This is case involving the aftermath of the election in India. In 1971, the general elections were held where it was alleged that malpractices were committed by Indira Gandhi. Raj Narain brought before the High Court of Allahabad the case where the basic structure constitution was infringed. This is also the first case in which the Supreme Court cited the landmark case of Kesavanada Bharti V. State of Kerala in relation to the basic structure of the Constitution. Raj Narain alleged that Indira Gandhi during the election had made use of government services by Shri. Yashpal Kapoor. He further said that the appellant used government vehicles and took help from various officials falling within the corrupt practices under Representation of People Act, 1951. Further, the dispute relating to the emergency being put in the country along with the violating 39th Constitutional Amendment going against the very basic structural doctrine.
The appellant had contested the election from a constituency in Uttar Pradesh alongside the respondent. Indira Gandhi’s party, Indian National Congress (INC) won the election in the Parliament where Indira Gandhi was appointed as the Prime Minister of India. Raj Narain, the respondent, filed a petition in the High Court of Allahabad on the ground that there were malpractices conducted during the election by the elected party and specifically the appellant. The High Court held that there was indeed misuse of government’s machinery done by Indira Gandhi. It held that Indira Gandhi was found guilty under Section 123(7) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951 where it defines corrupt practices during election and specifically provides for prohibition on the obtaining or procuring, or abetting or attempting to procure any assistance from the person in the government service and it further prescribes the list of classes of people coming under the government service.
Thus, the High Court of Allahabad held that Indira Gandhi cannot remain the Prime Minister of India, seeing that she adopted corrupt practices during the election and further, will not be able to contest in election for next six years as well under Section 8A. Indira Gandhi then approached the Supreme Court through appeal on the decision of Allahabad High Court. The Supreme Court granted a stay on the proceedings since there was vacation of the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, emergency was declared in the country by the President due to the internal disturbances. Alongside that, a new amendment was brought in the Constitution with the passing of the 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1971 by adding Article 329 A to the Constitution. This Article provided that it will not be the power of the courts or judiciary to decide whether the elections of the Prime Minister, President, Vice- President and Speaker of the lower house of the Parliament was on the justifiable grounds or not.
The issues in the present case involve:
• Whether 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1975 violates the basic structure of the Constitution and is therefore constitutional invalid?
• Whether the election contested by Indira Gandhi was within the bounds of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951?
A) Validity of 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1975
The court pronounced that the 39th Amendment was goes against the constitution by violating the basic structure of the Constitution. The court cited the landmark case of Kesavananda Bharti V. State of Kerala. The court said that it is essential to understand that the concept of free and fair election forms the part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The issue that the clause 4 of the Article 329A is taken out of the scrutiny of any of the court of law puts an unnecessary restriction. This takes away the right or the power given to the judiciary by indulging of the Parliament in the function of the judiciary. The separation of power though not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution of India but can be seen through the impliedly given division of powers among the different organs of the state. When one of the organs tries to encroach the function of the other, it violates the basic structure of the Constitution. Thus, clause 4 of the Article 329 A of the amended Constitution goes against the basic structure and thus, needs to be struck down.
The basic structure doctrine propounded in the landmark case of Kesavananda Bharti V. State of Kerala says that there are certain basic features of the Constitution that cannot be destroyed through the Amendments in the Constitution. It is because these basic structures are the essence of the Constitution and on which the complete framework of the Constitution relies. Thus, this basic structure is already forms part of the inner mechanism of the Constitution which gives power to the Court to strike down legislature by the Parliament that goes against the basic structure itself. Though Article 368 gives power to the Parliament to make changes in the Constitution but these cannot take away the essence of the Constitution. The essence of the Constitution as defined in the Kesavanada Bharti case highlights its information which is the republican and democratic form of government, separation of power, unity and sovereignty of the country, supremacy of the Constitution, secular character of the Constitution, individual freedom and federal nature of the Constitution. Thus, if any legislative action that goes against this basic structure or disturbs it in any away through amendment or any procedure, it is against the very basic essence of the Constitution. Thus, one cannot violate, for example the democratic principle of the government, as it forms the part of the basic structure of the Constitution on which it functions.
The court further said that the clause 4 of Article 324 also goes against the democratic function which is the basic feature of the constitution and forms the part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Thus, by denying the right to free and fair election is unjust behaviour of the Parliament by exercising unfettered power. The court added that the legislative function of the Parliament cannot decide the matter on the adjudication as their functions are defined. It said that the principle of natural justice is also violated when the election of cannot be challenged in the courts. Moreover, when certain posts are excluded i.e., only, the Prime Minister, President, Vice-President and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and their election are not to be challenged in the court, it violates Article 14 of the Constitution as this differentiation is based on complete arbitrariness. There is no reasonable justification as to why only these posts are not to be subjected to the court’s proceedings. Thus, clause 4 of Article 324 was not valid in Constitution.
Another prevalent issue that arose was that the 39th Amendment was passed in the Parliament at the time when some of the members were under the preventive detention. The respondent alleged that there was not due procedure followed as certain opposition members were under detention and they cannot vote for the 39th Amendment. The court held that this matter is within the Houses of the Parliament and the court has no power to interfere in the working or the mechanism of the Parliament. Thus, it was not the function of the court to question the procedure of the Parliament. So, the 39th Amendment was passed within the paramount of the validity of Constitution.
B) Dispute of Election of Indira Gandhi
The Supreme Court also looked at whether the election held by Indira Gandhi violated the Representation of Peoples Act. The court said that a candidate is a person under the Act, 1975 who files the nomination papers. So, accordingly, on the date when Indira Gandhi filed for the nomination, from that date, the corrupt practices that are alleged to be committed are to be taken accountable. The issue was related to the help taken by Indira Gandhi from Shri. Yashpal Kapoor. Yashpal Kapoor who was working under the government services under the Secretary of the Ministry of Personnel and Administration. He resigned by intimating his intention through letter to the President on 13th January, 1971. This was accepted on 25th January and it was published in the Gazette on 6th January, 1971 of the resignation of Shri. Yashpal Kapoor. But according to the resignation, it became effective from 14th January, 1971. Therefore, Shri Yashpal Kapoor was not employed in the government services from the date of 14th January, 1971.
Now, Indira Gandhi filed for the nomination on 1st February, 1971 and it was alleged that Yashpal Kapoor had given speeches in the support of Indira Gandhi and violated the provision of the Act, 1951. Yashpal Kapoor was under the government services which forms the part of the list of people whose aid cannot be taken and if taken will form part of the corrupt or mal practices under Section 123 (7) of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951. The speeches were alleged to have been given from 7th January to 25th January, 1971.
But the court said that there was no proof that can be found of the endorsement made by Yashpal Kapoor for the Indira Gandhi in the election and no evidence in support of it could be brought forward. Along with that, the government service of Yashpal Kapoor terminated on 13th January and was thus, no longer an agent of the government. After 13th January, if Yashpal Singh gave any speech for Indira Gandhi during election will not be part of the corrupt practices under the Act, 1951.
The court also looked at Section 77 (b) of the Representation of the People’s Act, 1951 where it provides for what all account for the expense in election and the maximum criteria as well. The legislative provision clearly answers the question in relation to the expenditure by a political party. It says that that expenditure which is incurred by the political party in relation to the election will not amount to the expense of the candidate individually. It clearly specifies that he expenditure for the arrangements, facilities or any other act done where a person in government service under Section 123 (7) will not be considered as expenditure authorised by the candidate. Thus, Indira Gandhi who was the contesting candidate cannot be categorically held liable for the speech of Shri. Yashpal Kapoor.
This case is an important one where the Supreme Court has held that any legislation that opposes or act in conflict of the basic structure of the Constitution will not hold any value in the eyes of the law. It will be void in nature. The 39th Amendment clause 4 which gave the election of four positions, i.e., Prime Minister, President, Vice President and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha the immunity to be inspected about their election in the court was not in conformity to the basic structure. It was, in fact, cited that the Kesavanada Bharti case was of paramount importance in the present aspect. Along with that the court said that there is the free and fair election as the part of the basic structure doctrine. Thus, this 39th Amendment Act of the Constitution was held to be invalid and thus, inoperative.
Moreover, the court added that the election of the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did not violate the provision of Section 123 (7) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 as no corrupt practice can be accounted towards Indira Gandhi. There can be no evidence presented that point towards the involvement or help through the government services or Shri. Yashpal Kapoor, when he was an agent of the government. Thus, the allegations against Prime Minister Indira Gandhi towards election proceedings and expenditure were not upheld. Indira Gandhi was held not guilty and the decision of the Allahabad High Court was overturned in the present case.
Author: Arushi Anand,
Intern at Lawportal,