This case comment on Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain and anr. (1975 AIR 865, 1975 SCR (3) 333) is written by Md. Tauhid Karim and Navtej Singh.
I. Facts of the case
Indira Gandhi of the Congress Party ran against Raj Narain of the Janta Party for the seat of Rae Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh during the 1971 general elections. By a large margin of votes, Congress was triumphant. Raj Narain felt confident in his victory and chose to challenge Indira Gandhi’s election in the Allahabad High Court on several grounds, alleging electoral fraud.
The claims were upheld by the trial judge on two grounds, and the elections were ruled tainted by corruption. The grounds were that
(i) Gandhi had enlisted the help of an Uttar Pradesh gazette official to boost her election chances, and
(ii) She also enlisted the help of Mr. Yashpal Kapoor, a Government of India gazette officer, for the same objective. The election petitioner was later awarded costs by the High Court.
On June 12, 1975, the High Court handed down its decision, prompting Indira Gandhi to seek a cross-appeal before the Supreme Court. Indira Gandhi government declare a national emergency and many oppositions were under preventive detention and were unable to vote on the amendment.
While the cross-appeal was pending, Parliament declare a national emergency wherein many opposition leaders were under preventive detention and then Indira Gandhi Government approved the Election Regulations (Amendment) Act, 1975 (the 39th Constitutional Amendment), which retroactively altered existing laws and established parliamentary authority over appeals pending before the Court.
The case also called into doubt the constitutionality of another piece of legislation, the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act of 1974.
II. Issues discussed
- The validity of the 39th Amendment Act of 1975 has been questioned.
- Whether the 39th Amendment was constitutionally valid?
- The legality of the 1974 Representation of the People (Amendment) Act and the 1975 Election Laws (Amendment) Act.
III. Arguments from respondents side
The validity of the 39th Amendment Act was challenged by Mr. Santi Bhusan, counsel for the respondents, Mr. Raj Narain, based on the Doctrine of Basic Structure as enunciated in the case of Kesavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala.
He claimed that the 39th amendment appeared to limit the Court’s jurisdiction and thereby violated the Constitution’s basic structure. The Parliament cannot use Article 368 of the Constitution to legislate in a way that changes the Constitution’s core structure. The attorney further stated that the amendment violates the notion of separation of powers and that any matter requiring adjudication of legal rights must be left to the judiciary.
The attorney argued that allowing Prime Minister Gandhi to stay in office despite an Allahabad High Court ruling finding Mrs. Gandhi guilty of corrupt electoral tactics undermines the entire concept of democracy. Mr. Bhusan further argued that electoral matters, such as proclaiming the victor of elections, obviously fell beyond the scope of modifying Article 368.
IV. Arguments from appellants side
Shri A.K Sen representing Smt. Gandhi defended the 39th Amendment, claiming that it followed the same pattern as all other measures that change the basis of judgements and decisions issued by all competent courts and tribunals. He argued that making a judgement useless by modifying its basis through a legislative act is not an infringement on judicial power, but rather falls fully within the legislature’s purview.
He claimed that in India, the concept of separation of powers is not as strict or severe as it is in the United States or Australia. Elections and election petitions do not give rise to any issues of separation of powers. He claimed that changing the validity of a single election could not change the character of democracy and that the respondents’ questions on the essence of democracy were, therefore, ambiguous and unrealistic.
He claimed that the Act simply affected the law in terms of elections. The resolution of electoral disputes did not include the use of judicial authority. The parliament’s constituent power empowers it to make such decisions in specific instances, such as this one.
Mrs. Gandhi’s argument was also supported by jurist Shri Jagannath Kaushal, who claimed that the Allahabad High Court’s verdict was nullified since the Court ceased to have jurisdiction over the matter retrospectively and that a nullified judgement could not be challenged in a collateral procedure.
On November 7th, 1975, the long-awaited decision was handed down. Based on the notion of basic structure, the majority judgement declared the challenged clause 4 of Article 329 invalid. The Constitutional bench ruled in favour of finding the section unlawful by a 3:2 majority, with Justice Chandrachud, Justice Mathew, and Chief Justice Ray voting in favour.
The 39th amendment, according to the ruling, “would demolish a set provision of the Constitution, namely, the resolution of election disputes by the exercise of judicial power by ascertaining adjudicative facts and applying relevant law for finding the true representative of the people.”
Justice Chandrachud concluded that
“The 39th Amendment is a violation of the concept of separation of powers since it intentionally moved a solely judicial role into the hands of the legislature,”.
Another fundamental component infringed by the amendment, according to Chief Justice Ray, is the rule of law, whilst Justice Khanna found a violation of free and fair election norms.
VI. Critical Analysis
The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain case was a bold one, putting the greedy Parliament in its place in the Constitution. It was demonstrated to the Parliament that they are not alone in the democratic process and that the judiciary will always be present to protect the Constitution from the Parliament’s detrimental actions.
Even while the decision was logically correct, it was faulty in many respects in terms of fairness, equity, and good conscience. The revisions were clearly intended to remove all of the grounds on which Mrs. Indira Gandhi was held guilty by the Allahabad High Court. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, neglected to note why these amendments were made.
When many opposition leaders were placed under preventive detention and were unable to vote against the amendment (again, this was a calculated move by the Gandhi party), the Supreme Court ruled that it was a matter for Parliament and that the judiciary had no say in it, despite the fact that the Supreme Court was completely unaware of the situation. The Hon’ble Supreme Court was unmindful in handling the issue when Indira Gandhi abused her powers to amend laws accusing her of corruption. The Hon’ble Supreme Court was well aware of how Indira Gandhi had made the amendments to meet her political needs and had unpredictably forced a crisis to avoid being found guilty.
Raj Narain had to wait a long time for a response, and what he got was unfavourable thinking. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, struck down clause 4 of Article 329 as a violation of the basic structure of the constitution.
The court established that Parliament is governed by law, not the other way around. Parliament’s attempt to create supremacy and put itself above the Constitution was thwarted by the judiciary. The essence of democracy, namely free and fair elections, was upheld by the Court.
The major goal of the Amendment, in essence, was to overturn the High Court’s decision invalidating Indira Gandhi’s election. Rather than retire, she declared martial law and enacted the draconian 39th Amendment Act of 1975, which was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
The case affirmed both the Rule of Law and the Separation of Powers and made it plain that the validity or invalidation of elections is unquestionably a judicial matter that the Legislature cannot meddle with. The Court upheld democracy by demonstrating that Parliament cannot take the law into its own hands. Indira Gandhi’s nefarious attempt to elevate her government’s legislative powers above the Constitution was thwarted, and the judgement in the Fundamental Rights Case was found to be exact and precise to the core.
 AIR 1973 SC 1461.
 CONSTITUTION OF INDIA
Author: Md. Tauhid Karim and Navtej Singh Christ University, Delhi NCR