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A Court verdict that unseated Indira Gandhi and galvanised 1975 Emergency

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

NewDelhi: While, giving his speech on the occasion of foundation stone laying ceremony of the new building complex of the Allahabad High Court by President Ram Nath Kovind, Chief Justice NV Ramana harked back to a historical judgment of 1975, disqualifying the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, and termed it a “judgment of great courage”.

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Talking about it he said, “The Allahabad High Court has a history of more than 150 years. In 1975, it was Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha, who passed the judgement disqualifying PM Indira Gandhi, which shook the nation,” he said.

The Chief Justice further called the order “the judgment of great courage, which could be said to have directly resulted in the declaration of Emergency. The consequences of which I do not want to elaborate now.”

Refraining himself from divulging more about it, the top Judge excused himself explaining and said, “the judgment of great courage, which could be said to have directly resulted in the declaration of Emergency. The consequences of which I do not want to elaborate now.”

While Chief Justice NV Ramana, didn’t go further with the topic due to the limited time restriction, here we, the team PardaPhash, have compiled all the information related to that “courageous judgement” that was penned down by Justice Sinha in a locked room after four years of hearing of the case. 

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The June 12, 1975 verdict of the Allahabad High Court convicted the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of electoral malpractices and debarred her from holding public office for six years. It is widely believed that it was this verdict that led to imposition of Emergency in India for two years, on June 25, 1975.

The hearing of the case had taken four years and the judgement was reserved on May 23, 1975. 

The dispute was raised after Indira Gandhi won the 1971 Lok Sabha election from Rae Bareli Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh convincingly defeating maverick Raj Narain, who had contested the elections against her and lost. The socialist leader then went on to challenged her election alleging electoral malpractices and violation of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and filed an election petition to unseat the winning candidate.

It was alleged that her election agent Yashpal Kapoor was a government servant and that she used government officials for personal election related work, hence it was electoral malpractice.

It is said that while Kapoor performed miserably as a witness, Team Indira took a fatal decision to offer up the Prime Minister herself as a witness. Gandhi’s counsel petitioned Justice Sinha to have Indira examined by a commission. This was, however, declined on the grounds that a Commission would not have the power to disallow any question. And when Pandit Kanhaya Lal Mishra, a former Advocate General of UP, heard of this move he cautioned Mrs Gandhi against this suicidal decision. 

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While, convicting Indira Gandhi of electoral malpractices, Justice Sinha debarred her from Parliament and imposed a six-year ban on her from holding any elected post falls in this category.

“The respondent no. I (Indira Gandhi) was thus guilty of a corrupt practice under section 123(7) of the Act…..accordingly stands disqualified for a period of six years from the date of this order…,” Justice Sinha pronounced to a stunned Indira Gandhi who was present in person in the court.

However, an appeal was filed by Indira Gandhi in the Supreme Court, and Justice VR Krishna Iyer – a vacation judge of the – on June 24, 1975 granted a conditional stay on Justice Sinha’s verdict and allowed her to continue as Prime Minister, but still she was debarred from taking part in parliamentary proceedings and draw salary as an MP.

To everyone’s surprise, the very next day she imposed the Emergency suspending all fundamental rights, putting opposition leaders in jails and imposing censorship on the media.

While the Emergency was in force, the Supreme Court later overturned her conviction on November 7, 1975.

The secrecy of the verdict was such that Justice Sinha had allegedly disappeared into the innards of his house, not even appearing in the verandah until the final draft was ready. All visitors were turned back with a white lie that “the judge was visiting Indore”.

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Contemporary legal historians have asserted that first time in the history of legal history, the security of the Prime Minister was managed by lawyers of the High Court who formed a human chain when Mrs Gandhi came to Court. While, Registrar was instructed to spare no effort to ensure that the sanctity and the dignity of the Court was maintained despite the presence of the Prime Minister, the lawyers were strictly instructed not to stand up when Mrs Gandhi arrived, as that honour was reserved only for the judge. Indira’s own counsel S C Khare reportedly “half rose”.

Interestingly, in an important concession, Mrs Gandhi, who was present as the witness, was permitted to be seated on a chair higher than that of the other lawyers but lower than that of the Justice Sinha. 

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