Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain

Author: Aeshita Marwah, a student of University of Petroleum and Energy Studies

Case commentary: Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain

Bench: Krishnaiyer, V.R.

Petitioner: Indira Nehru Gandhi (Smt.)


Respondent: Raj Narain & Anr.

Date of Judgment: 24/06/1975

Citation: 1975 AIR 1590 1975 SCC (2) 159

For many reasons, the case of Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain was a watershed moment. It was the first time in independent India’s history that a Prime Minister’s election was postponed. In the Kesavanada Bharati case[1], it was also the first time a constitutional amendment was overturned by applying the idea of basic structure. It was also the first time that election laws were altered retroactively to justify the Prime Minister’s voided election.

In the 1971 parliamentary elections to the Fifth Sabha in India, Indira Gandhi campaigned aggressively for her and her party, driving Congress towards victory with a total capturing of 352 of 518 seats in votes. Raj Narain, leader of Ram Manohar Lohia’s SSP, has been campaigning against Indira Gandhi during the Rae Bareilly election in Uttar Pradesh. In his election win, Raj Narain was so convinced that before the results were released, he had held a victory rally.

When he was lost by such a wide electoral margin, Raj Narain was saddened. Raj Narain refuses the loss and decides to submit a lawsuit for electoral annulment, alleging Indira Gandhi throughout her election campaigns of doing fraudulent crimes. On 24 April 1971, he brought a suit before the High Court of Allahabad accusing Indira Gandhi, in support of her election campaigns with the help of numerous government staff including the army and local police, of breached the electoral code enshrined in the Representation of the People’s Act of 1952.  He also stated that Indira Gandhi used government cars to campaign for elections, provided them wine and clothing to influence them, and exceeded the Rs 35.000 limit of campaign expenditure.


In 1971 Indira Gandhi and her party won the 5th Lok Sabha elections, with a total of 352 out of 518 seats. Ram Manohar Lohia’s leader, Raj Narain was ruling the Rae Bareilly seat, and her opposition was Raj Narain. He lost a large margin, notwithstanding his trust in his triumph over Mrs. Gandhi.

Deluded by his defeat, the President filed an appeal for Indira Gandhi to declare his election null and invalid, alleging him of using unscrupulous techniques to claim victory. On 24 April 1971, Gandhi was charged with breaching the electoral code by Gandhi in the 1951 Representation of the People’s Act by the High Court in the Allahabad Challenges Representation in Election. He added that a huge number of officials, including members of the military and local police, supported her electoral activities.

In addition, he said that Indira Gandhi utilized government cars for her election campaigns and provided whiskey and blankets to citizens to persuade them to vote for her, surpassing campaign expenditures. On June 12, 1975, the Allahabad High Court ruled Indira Gandhi’s election unlawful due to corrupt practices. The court, speaking under Justice Jag Mohanlal Sinha, held Indira Gandhi guilty of exploiting government machinery under Section 123(7) of the Representative of the People Act, 1951. As a result, she was forbidden from running for office for the next six years. Dissatisfied with the ruling, she filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, but the Court was on vacation at the time and only granted an execution delay.

Following that, the then-President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad imposed a state of emergency, citing internal disturbances, although it is apparent that the “true cause” for the emergency was the Allahabad High Court’s decision in the case of Raj Narain versus Uttar Pradesh. On August 10, 1975, the 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1971 was passed, inserting Article 329-A into the Constitution, which completely barred the Supreme Court from hearing election cases, rendering the elections of President, Prime Minister, Vice-President, and Speaker of Lok Sabha unjustifiable in a court of law.

What is the constitutional validity of ARTICLE 329-A (4)?

The doctrine of Basic Structure

In the Kesavanada Bharati decision, the Supreme Court established the fundamental structure concept. According to the idea of fundamental structure, the parliament’s absolute right to change the constitution is subject to only one restriction: it must not dilute or violate the fundamental structure of the constitution, or the implications of the amendment must not be disruptive in nature to the fundamental structure. The following were the contents of the fundamental structure as specified by the judges:

  • Constitutional supremacy
  • Forms of government include republican and democratic.
  • The constitution’s secular nature
  • The constitution’s federal nature
  • Power separation
  • India’s Unity and Sovereignty
  • Individual liberty

Article 368 of the Constitution empowers Parliament to update the Constitution by expanding, modifying, or repealing any provision following the method outlined in that article. It was said that Clause (4) of Article 329-A should be repealed since it breached the criterion of free and fair elections, which is a fundamental aspect of the Constitution’s basic framework. It is clear that the only option to address any disagreement that emerges during an election is by judicial review, and article 329-A strips the court of these privileges. Free and fair elections are essential aspects of democracy, and if elections are won with malice, the courts must act to guarantee justice is done.

The respondent asserted that under Article 368, the Parliament is only authorized to put down “general principles” that regulate the organs of the state, citing the 1973 case of Kesvananda Bharti. As a result, while determining whether the finding is legal or not is a judicial prerogative under Articles 329 and 136, the aforementioned change has the potential to upset the nation’s democratic framework.

The constitutional validity of Representation of People’s (Amendment) Act, 1974 and Election laws (Amendment) Act, 1975

The 39th constitutional amendment was enacted although numerous members of Parliament were absent due to preventative detention. The change eliminated judicial review and the separation of powers, both of which are essential components of the fundamental framework. Article 368 does not provide the parliament with the authority to make decisions in any dispute by amending the constitution. Article 324A (4) is claimed to be in the jurisdiction of the courts and is not covered by Article 368. The amendment shattered the concept of equality; there should be no distinction between persons in high positions and those elected to Parliament.

Raj Narain said that because many opposition leaders were held in preventative custody, they were unable to vote in parliamentary proceedings or express their thoughts when the 39th amendment was ratified, and so the statute must be repealed. The court determined that the subject was between both Houses of Parliament and that the court could not intervene and evaluate its constitutional legality. It was also highlighted that under Articles 352 and 359, the President did not approve any detention.

In considerations of constitutional legitimacy, the statute is solely dependent on the presence of legislative powers and the limitations imposed by Article 13, there is no other prohibition, and the Parliament operated within the authorities granted by Article 368 when it drafted the election rules. Furthermore, the Parliament has the authority to reduce the limitations on election spending, as well as to specify which expenditure is permissible and which is not. It can also decide what is meant by the office of profit, what falls under corruption, and the members’ position. If the legislative modification has a retroactive impact, it is acknowledged as a routine exercise that is difficult to accomplish but unavoidable. There can be no discrimination or unfairness based on the fact that the law is retrospective in nature in such circumstances when the law has a retrospective impact and if the legislation was operative in the past.

Was the election of Indira Gandhi valid?

The Supreme Court ruled that the term “candidate” in Section 123(7) of The People’s Representative (Amendment) Act, 1975, refers to the individual who files nomination papers. It was therefore argued that because Indira Gandhi registered for nomination on February 1, 1971, any support or aid she received from government officials and the armed forces before that date did not constitute a corrupt practice.

The Court further determined that Yashpal Kapoor submitted his resignation letter to the President on January 13, 1971, which was recognized on January 25, 1971, with effect from January 14, 1971, via a notice published on February 6, 1971. On February 1, 1971, Indira Gandhi appointed Yashpal Kapoor as her election agent. Yashpal Kapoor no longer served as a government office after January 13, 1971, hence the help he supplied to Indira Gandhi after that date was not corrupt.

Raj Narain claimed that Yashpal Kapoor delivered a series of speeches in favor of Indira Gandhi from January 7th to January 25th, 1971; however, the court found no evidence that he delivered such statements with Indira Gandhi’s approval. The Court ruled that, under Section 77 of the People’s Representative Act of 1951, expenditure expended by a political party to elect its candidates is not included in the candidate’s election expenditures. Similarly, participation in a political party’s activity program will not be included in the candidate’s election costs.


By Respondent

The petitioner’s major argument centered on the 39th amendment, which affects the “fundamental structure of the Constitution” and also removes the authority of a jurisdiction of courts under election petitions, which is unjust to the judiciary. They claimed that the Legislature’s job is to legislate and that it may make and pass laws. The judiciary, on the other hand, has the authority to judge whether a statute is constitutionally legitimate.

Article 14[1] ensures equality before the law and equal legal protection. When such legislation was approved, the President elevated himself and others above the law, which was unjustified. As established in the Fundamental Rights Case, the rule of law and judicial review are intrinsic parts of the constitution and cannot be changed.

The amendment was enacted even though there was no majority of MPs in the house who could vote in favor or against it. Finally, Article 368 does not provide Parliament with the authority to change the Constitution to determine who wins or loses an election.

By Petitioners

The petitioners argued that the majority ruling in the Kesvananda Bharti case cannot be used to determine whether the elections will be free and fair. They stated that while the Constitutions of different nations leave election disputes to the Legislature, several articles in our Constitution demonstrate that judicial review might be avoided in such instances as a matter of policy.

Returning to the landmark case, they noted how Kesvananda Bharti and Shankari Prasad both dealt with the meaning of the word “amendment” rather than the scope of electoral conflicts. Finally, they claimed that the rule of law is not a component of the essential framework, and that, aside from Article 14, our Constitution does not acknowledge either the theory of equality or the rule of law.


The court issued its verdict on November 7, 1975, and this was the first instance in which the landmark ruling in the Kesvananda Bharti case was implemented. The Supreme Court supported the respondent’s argument and ruled that clause (4) of Article 329-A was invalid.

According to Mathew J, Article 329-A (4) damaged the core foundation of the constitution. He believed that a “healthy democracy” can only function if free and fair elections are possible, and the challenged amendment eliminated that possibility.

According to Chandrachud J., “the 39th amendment violates the concept of separation of powers since it intentionally moved a solely judicial duty into the hands of the legislature.” Furthermore, he was confident that the aforementioned alteration violated Article 14 since it produced inequity for certain members in comparison to others.”

Ray C.J. ruled that the aforementioned change infringed another fundamental element, namely the rule of law, but Justice Khanna held that “the infringement of principles of free and fair elections.” The bench further concluded that the aforementioned amendment breached the norms of natural justice, namely Audi alteram partem, by denying the right to a fair hearing to the person who is contesting the election of the members specified in the amendment. Democracy is a fundamental tenet of the Indian Constitution. Parliament lacks the authority to make a bill retroactively recognizing an illegitimate election. This is nothing more than a demonstration of tyrannical use of unrestricted and unfettered power.”

Critical analysis of the judgment

In the Indira Gandhi vs. Raj Narain case, the court judged the “greedy” Parliament in its appropriate position in the Constitution. The verdict was a brave one. The Parliament has been shown that it is not alone in democracy and that the court is always here to safeguard the Constitution from Parliament’s damaging acts.

But although the judgment was valid in theory, justice, equality and good awareness were in many ways defective. All the reasons for why Mrs. Indira Gandhi was held guilty by the Allahabad High Court and was deleted from the modifications. But first of all, the reasons for the amendments were overlooked by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court determined, as a matter for the Parliament, when several opposition lawmakers were put under pre-emptive detention and could not vote against the amendment, that the judicial system had no vote on it, of which the Supreme Court was ignorant. Indira Gandhi was reckless when she used her power to amend the laws that accused her of corruption.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court was well aware of how Indira Gandhi had made the adjustments to meet her political needs and had unpredictably created the crisis to avoid being found guilty. Raj Narain had to sit for an extended period, and all he received was a negative thought. The Supreme Court did, however, strike down clause 4 of Article 329 as a violation of the essential structure.


The court found that Parliament, not the other way around, is regulated by law. The courts defeated the search for parliamentary domination and its attempt to rise above the Constitution. However, the Court upheld the core of democracy, namely free and fair elections.

In brief, the main objective of the amendment was to reverse the verdict of the High Court, which deemed the election of Indira Gandhi illegal. It proclaimed an emergency, rather than exiting it, by adopting the draconian 39th amending Act of 1975, which was subsequently invalidated by the Supreme Court. The ruling endorsed both the Rule of Law and the Separation of Power, which made clear that elections are undoubtedly legal or illegal and cannot be detracted from the Legislature.

The Court has shown that the legislation cannot be taken by Parliament while respecting democracy. The insidious attempts made by Indira Gandhi to raise the legislative powers of her Government beyond the Constitution were broken, and the verdict of the Fundamental Rights Case was both true and accurate.

[1] (1973) 4 SCC 225; AIR 1973 SC 1461