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Kesavananda Bharti and others vs State of Kerala: When democracy was saved in 1973

New Delhi, Sep 07: Kesavananda Bharti will always remain etched in the history of India. He lent his name to one of the most iconic cases in India called the Kesavananda Bharti and others vs the State of Kerala. It was on his petition that the Supreme Court delivered the landmark verdict.

Kesavananda Bharti and others vs State of Kerala: When democracy was saved in 1973

Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were among a host of leaders who condoled the death of the 79-year old Kerala-based seer, saying he will be remembered for his service to the people.

Police said Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru died at the Edaneer Mutt due to age related ailments. "As per the information with us, he passed away at around 3.30 AM on Sunday," the police told PTI.

People from all walks of life paid homage to the departed seer at the Edneer Mutt of which he became the head over five decades ago.

While the seer did not get the relief he wanted, the case became significant for its landmark judgment which clipped the widest power of Parliament to amend the Constitution and simultaneously gave judiciary the authority to review any amendment.

The case in which Bharati had challenged Kerala Land Reform laws nearly four decades ago set the principle that the Supreme Court is the guardian of the basic structure of the Constitution and the verdict involved 13 judges, the largest bench ever to sit in the top court.

Constitution above all:

In simplified terms, the verdict delivered by the Supreme Court in this case ensured that the Constitution of India was supreme. This verdict was one of the historic and was pathbreaking in nature.

The verdict was delivered in 1973 and this period by many is considered to be one of the most darkest years in the history of the judiciary.

It all began with the historic Kesavananda Bharathi verdict in which a Constitution Bench headed by Justice Hans Raj Khanna outlined the basic structure doctrine of the Constitution. To put in simple terms the judgment made it clear that the Constitution and not the legislature was supreme.

Many legal experts still argue that it is thanks to this judgment that democracy is still intact in the country.

Although the court upheld the basic structure doctrine by only the narrowest of margins, it has since gained widespread acceptance and legitimacy due to subsequent cases and judgments. Primary among these was the imposition of the state of emergency by Indira Gandhi in 1975, and the subsequent attempt to suppress her prosecution through the 39th Amendment.

When the Kesavananda case was decided, the underlying apprehension of the majority bench that elected representatives could not be trusted to act responsibly was perceived to be unprecedented.

However, the passage of the 39th Amendment proved that in fact, this apprehension was well-founded. In Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court used the basic structure doctrine to strike down the 39th amendment and paved the way for the restoration of Indian democracy.

Where it all began:

In August 1969, Justice A N Ray was appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court. He went on to become the Chief Justice of India in the most controversial manner in 1973.

His appointment superseded three senior judges of the Supreme Court, J M Shelat, A N Grover and K S Hegde. This was viewed as a direct attack on the judiciary. This was considered to be unprecedented in the legal history of India. It has been called as the blackest day in Indian democracy. This move was marked by protests by bar associations and many within the legal faction.

The former CJI, Justice Mohammad Hidayatullah said, "this was an attempt of not creating 'forward-looking judges' but the 'judges looking forward' to the plumes of the office of Chief Justice".

Justice Ray was accused of sharing the government's economic viewpoint. There were allegations that he had developed an adulatory attitude towards the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. He made himself amenable to her influence.

He would telephone her frequently and also ask her personal secretary for advice. While this continued for long, the powers of the judiciary were finally restored under the rule of Morarji Desai.

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