to vote for her, exceeding the campaign expenses.
The Allahabad High court declared Indira Gandhi's election void on the grounds
of corrupt practises on 12th June 1975, the court, speaking under Justice
Jagmohanlal Sinha found Indira Gandhi guilty of misusing Government machinery
u/s- 123(7) of Representative of people's act, 1951. As a result, she was
barred from contesting into elections for another six years. Aggrieved by this
decision, she appealed in Supreme Court, but SC being in vacation at that point,
granted an executional stay.
Thereafter, a state of emergency was declared by the then President Fakhrudeen
Ali Ahmad stating that the reason for it was internal disturbances but it is
clearly evident that the 'real reason' that led to emergency was the judgment of
Allahabad High Court in the case of Raj Narain vs Uttar Pradesh
. And on 10th
August 1975, 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1971 was passed by inserting
Article 329-A in the Constitution which altogether barred the jurisdiction of
Supreme Court form entertaining the matter of elections- making the elections of
President, Prime Minister, Vice-President and the Speaker of Lok Sabha
unjustifiable in the court of law.
The Constitutionality of the 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1975 was
challenged in the Supreme Court in Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain.
and article 329-A snatches away these rights from the court. Free and fair
elections are the key features of a democracy and it is important that if
elections are won by malice, judiciary has to intervene to ensure justice is
What Was The Constitutional Validity Of Clause 4 Of Article 329-A?
Doctrine of Basic Structure
The Doctrine of Basic structure says that Parliament's unlimited power to amend
the Constitution is subject to restriction, which means it should not violate
the basic structure of the Constitution. This doctrine was laid down in the Keshvananda
Article 368 of the Constitution gives power to the Parliament to revise the
Constitution by expansion, variety or annulment of any provision as indicated by
the procedure set down in that.
It was expressed that Clause(4) of Article 329-A needs to be struck down as it
violated the standard of free and fair elections which is an integral part of
the basic structure of the Constitution.
It is seen that the only way to resolve
any dispute which arises in an election is via judicial review It was argued by
the respondent that relying on the 1973 judgment of Kesvananda Bharti, contended
that the Parliament under Article 368 is only competent to lay down 'general
principles' which governs the organs of the state. Therefore, whether the
determination is valid or not is a judicial prerogative under Article 329 and
136, the said amendment tends to disrupt the democratic structure of the nation.
The Representation Of People (Amendment) Act, 1974 And The Election Laws
(Amendment) Act, 1975 Being Constitutionally Valid
When the 39th Amendment was passed by the Indira Gandhi Government, most of the
members of the Parliament were absent and arrested under Preventive detention.
It was seen that this amendment destroyed separation of powers and judicial
review which also are an integral part of the basic structure of the
Constitution. It destroyed the notion of equality whereas there isn't supposed
to be differences between people holding high offices and people who are elected
to the Parliament.
Since most of the opposition MP's were under preventive detention, they could
not vote in the parliamentary proceedings and give their opinions regarding the
amendment which benefited the Congress party. This was claimed by Raj Narain.
However, the court said that this matter was related between both the Houses of
Parliament was cannot be interfered upon by the judiciary.
Arguments By Respondents
The main argument of the petitioner revolved around the 39th amendment which was
affecting the basic structure of the Constitution
and also takes away the
power of jurisdiction of courts under election petition which was unfair to the
judiciary. They presented that the function of the Legislature is to legislate
and can make and pass laws. However, the power to decide the constitutional
validity of a law, lies with the judiciary.
Article 14 guarantees Equality before law and equal protection of law. The
President, when passed such law, placed himself and other people above the law
which wasn't justified. Rule of law and judicial review are the integral part of
the constitution and cannot be altered as stated in the Fundamental Rights Case.
The Amendment was passed when there wasn't majority of MP's in the house who
cannot vote in favour or against it. And lastly, Article 368 does not empower
Parliament to amend Constitution to decide who wins or loses the election.
Arguments By Petitioners
The petitioners contended that the majority decision of Kesvananda Bharti
judgment cannot be taken as a precedent to decide whether the elections would be
free and fair. They said that when the Constitution of various countries do
leave their election disputes to the Legislature, there are a various article in
our Constitution as well which show the judicial review can be excluded in such
cases as a matter of policy.
Coming back to the landmark case, they that how Kesvananda Bharti and Shankari
Prasad both did not cover the ambit of electoral disputes and rather they dealt
with the meaning of the word amendment
. Lastly, they argued that the rule of
law is not a part of basic structure and apart from Article 14, our Constitution
recognizes neither doctrine of equality nor rule of law.
The court provided its judgement on 7th November, 1975 and was the first case in
which the landmark decision of Kesvananda Bharti case was applied. The apex
court upheld the contention of the respondent and declared clause (4) of Article
329-A as unconstitutional.
Mathew J said that Article 329-A(4) destroyed the basic structure of the
constitution. He was of the view that a 'healthy democracy' can only function
when there is possibility of free and fair elections and the impugned amendment
destroyed that possibility.
Chandrachud J. found that the amendment was violative of the principle of
'separation of powers' as it wilfully transferred a function into the hands of
the legislative which was purely judicial. He was also of the view that the
amendment is violative of Article 14 as it creates unequal positions of specific
members of the Parliament against others.
Ray C.J held that one more basic feature was violated by the said amendment i.e
the rule of law and Justice Khanna was of the opinion of violation of norms of
free and fair elections.
The bench also held that the amendment was violative of the principles of
natural justice i.e Audi Alterum Partem which means 'listening to the other
side' as it was denying the right to fair hearing of those who were challenging
the election of the members mentioned in the Amendment.
Hence it was on varied reasons that the 39th Amendment act, 1975 was struck down
as it was unconstitutional and violative of the basic structure of the
Critical Analysis and Personal Opinion
The decision in the Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain case
was a brave one taken by
the judiciary to put the 'greedy' Parliament in its place in the Constitution.
It was showed to the Parliament that they are not the only one in the democracy
and judiciary will always be there to uphold the Constitution from the harmful
acts of the Parliament.
However, even though the judgment was theoretically right, it was in many ways
flawed on the grounds of justice, equity and good conscience. It was pretty much
evident that the amendments were made to expel all grounds on which Mrs. Indira
Gandhi was found guilty of by Allahabad High Court. However, the Supreme Court
failed to notice that why these amendments were made in the first place.
When many opposition leaders were under Preventive detention, they could not
vote against the amendment (again it was a calculated move by the Gandhi party),
Supreme court said that it was a matter of the Parliament and the judiciary can
have no say in it which was ignorant of the Supreme Court. It was unmindful in
managing the issue when Indira Gandhi abused her powers to adjust those laws
which charged her of corruption.
The Hon'ble Supreme Court was very much aware of the way that Indira Gandhi had
made the amendments to fulfil her political exigencies and had unpredictably
forced crisis to spare herself from being proved guilty. Raj Narain needed to
sit tight for a considerable length of time and what he got was undesirable
thinking. However, the Supreme Court did strike down clause 4 of Article 329
being violative of the basic structure.
The court proved that the Parliament is by Law and its not vice-versa. Judiciary
crushed the Parliament's course to establish supremacy and the attempt to make
itself above the Constitution. The Court did uphold the essence of democracy i.e
free and fair elections.
In the pith of the substance, the main aim of the Amendment was to reverse the
High Court's judgement that invalidated Indira Gandhi's election. And instead of
resigning, she imposed emergency and passed the draconian 39th Amendment
Act,1975 which was struck down by the Supreme Court. The case upheld both Rule
of Law and Separation of Power and made it absolutely clear that validation or
invalidation of elections is undoubtedly a judicial matter and cannot be
interfered by the Legislature.
The Court proved that Parliament cannot take the law in its own hands and upheld
democracy. Indira Gandhi's malicious attempts of putting her Government's
legislative powers above the Constitution came all crashing down and the
Fundamental Rights Case decision proved to be accurate and precise to its core.
- Indira Gandhi vs. Raj Narain, AIR 1975 SC 2299
- Prashant Bhushan, The Case that Shook India- The verdict that led to
- Hemant Varshney, 'Indira Nehru Gandhi Vs. Raj Narain – Case Summary'
<http://lawtimesjournal.in/indira-nehru-gandhi-v-raj-narain/> accessed on 18
- Dr. J.N.Pandey, Constitutional Law of India, Central Law Agency, 54th