Case that changed the course of Indian History

MAR. 7, 2021

The case of Indira Gandhi V Raj Narain is a landmark that had changed the course of Indian history and due to which Emergency had been imposed in India from 1975 to 1977. The case challenged and questioned the power of the Indian Judicial system, during the case we saw that how the parliament expected that the Indian Judiciary system’s power was beneath them. The Parliament tried to prove their supremacy but it was then the judiciary showcased the true power of the Indian Judicial system.

The case challenged and raised questions regarding many important parts of our Constitution such as their basic structure, jurisdictional power 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.

The case threw light on such countless parts of law and the political foundation of India. It was the first time throughout the entire existence of India that appointment of a Prime Minister was challenged. The case made a gigantic blow to the doctrine of Basic Structure of the Constitution, which was held that it couldn't be changed a couple of years earlier in the milestone judgment instance of Kesavananda Bharati versus Union of India (1973).

The hearing about the case in the Supreme court occurred during the emergency during which the major rights were suspended and press control was authorized, because of which there were no formal reviews or conceivable detailing of the case. The case had a major effect on Indian legislative issues. Here, we will read about the brief summary of the case, which can be useful for CLAT-PG.

A.N. Ray, Hans Raj Khanna, Kuttyil Kurien Mathew, M. Hameedullah Beg, Y.V. Chandrachud

Legislation Cited :-
Constitution (Thirty-Ninth Amendment) Act, 1975
Constitution (Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Act, 1971
Constitution of India, 1950
Delimitation of constituencies
Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 1975
Indian Penal Code, 1860
Prohibition Act
Representation of People (Amendment) Act, 1974
Representation of the People Act, 1951

Facts of the case :-

The High court of Allahabad had declared the prime minister election in which Indira Gandhi won as void, on the grounds of corrupt practices. On 24th April, 1971, Raj Narain challenged the Prime Minister's election by filing a petition in the Allahabad High Court and accused India Gandhi of violating the election code in the Representation of the People Act, 1951. In his petition, he stated that the election campaign of Indira Gandhi 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. The decision was challenged by Indira Gandhi in the supreme court. But as the Supreme court had been on vacation, they granted a conditional stay. Soon, emergency was declared by then President Fakhrudeen Ali Ahmad stating that the reason for it was internal disturbances but it was very apparent that the reason due to which emergency had been declared was the judgment of Allahabad High Court in the case of Raj Narain vs Uttar Pradesh.
During which the Government established by Indira Gandhi had passed the 39th constitutional amendment, which introduced Article 392A to the Constitution of India. Article 392A stated that the election of the Prime Minister and the Speaker cannot be questioned in any court of law, it can only be challenged before a committee formed by the Parliament itself. Thus, the amendment barred the Supreme Court from adjudicating Indira Gandhi’s case. Therefore, the constitutional validity of the 39th amendment was challenged by Raj Narain.

Central Issue of the case :-

Constitutional validity of 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1975


The court gave its decision on November 7, 1975. It must be kept in the mind that this was the first case when the landmark decision of Kesavananda Bharti was applied by the apex court.The apex court upheld the contention of the petitioner and declared the impugned Clause 4 of Article 329A unconstitutional.
In the words of Mathew J. the said clause destroyed essential democratic features of the Constitution viz. the resolution of an election dispute by ascertaining the adjudicative facts and applying the relevant laws. He was of the opinion that a healthy democracy can only function when there is possibility of a contest of free & fair elections. The impugned amendment destroyed that possibility therefore it is violative of Basic features of the Constitution.
Chandrachud J. found the said amendment violative of the principle of Separation of Power as it intently transferred a pure judicial function into the hands of legislature. Further, he was certain that the said amendment is also violative of Article 14 as it creates an unequal position for specific members against others.
Ray C.J. found another basic feature violated by the said amendment i.e. rule of lawwhereas Justice Khanna found the violation of norms of free & fair elections. The bench also found the said amendment violative of the principles of natural justice i.e. Audi Altrem Partem since it denies the right of fair hearing who is challenging the election of the members mentioned under the amendment. Democracy is a basic feature of Indian Constitution. The amending body i.e. Parliament is not empowered to pass a retrospective law validating an invalid election. This exercise is nothing but an example of despotic use of unrestrained and unfettered power.
The said amendment ought to transfer such determining powers to the Parliament. However, a legislative body cannot find adjudicative facts like a judicial body therefore, in the opinion of the bench the impugned amendment is nail in the coffin of democracy.
Therefore, on the varied reasons the court struck down the 39th (Amendment) Act, 1975 finding it unconstitutional and violative of Basic Structure of the Constitution.

References :-

1)Indira Nehru Gandhi (Smt.) vs Raj Narain & Anr on 24 June, 1975