Monday, June 30, 2008

Judge who set aside Indira Gandhi’s election in 1975

Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha, who set aside the election of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from Rae Bareli in 1975, a judgment that eventually to the imposition of emergency in the country, died at his Allahabad home on 20th March 2008. Justice Sinha, who was 87, died due to age-related problems. His body was cremated at Rasoolabad Ghat on the banks of Ganga in Allahabad on Friday.

Justice Sinha is survived by his wife and three sons. The legal fraternity mourned his death, saying he was a man known for his courageous voice of dissent against all that defines illegality.
Justice Sinha is the only judge in the history of the country, and perhaps among the very few in the world, who set aside the election of a Prime Minister for using corrupt practices in an election. Angered by the judgement, Indira Gandhi retaliated by imposing a national Emergency on June 25, 1975, suspended Fundamental Rights, arrested Opposition leaders, and imposed censorship on newspapers.

In the elections held after the Emergency in 1977, the Congress was roundly defeated. Even Indira Gandhi and her younger son Sanjay - who was believed to be the brain behind the Emergency - lost and, for the first time, a non-Congress government was formed at the Centre.

Justice R B Mehrotra, a retired judge of the Allahabad High Court, who had watched the proceedings in the historic case of Raj Narain versus Indira Nehru Gandhi as a young advocate, remembers Justice Sinha conducting the proceedings with calm and appropriate dignity.

He recalled that the day before Indira Gandhi was to appear in his court, Justice Sinha ordered that no policemen, even on security duty, would be allowed inside the court premises. In an incident without any parallel, the security of a Prime Minister was managed by lawyers of the High Court who formed a human chain when Indira Gandhi came to the court.

Justice Mehrotra said that Justice Sinha asked the Registrar to take all steps to maintain the sanctity and dignity of the court in spite of the presence of the Prime Minister. So, while it was ensured that Indira Gandhi had an appropriate seat, it was lower than the judge’s dais. However, her chair was a little higher than the seats of the lawyers.

It was also strictly ensured that no lawyer or official inside the court would stand up when she arrived; that honour was rightfully reserved only for the judge who would arrive a little later, recalled Justice Mehrotra.

Justice Sinha retired in 1982.


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