Indira Gandhi v Raj Narain

Indira Gandhi v Raj Narain (Case Summary)

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Title: Indira Gandhi v Raj Narain

Citation: AIR 1975 SC 2299

Petitioner: Indira Nehru Gandhi

Respondent: Raj Narain &Anr.

Bench: A. N. Ray (Cj), Justice H. R. Khanna, Justice M. H. Beg, justice K. K. Mathew and justice Y. V. Chandrachud

Date of judgement: 7 November, 1975


The case is one of the most controversial cases in the history of Indian judiciary as it involved dispute regarding the election of Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi and validity of 39th Constitutional amendment act, 1975 which was enacted during the period of emergency in India.


Raj Narain was contesting in lok sabha elections of 1971from the constituency of Rai Bareilly against Indira Nehru Gandhi. Raj Narain was very confident of his victory and celebrated even before the result of the elections. To his surprise, he was defeated by Indira Gandhi by a huge difference in votes. Raj Narain was very disappointed but did not accepted his defeat. Post elections, he approached before the Allahabad High Court on 24th April 1971 and accused Indira Gandhi for adopting corrupt measures during her election campaigns and also violating the election code of enshrined in the Representation of the People Act, 1951. He accused Indira Gandhi for taking corrupt steps for procuring her victory in elections such as bribery, usage of government vehicles for transport and utilization of state resources. He also alleged that Indira Gandhi for specifically taking help of government employee, Yashpal Kapur for her election campaign and also appealed to the voters by distributing clothes and liquor. Raj Narain also accused her for exceeding the established ‘election budget’ which was 35000 rupees.

Judgement of High Court

The Allahabad High Court ruled in favour of Raj Narain and held Indira Gandhi guilty for adopting corrupt election measures under Sec. 123 (7) of Representatives of People’s Act thereby declaring her election void.

Aggrieved by the High Court’s decision, Indira Gandhi filed an appeal before the Supreme Court but since the apex court was on vacation at that time, a conditional stay was granted on the issue on 24th June, 1975. Indira Gandhi was allowed to act as the prime minister for the meantime but was refrained from voting in the parliament. But later due to internal disturbances the president issued the state of emergency under Article 360 of the Constitution of India. During this period Indira Gandhi’s government passed the 39th Constitutional Amendment act, 1975 which incorporated article 329A in the Constitution and according to which the election of prime minister and speaker connote be challenged before any court of law, it can only be challenged before a committee formed by the Parliament itself. The 39th Constitutional Amendment act also placed Representation of People Amendment Act, 43 of 1951, Representation of People Amendment Act, 1974 and Election Laws Amendment Act, 1975 in the 9th schedule of the Constitution. Hence through this amendment the Indira Gandhi’s election case was above the jurisdiction of any court of law in India.


  • Whether clause 4 and 5 of Article 329A which was incorporated by the 39th Constitutional Amendment act, 1975 was constitutionally Valid?
  • Whether or not the Representation of People Amendment Act, 1974 and Election Laws Amendment Act, 1975 was constitutionally valid?
  • Validity of Indira Gandhi’s election.


Arguments in favour of Respondent: (Mr. Shanti Bhushan appeared on behalf of the respondents)

  • The respondent argued that the amendment act was against the doctrine of basic structure which was propounded by the apex court in the case of Keshavnanda Bharti v Union Of India[1].
  • Under Article 368 of Indian Constitution, the parliament has the power to amend the Constitution but that power is not absolute and therefore the parliament cannot amend any basic structure by formulating arbitrary laws.
  • The 39th Constitutional Amendment act, 1975 takes away the power of Jurisdiction of the courts in respect to the election of prime minister and speaker and therefore is against the doctrine of separation of power granted by the Constitution of India. Judicial Review is one of the most important powers given to the Indian Judiciary as the guardian of the fundamental rights.
  • Free and fair elections are key features of a democratic nation and therefore a threat to it can endanger the peace and order of the country. The court thus has a great responsibility to oversee that these elections are conducted in a proper and fair manner.
  • The respondent argued that the amendment was illegal because during its passage, a number of M.Ps from opposition were in preventive detention and even with 2/3rd majority, constituent power cannot exercise executive/judicial power, which in this case it has tried to.

Arguments in favour of Petitioner:

  • The learned Attorney General appeared on behalf of the petitioner argued before the court that the case of Keshavnanda Bharti was not an authority to decide if the election would be free and fair without judicial review. The former case dealt with the amendment aspect of the Constitution and not the election procedure.
  • The petitioner argued that the Constitution of many countries leave the election disputes in the jurisdiction of the legislature.
  • Judicial Review can be excluded in appropriate cases as a matter of policy and this exclusion does not violate article 14 of the Indian Constitution.


Constitutional validity of article 329A

This was the first time when the decision of Keshavnanda Bharti case was applied by the apex court. The apex court ruled in favour of the respondents and held that the clause (4) of article 329A was unconstitutional since it hampered the standard of free and fair elections which is an essential feature of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. The court observed that the clause that the clause (4) and (5) of the article 329A was arbitrary in nature and could destroy the rule of law. Chandrachud Justice found the amendment as violative of the principle of separation of powers as it grants the legislature with judicial function as well in the respect to the disputes arising in the prime minister’s election. The bench also found the amendment to be against the norms of natural justice as 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. It was also observed that the said amendment was against the democratic notions of the Indian Constitution and the parliament is not empowered to pass a retrospective law to validate an election dispute. Therefore on varied reasons the court struck down the clause (4) and (5) of article 329A incorporated in the Constitution by the 39th amendment act.

Constitutional validity of Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 1974 and the Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 1975

The Court struck down all the arguments relating to the invalidity of the Representation of People (Amendment) Act, 1974 and the Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 1975 and held that for an ordinary law to be valid it must pass two tests. According to the first test the law must be within the legislative competence of the Legislature as defined and specified in Chapter I, Part XI of the Constitution, and according to the second it must not offend against the provisions of Article 13(1) and (2) of the Constitution. Thus in the present case Parliament had acted within the powers of Article 368 when it framed the election laws. In addition to this, the Parliament has the powers to restrict the limits on election expenses along with stating which expenses can fall under the purview of the same and which cannot. The court thus held the statutes to be constitutionally valid.

Validity of the election of Indira Gandhi

As for the allegations against Indira Nehru Gandhi of taking help of government officials in respect to her elections the court held that Indira Gandhi filed for nomination on 1st February 1971, therefore any help or assistance that she took from the government officials and the armed forces before this date did not amount to a corrupt practice. The court also observed that Yashpal Kapur had given his resignation to the president on 13th January 1971, which was acknowledged on 24tg January 1971. Indira Gandhi had appointed Yashpal Kapur as her election agent on 1st February 1971 and by that time Yashpal Kapur was not a government official and therefore any assistance from his side could not be accounted as a corrupt practice. As per Section 83(1)(b) and 123(6) of The People’s Representative Act, 1951, Voluntary expenditure by friends, relations, or sympathisers and expenditure incurred by a candidate’s party without any request or authorisation by the candidate has never been deemed to be expenditure by the candidate himself. The Court also held that as per Section 77 of The People’s Representative Act, 1951, Expenditure incurred by a political party in connection with the election of the candidates of the party is not a part of the election expenses of the candidate. Similarly participation in the programme of activity organised by a political party will not fall within the election expenses of the candidate of the party. The court thus overruled the judgment passed by the Allahabad High Court and held the election of Indira Gandhi to be constitutionally valid.

Thus the entire judgement of the five-judge bench can be summarised in following points:

  • The apex court upheld the contention of Raj Narain and declared the impugned clause (4) and (5) of Article 329A unconstitutional.
  • Representation of People’s (Amendment) Act, 1974 & Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 1975 were considered to be constitutionally valid.
  • Election of Indira Gandhi, from her constituency Rae Bareli, was considered to be valid and was stripped of all the charges imposed by the Allahabad High Court Judgement.


The Supreme Court in the case once again proved that no power is above the Constitution, the law of the land. In the present case parliament had through its arbitrary actions had taken away the Court’s power of judicial review in matters of election dispute of prime minister and speaker but the court struck down the unconstitutional law and therefore upheld the principle of separation of powers and the basic structure of the Constitution of India. The court proved that Parliament is by law and it cannot take law in its own hands. Parliament’s recent course to establish its supremacy was ruined by the Judiciary. The controversy still exist regarding the decision of upholding the validity of Indira Gandhi’s election as according to the infamous Allahabad High Court Judgement she was found guilty for adopting corrupt measures during her election campaign. But overall the parliament’s effort to supersede the Constitution was ruined by the Judiciary.

[1]AIR 1973 SC 1461

This blog is written by Alok Dubey, Asian Law College.

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