The Judge Who Stood Up To Indira Gandhi And Whose Judgment Shook India
Today is the death anniversary of Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha, the former judge of the Allahabad High Court, whose judgment invalidated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s election in 1975.
A look at some untouched aspects of his life.
The internationally acclaimed American author Maya Angelou’s words that “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently” reminiscences me of the great spirited judge of the Indian judiciary who’s Judgment changed the discourse of the existing Indian Politics.
Yes, I am trying to hark back on the untouched aspects of the life of Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha, the former judge of the High Court of Allahabad, whose judgment of invalidating Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s election in the famous case of ‘State of Uttar Pradesh v. Rajnarain’ brought his courage, honesty and vitality to international recognition. The ‘Times of India’ had compared this judgment as “Firing the Prime Minster for a traffic ticket”.
The Conclusion of arguments from both the sides
With the conclusions of the arguments in this case, the long wait for the judgment began.Both sides were equally hopeful of winning the case. Shanti Bhushan, who had argued this case on behalf of Rajnarain believed that he had better chances of winning.
Indira Gandhi’s counsels, on the other hand, ridiculed the idea of the case being decided against the Prime Minster. The general opinion outside the Allahabad High Court was that the judge would not have enough courage to declare the election void.
The fact of the Prime Minster being the respondent overawed the people, who made their speculations independent of the merits of the case.
Justice Sinha’s confidential conversation with his Private Secretary
Justice Sinha had constantly been taking notes of the arguments. Thus, as soon as the Court closed, he was ready to write the judgment. Before beginning to dictate it, he asked his Private Secretary gravely, “I don’t want the judgment to leak out to anyone, not even to your wife. It is a big responsibility. Can you undertake it?” The Secretary had been with the Judge for a long time and was a trusted man. He swore not to disclose the judgment even to his own wife.
Justice Sinha went into seclusion to write the judgment
The Judge wanted to write his judgment in peace. But as soon as the Court closed, he started receiving daily visits, from a Congress MP of Allahabad, which annoyed him immensely. He requested the person not to visit him.
But when he persisted, the judge had to ask his neighbour, justice Parekh, to request the MP to stop bothering him. When even this didn’t succeed, he decided to disappear. He ‘disappeared’ inside his house, not appearing even in his own verandah.
All visitors calling on him were told that he had gone to Ujjain, where his brother resided. He didn’t receive any phone calls either. So from 28 May till 7 June, no one was able to meet him, not even his closest friends.
Before he went into seclusion, however, the judge had another distinguished visitor. In the course of their conversation the distinguished visitor mentioned that he had been to Delhi recently and that he had heard Justice Sinha’s name being mentioned in high political circles there, for elevation to the Supreme Court. Justice Sinha was shrewd enough to understand the implications. He said that he is too small a man for that big chair.
Justice Sinha Got a Phone Call from Chief Justice of Allahabad
The judgment was almost completed by 7 June. Around that date, Justice Sinha got a phone call from Dehradun. Since it was the Chief Justice of Allahabad calling, justice Sinha had to talk to him. The Chief Justice said that the additional secretary of the Home Ministry, PP Nair had met him and he wanted the judgment to be postponed till July.
Justice Sinha was angry at this request. After telling the Chief Justice that this was not possible, he immediately drove down to the High Court, to order the Registrar to inform the parties and the press that the judgment would be delivered on 12 June. The parties were consequently informed and Shanti Bhushan was in Mumbai when the news reached him.
The Private Secretary of the Judge was threatened and a special task force of the CID was employed to find out the contents of the Judgment
Meanwhile, things were warming up in Allahabad. A special task force of the CID was employed to find out the contents of the judgment. They went to the house of justice Sinha’s secretary, Manna Lal, late on the night of 11 June.
He was asked to disclose the judgment. He said that he didn’t know it, (which had an element of truth in it, because the crucial parts of the judgment were added at the last moment by Justice Sinha). When he stayed mum even after much coaxing, they left with a veiled threat- “We will come back in half an hour. You better tell us the judgment then, if you know what is good for you.”
Manna Lal was frightened, and didn’t waste any time. Packing off his wife to the house of some relatives, he quickly went to seek refuge in Justice Sinha’s house. For that night, he was saved.In the morning he went back to his house to get ready. Just before 8:00 AM, a fleet of cars arrived at his house. The CID was back.
They again inquired about the judgment and told Manna Lal that Mrs Gandhi herself was on the hotline. He could tell her the judgment personally. He said that he was getting late and left for Justice Sinha’s house.
Manna’s Lal harassment didn’t end there. After the judgment, for many days CID kept coming to him to find out about justice Sinha’s visitors during June. They also wanted to find out whether the judge’s lifestyle had changed lately.
The counsel of Rajnarain, Shanti Bhushan, was also lured by the then Attorney General in a dinner party who had given a subtle hint that, “A new post of Additional attorney General could be created for him”.
The Day of the Judgment
It was finally 12 June. The High Court compound was swarming with policemen. Justice Sinha’s courtroom was packed by 9:30 AM. The excited and restive crowd in the courtroom waited for the judge to arrive. Justice Sinha was greeted by the glare of flash bulbs as he drove into the Court compound at 9:50 AM. True to his characteristic punctuality, he entered the courtroom exactly at 10 AM. Everyone got up for the judge, who bowed and sat down. A hush fell in the courtroom.
The Judge looked at the crowd and started reading out the operative order. He began: “In view of my findings on Issue No. 3 and Issue No. 1 read with additional issue No. 1, additional issue No. 2 and additional issue No. 3, the petition is allowed and the election of Smt. Indira Nehru Gandhi, respondent No. 1, to the Loksabha is declared void.”
The rest of the order was lost in the roar which reverberated in the courtroom. The judge read the rest of the order quickly and left the courtroom. No body heard him. The crowd was raising loud cheers of “Raj Narain Ki Jai,” “Shanti Bhushan Ki Jai.” They had gone berserk with joy.
While there were boisterous cheers in the petitioner’s camp, there was despondency and gloom among Mrs Gandhi lawyers. Mr SC Khare, the counsel of the Prime Minster was dumbstruck. It was evident that he never expected this judgment. The judgment of Justice Sinha ran into 258 pages.
Reactions upon the Judgment
The Statesman in an article titled, “A Time to Resign” commented that after this judgment, Mrs Gandhi would not be able to command the confidence of the Party or of the nation. Advising her to resign, they warned, “By not resigning, she will be guilty of far more than any violation of an electoral law.”
The western world, however, was pleasantly surprised at the decision, which was in their eyes an indication of a healthy democracy. An effigy of justice Sinha was also burnt by frenzied Congress supporters. The rumbling set off by the judgment had their culmination in the midnight coup of 26 June 1975, when the India witnessed the ‘Blackest day’ in its democracy which ran till 20 March 1977, in the form of ‘Emergency’ which is still a blot on Mrs Indira Gandhi, in particular, and Congress Party, in general.
Note: The major part of this article is a reproduction of the narratives mentioned in the book “The Case that Shook India” authored by Prashant Bhushan, an eminent lawyer practicing in Supreme Court of India, and the son of Shanti Bhushan who was the counsel for Rajnarain. This book is out of print now. The narrator has been a former intern of Prashant Bhushan.
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