(The case is summarized by Dev Agarwal, a student of Heritage Law College, Calcutta University)
Indira Nehru Gandhi vs. Raj Narain is the case that changed the political scenario of India as it resulted in the imposition of Emergency (1975-1977), perhaps the darkest period of independent India, where rights of the citizens were crushed, the political rivals were jailed and tortured, dissenters were punished for having an opinion which was not identical with that of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her government.
CITATION – AIR 1975 SC 2299
CASE NUMBER – Review Petition in Civil Appeal No. 887 and 909 of 1975
- N Ray, CJ
- R Khanna, J
- H Beg, J
- K. Mathew, J
- V Chandrachud, J.
DATE OF JUDGEMENT – 7 November 1975
Raj Narain was a politician who belonged to Ram Manohar Lohia’s Samyukta Socialist Party and was contesting from the Rae Bareilly constituency in Uttar Pradesh against the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Raj Narain was confident of winning his elections from Rae Bareilly but the results were not what he expected, Indira Gandhi won the elections with a very large margin and dejected Raj Narain challenged this election of Indira Gandhi in the Allahabad High Court alleging that she used malpractices to win the elections and violated the code enshrined in The Representation of People Act, 1951 as there were many government officials who assisted her during her election campaign. It was alleged by Narain that her election campaign surpassed the maximum limit allowed to be spent on a campaign.
The Allahabad High Court declared the election of Indira Gandhi from Rae Bareilly constituency as void. Indira Gandhi then appealed against it in the Supreme Court but during that time Supreme Court was on vacation and since she was the Prime Minister, she was granted the conditional stay. Soon after this, the Indira Gandhi government declared Emergency on the grounds of internal disturbance. The stay order of Supreme Court turned out to be the biggest blunder ever made, Indira Gandhi government also introduced the 39th Constitutional Amendment and passing this bill was not a herculean task as almost every Member of Parliament from the Opposition were in jail. The 39th Amendment Bill provided that the elections of the Speaker and Prime Minister cannot be reviewed or questioned by the Court and only a Committee constituted by the Parliament can look into this matter. This provision was challenged in the Supreme Court
ARGUMENTS PUT FORWARD
Counsel for Raj Narain, Shanti Bhushan argued that since most of the Parliamentarians were in jail or under detention and were not able to attend the Parliament and vote for or against the Constitutional Amendment, thus this Amendment was not democratically passed, to which Supreme Court held that even if the opposition parliamentarians were present, it would have hardly made any difference as the government was enjoying a landslide majority and even if they were present, it could not have stopped the government from passing the Constitutional Amendment.
Raj Narain also alleged that Indira Gandhi was assisted by serving government officials in her campaign, Raj Narain accused Yashpal Kapoor for being a government serving and yet campaigning for Indira Gandhi. Supreme Court held that since Yashpal Kapoor handed over his resignation to President on 13th January 1971 which was acknowledged on 25th January 1971 by the President with effect from 14th January 1971 by means of a notice published on 6th February 1971. Indira Gandhi had selected Yashpal Kapoor as her agent for elections on 1st February 1971. Yashpal Kapoor ceased to be a government officer after 13th January 1971, so the campaigning which he did for Indira Gandhi after that day was not a corrupt practice. The Supreme Court also held that the maximum limit of Rs.35000 which was the maximum amount a candidate can spend on his/her campaign does not include the political rallies conducted by that candidate’s political party in support for the candidate.
The Supreme Court validated the election of Indira Gandhi but it struck down the clause 4 of Article 392A on the grounds that it violated the “Basic Structure of Constitution”. This was the first case where the concept of Basic Structure came into play, which was adopted by the Supreme Court in the Kesavananda Bharti case. Justice Mathew opined that “a healthy democracy can only function when there is the possibility of free and fair elections; The impugned amendment destroyed that possibility and therefore violated the basic structure of the Constitution”.
Chief Justice Ray was of the opinion that the clause violated the rule of law which was another Basic Structure of the Constitution. Justice H.R Khanna observed that free and fair election is the basic feature of democracy and the impugned amendment violated the concept of free and fair elections. All the judges were of the opinion that the Amendment violated the concept of Natural Justice.
The Supreme Court in this case added the following in the list of Basic Features of Indian Constitution;
- Rule of Law.
- Democracy which implies free and fair elections.
- Judicial Review.
- Jurisdiction of Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.