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Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain: A Case that Shook India is Celebrating 45 years

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

Abstract
This article is analysis of the benchmark case Indira Gandhi v/s. Raj Narain, 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.

Introduction
Indira Gandhi vs. Raj Narain[1] 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)[1] 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.

The country 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 aside.[2]

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.

Background
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 margin.

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.[3] 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 served.

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 Bharti case.

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[1] 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.

Judgment
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.[4]

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 Constitution.

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.

Conclusion
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.

End-Notes:
  1. Indira Gandhi vs. Raj Narain, AIR 1975 SC 2299
  2. Prashant Bhushan, The Case that Shook India- The verdict that led to emergency, 1978.
  3. Hemant Varshney, 'Indira Nehru Gandhi Vs. Raj Narain Case Summary' <http://lawtimesjournal.in/indira-nehru-gandhi-v-raj-narain/> accessed on 18 October 2020.
  4. Dr. J.N.Pandey, Constitutional Law of India, Central Law Agency, 54th edition, 2014.

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