INDIRA NEHRU GANDHI vs RAJ NARAIN (unclean hand)

Supreme Court of India   

PETITIONER:INDIRA NEHRU GANDHI (SMT.)
 Vs.
RESPONDENT:RAJ NARAIN & ANR.

DATE OF JUDGMENT24/06/1975

BENCH:KRISHNAIYER, V.R.
CITATION: 1975 AIR 1590    1975 SCC  (2) 159
ACT:
Representation of the People Act, 1951,  S.116B(2)-Stay  of
election judgment and order-Judge-Power-Dimensions of  Judge
power  to stay-Difference between executive  discretion  and
judicial  discretion, explained-Cognisability  of  non-legal
arguments  in  such  cases-Equity  and ground of  “unclean
hands”-Courts  cannot go into the merits of the case at  the
stage  of  granting  stay-Balance  of  convenience,   public
justice etc. are relevant considerations–Precedents of pre-
1966  Election law are of no value to post-1966  cases  of
conditional  stay–Nature of “type design’ stay  orders  and
their  value-Legal effect of a stay order in general and  in
particular,  in  the instant case, as a  Minister  or  Prime
Minister-Power to ask for a review of provisional orders.

HEADNOTE:
In   the  General  Parliamentary  Elections  of  1971,  the
appellant  was declared as a successful candidate  from  the
Rae  Bareli  Constituency  in Uttar Pradesh.   She  won  the
election  by  a margin of 1,11,810 votes over  her  nearest
rival Sri Rai Narain.  Sri Raj Narain, respondent No. 1, who
was  sponsored by  the Samyukta Socialist  Party  filed  an
election petition u/s 80 r/w S.100 of the Representation  of
the  People  Act,  1951 to challenge  the  election  of  the
successful  candidate.  A  learned  single  judge  of  the
Allahabad  High  Court upheld the challenge on two  grounds
rejecting the other grounds of challenge.  The learned judge
also granted an absolute 20 days’ stay.  The appellant moved
this Court, challenging the ‘unseating’ verdict against  her
by  the  High Court.  The appellant  also  sought  “absolute
stay”  of the judgment and order under appeal.   Respondent
No.   1  filed cross-appeals  against the  said   judgment
rejecting the grounds of challenge, except two.
Allowing  the petition and granting the stay in  terms,  the
Court
HELD : 1. While the right to appeal is statutory, the  power
to  stay is discretionary.  But judicial  discretion-indeed,
even  executive  discretion-cannot  run  riot.  The  former
though plenary,  is  governed in  its  exercise  by  sound
guidelines  and  courts  look for light,  inter  alia, from
practice  and  precedent without  however  being  hide-bound
mechanically. Judicial power is dynamic,  forward  looking
and socially luscent and aware. [407 H, 408 A]
2.   The  court decides forensic questions  without  getting
embroiled  in  nonlegal  disputes working as it  does  in  a
sound-proof system of sorts.  The Court is the quiet of  the
storm centre and views with an equal eye, the claims on each
side, taking judicial note of the high issues and balance of
convenience in the wider context.  The judicial approach  is
to  stay away from political thickets and new problems with
institutionalised   blinkers  on,  so  long  as  the   court
methodology  remains  the same.  Arguments  about  political
sentiment,  political propriety and moral compulsion  though
relevant  at  other  levels, fall  beyond  the conventional
judicial  orbit and the courts have to discriminately  shift
them while deciding. on the grant of stay pending an appeal.
If  national crises and democratic considerations,  and  not
mere  balance of convenience and interests of justice, were
to  be major inputs in the Judges  exercise  of  discretion
systematic  changes  and  shifts in  judicial  attitude  may
perhaps  be needed.  But sitting in  time-honoured  forensic
surroundings  the Supreme Court is constrained to judge  the
issues before it by canons sanctified by the usage of this
Court. [408 C-H]
3.   The  preliminary  objection  of  “unclean bands”  not
entitling  the petitioner/ ,appellant to seek the  equitable
relief of stay is not founded on facts.  The stay order does
not state that it was to enable the election of a  different
leader that time was granted.  The petitioner could not  be
faulted  as  having  played false to the  Court  since the
Congress  Parliamentary  Party convoked  subsequent  to  the
judgment  has  full  bloodedly plumped  in  favour  of  her
remaining in office

as Prime Minister and guiding the Party as its one and only
leader.  In such matters one has go by prima facie materials
and probabilities. (408 H, 409 A-El
4.   At  the stage when the Court is considering  whether  a
stay  should be granted or not, it is premature and  perhaps
unwise to  pronounce  on the merits of  the  appeal  itself
except where the judgment contained grotesque errors  absurd
conclusions  or grossly erroneous propositions of law.  The
High Court’& finding, until upset, holds good, however weak
it  may ultimately prove.  The offence of  corrupt  practice
u/s 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 may be
light  or  grave,  which is for the Bench  which  hears  the
appeal In  extensor to hold, one way or  the  other. When
findings of contravention of the election law is before  the
Court, this Court cannot take the prima facie view that  the
justice   of  the  case  justifies  indifference  to   those
findings. [410 C, 411A, F-G]
5.   Socio-legal  considerations such, as prior practice  of
this Court, special circumstances compelling departure,  the
balance of convenience, dictates of public justice, the  way
in which public interest ties, are relevant to the grant  or
refusal  of  stay  and the  terms  to be  imposed  on  the
petitioner in the event of grant. [411 H, 412 A]
6.   It  was  for the first time in 1966,  by  amending  Act
LXVII  of  1966,  that a statutory right of  appeal  to  the
Supreme Court was created by S.116A of the Representation of
the  People  Act, 1951 and a plenary power  to grant  stay,
conditional  or otherwise was vested in this Court  u/s  116
B(2)  of the Act, independently of constitutional  remedies’
The question of an absolute stay or a qualified stay of  the
unseating verdict did not and could not arise under the pre-
1966  law and to rely upon past precedents as tantamount  to
absolute  stay of  an order which  took  effect  would  be
untenable. [413 G, 414 C-E]
7.   The  “type-design”  of stay orders made by  this  Court
under  the  post1966  law  has,  with  marginal  variations,
acquired  a standardized form. This cursus curiae  is more
persuasive  for adoption, unless exceptional legal or  other
grounds  for  deviation are made out for grant of  absolute
stay.  The orders are dichotomous in character.  They are  :
(a)  that  “the operation of the judgment and order  of  the
High Court be and is hereby stayed” and (b) the  petitioner
shall  abide  by certain enumerated terms viz. (i)  that  he
will  be entitled to attend the Sessions of the  Legislature
and  sign the Register; (ii) he shall not take part  in  the
proceedings of the House or vote or draw any remuneration as
such member. [414 F-G, 415 A-B]
8.   Section  8A  being  the  necessary  follow-up  of  the
judgment  u/s 100 of the Representation of the People Act,
1951  the legal effect of an order of this Court  suspending
the application of the judgment and order of the High Court’
is  that  by sheer force of the first limb of  this  court’s
stay  order,  the judgment and order of the  High  Court  is
nullified for the once i.e. till the appeal is disposed  of.
Consequently the disqualification also ipso jure remains  in
abeyance.   There is a plenary eclipse of the  High  Court’s
judgment  and  order  during the  pendency  of the  appeal,
subject to the few restraints clamped down on the applicant.
[415 C-D, H, 416 A]
9.   This appeal relates solely to the Lok Sabha  Membership
of  the applicant and the subject matter of her  office  qua
Prime  Minister  is not directly before this Court  in this
litigation.   Indeed  that  office  and  its  functions  are
regulated carefully by a separate fascinating of Articles in
the Constitution.  There is some link between membership  of
one  of the two Houses of Parliament and Ministership  (Art.
75),  but once the stay order is made, the  disqualification
regarding Membership is in suspended animation and does  not
operate.   Likewise  the appellant’s Membership of  the  Lok
Sabha  remains in force so long as the stay lasts.   However
there  will  be  a  limitation regarding  the  appellants’
participation  in  the proceedings of the Lok Sabha  in  her
capacity  as  Member  thereof, but,  independently  of  the
Membership,  a Minister and a forty the Prime Minister,  has
the  right  to address both Houses  of Parliament  (without
right  to  vote, though) and has other functions  to  fulfil
(Arts. 74,  75, 78 and 88 are Illustrative.) In  short  the
restraints  set out in the usual stay order cannot and will
not  detract from the appellant being entitled to  exercise
such rights as  she  has, including  addressing  Parliament  and
drawing  salary, in her capacity as Prime  Minister.   There
will  thus be no legal embargo on her holding the office  of
Prime Minister. [416 D-G]
[The  court gave liberty to the parties to move  a  Division
Bench of this ,Court, if justifying considerations  appeared
necessary later on, to move for variations of the conditions
of the instant stay order]

JUDGMENT:
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION : Civil Appeal No. 887 of 1975
       and
    Civil Misc. Petition No. 3557 of 1975
(Application  for  absolute and unconditional stay  with  an
exparte ad interim order).
N.   A. Palkhivala and J. B. Dadachanji for the Appellant.
J.   P. Goyal for the Respondent.
      ORDER
 1.  Right  at the beginning, I must record appreciation  of
the  valuable assistance given by counsel on both  sides  to
the Court in clarifying the twilight aspects and  unraveling
the  latent  facets of what, viewed  in  typically  isolated
legal perspective, unturned to the national wave-length  and
unclouded by the dust-storms of politics, is a humdrum case.
Having regard to the obstreperous  environs  and  mounting
tensions surrounding the events following upon the  judgment
of the Allahabad High Court, it must be stated to the Credit
of  Shri  Palkhivala and Shri Shanti Bhushan that  in  their
suave  submissions they have shown how sound and  fury only
help thwart the thought-ways of law and extra-legal  tumults
can  be walled off from the Court hall.  The arguments have
been  largely legal and their merits have to be  weighed  in
judicial  scales.  What, perhaps in a certain view, are  not
strictly  pertinent to the stay proceedings  have,  however,
been adverted to at the bar, inevitably and  understandably,
but  within  marginal limits, if I may say so, because  the
proceedings  in the Halls ,of Justice must be  informed,  to
some  extent,  by the great verity that the broad  sweep  of
human  history is guided by sociological forces  beyond  the
ken of the noisy hour or the quirk of legal nicety.  Life is
larger than Law.  Now I proceed to discuss the merits of the
matter.
2.   The  appellant  has moved this  Court  challenging  the
‘unseating’ verdict against her by the High Court.  She, has
also sought ‘absolute stay’ of the judgment and order  under
appeal.  Entering a caveat, the respondent has also appeared
through counsel and opposed the grant of stay.
3.   While  the right to appeal is statutory, the  power  to
stay is discretionary. But judicial discretion-indeed, even
executive  discretion-cannot run riot. The  former,  though
plenary, is governed in *Already reported in (1976) 2 S.C.R. P. 347.

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its exercise by sound guidelines, and courts look for light,
inter  alia,. from practice and precedent, without  however,
being hide-bound mechanically by the past alone.  After all,
Judicial  power  is dynamic,  forward-looking  and  socially
luscent  and  aware.  I mention this  dimension  of  ‘judge-
power’ because, the industry and ingenuity of both  lawyers
have  unearthed prior instances zigzagging now and then  but
substantially striking the same note.  A few orders from the
debris of  old records have been brought up which  seem  to
suggest variations in the type of stay granted by the higher
courts.   I shall have occasion to dilate on them  a  little
later. Suffice it to note that the power of the court must
rise to the occasion, if justice, in its larger connotation,
is the goal-and it is.
4.   Having regard to the historic power-stakes involved  in
this   election   appeal  and  stay   proceeding,   vigorous
arguments,  marked by strokes of heat and flashes of  light,
have  been heard in this application for stay and  the time
consumed  at  the bar has been considerably more  than when
like  matters have been routinely dealt with by this  Court.
Let it be plainly understood that the Court decides forensic
questions  without getting embroiled in  non-legal  disputes
working  as  it  does  in a  sound-proof  system  of  sorts.
Moreover,  notwithstanding  the  unusual,  though   natural,
excitement and importance surrounding the case, the Court is
the quiet of the storm centre and views, with an equal eye,
the  claims on each side, taking judicial note of  the high
issues and  balance of convenience in the  wider  context.
Arguments  about public sentiment, political  propriety  and
moral  compulsion,  though  touched  upon  at  the  bar  and
relevant  at  other  levels, fall  beyond  the conventional
judicial  orbit  and  have  to be  discriminately  shifted.
Nevertheless,  Shri  Palkhivala has pressed  before  me  the
propriety and urgency of the Court taking into consideration
the   national  situation   even   while   exercising  its
discretionary power.   As,  a   counterweight   to this
submission, Shri Shanti Bhushan has claimed that no republic
can  surrender its  democratic destiny  to  a single soul
without  being guilty of  overpowering  the  parliamentary
process  by a personality cult.  This brings to the fore  an
activist  interrogation  about the  cognisibility  of such
considerations by a court.  Do the judicial process and  its
traditional  methodology sometimes make the Judicature look
archaic,  with eyes  open on law  and closed on  society,
forgetting  the  integral  yoga  of law  and  society  ?  If
national crises and democratic considerations, and not mere
balance  of convenience and interests of ‘justice’, were  to
be  major  inputs  in the  Judges  exercise  of  discretion,
systemic  changes  and shifts in  judicial  attitudes  may
perhaps  be  needed.   Sitting in  time-honoured   forensic
surroundings I am constrained to judge the issues before  me
by the canons sanctified by the usage of this Court.
5.   Now to the points urged before me.  More or less by way
of preliminary objection, Shri Shanti Bhushan asserted that
the  petitioner,,  having come with unclean hands,  was  not
entitled to seek the equitable relief of stay. How were her
hands  unclean ?  Because, the argument runs,  her  advocate
induced   the High   Court  into  granting   a   stay   by
misrepresenting that if the judgment came into immediate

effect, the national government would be paralyzed for want
of  a Prime Minister and so time was needed for  the  ruling
Party  to elect a new leader to head the Government.   Taken
in by this alleged critical need of the democratic  process,
the  learned  Judge  granted 20  days’ stay. This  spell,
ingeniously  secured,  was  perverted  to  consolidate  her
leadership, not to find a successor.  If this version of the
respondent  were  veracious, the petitioner’s  conduct were
dubious  and  this  Court would  not  condone  such  ‘solemn
mockery’.   But Shri Shanti Bhushan’s submission  loses  its
sting if Shri Palkhivala were to be heeded.  For,  according
to  the  latter,  all in a hurry a stay  was  moved  by  the
Allahabad advocate praying for stay stating both the need to
elect a leader (not, another leader) and to enable filing of
an  appeal.   The  Congress Parliamentary  Party  was  since
convoked  but  there  was  a  thunderously  unanimous vote
reaffirming,  faith  in the petitioner as leader  and  Prime
Minister.   If her Party so fullbloodedly plumped in  favour
of her remaining in office as Prime Minister and guiding the
Party  as its one and only leader, the petitioner could  not
be  faulted as having played false to the Court.  She  could
only call a meeting of the Party but not coerce the  members
to elect anyone other than the one they had set their hearts
upon. Whether that Party’s leadership resources  were  too
inadequate  to secure an  alternative  chief may  be   an
interesting question, but the Court does not peep into that
penumbral  area.   Moreover, the stay order does  not  state
that  it  was to enable the election of a  different  leader
that time was granted. I have no good reason to reject  the
petitioner’s  plea that the choice of an alternative  leader
was  left to her Party, that she did what she could  in  the
spirit of the representation to Court and did not what  she
could not viz., to force her partymen to push her aside  for
the  nonce for the Court’s satisfaction.  In  these  matters
one has to go by prima facie materials and probabilities.  I
overrule the ‘unclean hands’ objection.
6.   Shri Palkhivala, for the petitioner, contended that  an
unconditional stay was appropriate_and essential because (a)
it  was  Sanctioned  by  some  precedent;  (b) there were
momentous consequences disastrous to the country if anything
less  than  the total suspension of the order  under  appeal
were made; (c) the adverse holding of the High Court on  two
counts  hardly  exceeded,  even  on  its  face,   technical
violations  unworthy  of being visited with  an  ad  interim
embargo on Parliament Membership during the pendency of  the
appeal apart from being palpably perverse and (d) the nation
was  solidly  behind  the  petitioner  as  Prime   Minister.
Minimal justice, public interest and balance of  convenience
concurred  in  his  favour.  Shri  Shanti  Bhushan,  on  the
contrary, joined issue on these pleas and asserted that  (a)
the appellant must be treated like any other party; (b) that
an absolute stay was unprecedented; (c) that the  democratic
process  would take care of itself even if  the  petitioner
stepped aside for a while; (d)    the  corrupt   practices
were corrupt in law and fact, fully proved and   could  not
be glossed over by a court of law as technical and (e) the
alleged  solid support by party minions meant  little  since
similar  phenomena could be organized by any  strategist  in
top  office  and the rule of law cannot be  drowned  by  the
drums and shouts

of numbers.  In his submission, public interest and balance,
of  convenience as also justice to the High  Court  judgment
demanded  that an illegally elected Member did not  continue
longer as Prime Minister under the umbrella of a stay  order
from this Court, without jeopardizing the credibility of the
country abroad.
7.   Shri  Palkhivala assailed, in his opening submissions,
the two findings recorded against the appellant holding  her
guilty of  corrupt practice.  Indeed, he was  at  pains  to
convince  me that his client had, a strong prima facie case
on the merits, in the sense that the judgment, on its  face,
was perverse and legally untenable.  Although I listened  at
some  length  to these arguments and, to an extent,  to  the
counter  submissions  made  by Shri Shanti  Bhushan  in  his
endeavour to establish that the holdings were sound, I made
it  fairly clear in the course of the hearing that  at this
stage  when  I was considering whether  a  stay  should  be
granted  or  not,  it was premature and  perhaps  unwise  to
pronounce  on the merits of the appeal itself  except  where
the judgment contained grotesque errors, absurd  conclusions
or grossly erroneous propositions of law.  Having considered
the  submissions  on  this basis, I do not  think  I  should
express  any  opinion way or the other on the merits of  the
findings.   Nor  do  regard  it just  for  counsel  for  the
respondent to say that every discrepancy in the petitioner’s
evidence  or other incorrectness in testimony can be  called
false.  Not  to accept a witness’s evidence may be  due  to
many grounds of probability not always because of univercity
or  unreliablity.  These aspects will surely be examined  at
the hearing of the appeal, not now.
8.   Counsel for the petitioner, after dealing with the ‘ex-
facie untenability of the judgment under appeal which I have
just disposed of, moved on to what he called justice between
the parties.  This is not an ordinary lis, where even  after
stepping down from office, the petitioner can, if and  after
she  wins  the appeal step back into office.   In  politics,
‘red  in  tooth  and claw’, power lost is  not  necessarily
followed, after legal victory by power regained.  The  Court
cannot in that sense, restore the parties to their  original
position  as  in ordinary cases.   However,  the  respondent
suffers no prejudice by the continuance of the petitioner as
Parliament Member and Prime Minister.  To cap it all,  there
is  hardly a run of a little over half-a-year for  the full
term  of  this Parliament to expire.  So,  he pressed  for
continuance  of the status quo which had gone on for  a  few
years now during the pendency of the Election Petition.
9.   The respondent’s counsel retorted that the question  of
justice  between two private persons was alien to  election
litigation and cited a ruling to emphasize what is  obvious.
In  an election  case, the whole  constituency  is,  in  an
invisible  but real sense, before the court and  justice  to
the electoral system which is the paramount consideration is
,best done  by  safeguarding the  purity  of  the   polls
regardless of the little rights of individual combatants.
10.  At  the  first  flush I was  disposed  to prolong  the
‘absolute stay’ granted by the High Court, moved not only by
what Shri Palkhivala

had urged but by another weighty time factor that the appeal
itself, in the light of the directions I have already  given
yesterday, may well be decided in two or three months.  But
on  fuller reflection I have hesitated to take that  course.
After  all,  the High Court’s finding, until  upset,  holds
good,  however weak it may ultimately prove.  The nature  of
the invalidatory grounds upheld by the High Court, I  agree,
does  not  involve  the  petitioner in any  of  the  graver
electoral  vices set out in Section 123 of the Act.  May  be
they  are only venial deviations but the law. as it  stands,
visits a  returned candidate with the same  consequence  of
invalidation. Supposing  a candidate has  transported  one
voter  contrary to the legal prohibition and even though  he
has  won  by a huge plurality of votes his election  is  set
aside.  Draconian laws do not cease to be law in court  but
must  alert  a wakeful and quick-acting legislature.  So  it
follows  that I cannot, at this preliminary  stage,  lightly
dismiss  the illegality of the election as held by the High
Court. But more importantly, I am disinclined to set  store
by Shri Palkivala’s ‘Private justice’ submission (to  borrow
his  own  phrase) because the ultimate order  I  propose  to
make, if I may even here anticipate, substantially preserves
the  position of the petitioner as Member of Parliament  and
does  not  adversely  affect  her  legal  status  as   Prime
Minister.
11.  In another facet of the same argument  Shri  Palkhivala
urged  that,  after  all,  the petitioner  had  been held
‘technically’  guilty  of ` corrupt practice’ and  that  the
grounds  set  out by the learned Judge were  too  flimsy  to
stand  scrutiny  at  the appellate  level.   Therefore,  the
‘justice’ of the case demanded continuance of the  ‘absolute
stay’  granted by  the trial Judge  himself. Shri  Shanti
Bhushan,  on  the  other side, refuted this  submission  as
specious.   His argument is this.  ‘Corrupt practice’  could
not  be dismissed as ‘technical’ if one bad any respect  for
the  law of the land as laid down by Parliament.   Once  the
law has defined ‘corrupt      practice’, commission  thereof
cannot be condoned as ‘technical.’That     is defiance  of
the law and challenge to the wisdom of Parliament.It is
one  thing to amend the law, but it is another to  disregard
iton a ground  unknown to  law that is  only  a  nominal
deviance.I am afraid it  is premature  and  presumptuous
for me, at this stage,to pronounce   upon  the  relative
worth of the findings of the High Court.The offence may
be light or grave.    But that is for the Benchwhich
hears  the appeal in extenso to hold, one way or the  other.
Before me are findings of contravention of the election  law
and  I cannot take the prima facie view that the justice  of
the  case  justifies  indifference to  those  findings.   In
short,  I  am not  influenced  by  this  aspect  of Shri
Palkhivala’s argument.
12.Leaving aside the injury to private rights as of lesser
consequence  in  election  disputes,  let  me  look  at  the
customary factors courts are prone to probe in stay  matters
where the discretion vests in court.
13.What has been the prior practice of this Court in  such
cases  ?  What,  if  any,  are the  special   circumstances
compelling departure in favour of the petitioner ?  What  is
the balance of convenience ?

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What  does the public justice of the case dictate Which  way
does  public  interest lie ? These  are  the  socio-legal
considerations which are relevant to the grant or refusal of
stay  and the terms to be imposed on the petitioner  in  the
event  of  grant.   Stay pending  appeal  has  been  usually
granted but hemmed in by conditions.  The respondent himself
has  filed a sheaf of orders of conditional stay granted  by
this Court, suggesting by implication that those  conditions
should be attached to  any stay the Court may be  inclined
to issue.  The terms in which such limited stay orders have
been  couched, the legal implications thereof,  the  right
surviving under them and the impact thereof on the office of
Prime  Minister  of  the petitioner  will  be  scanned more
closely  later in this order. Suffice it to  say  for  the
present that for around two    decades there has  rarely
been what Shri Palkhivala calls an ‘absolute stay’ issued by
this Court in election cases where a Member has been   unseated
by the High Court for corrupt practice.
14. There was reference at the, bar to political compulsions
like the       swell  of  the tidal wave in  favour  of  the
petitioner which, even if true    (though  controverted  by
the other side), cannot breach the legal dykes        to
force  a stay where precedentially it has not been  granted.
Nor can        the  national crisis, conjured up by  counsel
for the petitioner, in the    event  of her  exit from
office, be a valid legal consideration, even if it     may
perhaps  have  weight in other spheres.  Shri  Shanti
Bhushan urges     that moreover one cannot readily  accept
that the nation will come to a  grinding halt it one
person is not available to fill the office of Prime    Minister.
I  make no comments on these rival presentations for  it  is
difficult for the Judge to guage with his traditional  court
roon  apparatus the reality and extent of the  circumstances
of national magnitude       the parties have dwelt upon.
15. So we come to the next criterion which is commonplace in
this  jurisdiction viz., the balance of  convenience.  Here,
counsel for     the   petitioner   has   addressed   an
attractive argument (repeating in some      measure   what,
under  a  different head, he had urged) that if  the  appeal
itself were disposed of early, the continuance of the status
quo would go     a  long  way  to  preserve and  promote
administrative stability and policy      continuity,
having regard to the fact that the petitioner in this case
was   more than a Member of Parliament but was the Prime
Minister  and leader of the ruling Party.  In  a  democracy,
the Prime Minister is the central figure who decides crucial
internal and international policy, directs measures of great
economic  moment and is responsible and accountable  to  the
Parliament  and  the  nation  for  the performance  of  the
Administration.      Of    course,    collective     Cabinet
responsibility is of the essence of the democratic  process,
but  the  Council of Ministers is virtually  chosen  by  the
President  in  accordance  with  the  wishes  of  the  Prime
Minister.   The  broad guidance of the Party in  power not-
withstanding.  the  personality of a Prime  Minister  has  a
telling effect on democratic government.  If, therefore, the
appeal itself will be disposed of in some months, ‘as it  is
likely to be, the balance of convenience will be in  favour
of  continuance  of the same team which is animated  by  the
Presence  of  the  key personality  within  the  Council  of
Ministers.   Again, the short spell of the pendency  of  the
appeal-a

case of this climactic pitch deserves to be disposed of with
quick  dispatch and I have already given some directions  to
facilitate it-is a strong factor for non-disturbance of  the
petitioner’s position, having regard to the traumatic effect
on and grievous consequences to the petitioner.  Of  course,
these  are  components of a wider  concept  of  balance  of
convenience  and not altogether forbidden ground in  dealing
with discretionary exercise.  May be there is some force  in
the  plea  that there should be a stay of operation  of  the
judgment  and  order  in  such manner that  upsetting  the
Ministry  in  office should be obviated.   Ordinarily. even
with  the same Party ruling, when a Prime Minister  resigns,
the  whole team is ushered out leaving it free for  the  new
leader to choose his new set.
16.  Shri  Shanti  Bhushan has countered  this argument  by
reliance  on the practice in the parliamentary system  where
within the ruling Party a leader is changed or ceases to  be
available  and a  new leader is  elected,  so  that  the
democratic process finds smooth expression.  This, he  said,
has  happened in India, as elsewhere and no plea of  balance
of  convenience can be built on what in fact is a desire  to
remain in office.  The Judicial approach, as already pointed
out  by me, is to shy away from political thickets and view
problems with institutionalised blinkers on, so long as  the
court methodology remains what it is.  So no comments again.
But   the  balance  of convenience,  widely  or   limitedly
connoted,  is reasonably taken care of in the shape  of  the
conditional stay granted at the conclusion of this judgment.
17.  Shri  Palkhivala  drew my attention to a  few  vintage
instances of what he calls absolute stay having been granted
in  election matters by higher Courts. These are  cases  of
long  ago  and the argument based on  them  stems  from  an
insufficient comprehension about the anatomy of the pre-1956
Representation of the People Act, 1951 (Act XLIII of  1951).
The  Court speaks for today, based on current  practice  and
present law.
18.  In this context it is necessary to remember that in the
Act  as  it  originally  stood,  Election  Tribunals   tried
election disputes and s. 107 provided
       107.   Orders   to   take   effect   only   on
       publication-An  order  of the  Tribunal  under
       section 98 or section 99 shall not take effect
       until it is published in the Gazette of  India
       under section 106.”
Indeed, there was no right of appeal provided in the Act and
the aggrieved parties had to approach the High Court or  the
Supreme Court under the provisions of the Constitution.  The
higher  Courts  in  such  situations  merely stayed  the
publication  in the Gazette, the consequence being that  the
order of the Tribunal did not come into effect atall. The
question, therefore, of an absolute stay or a qualified stay
of  the  unseating  verdict did not  and  could  not  arise.
To relyupon  orders passed under the then law  merely
staying publication of theorder     of the Tribunal  in
the Gazette as tantamount to absolute stay ofan   order
which took effect would be untenable.

19. In 1956 a major change in the law was made wherebythe
order of the Election Tribunal appointed under S. 86  ‘shall
take   effect  as  soon  as it  is pronounced  by  the
Tribunal’ (vide S. 107,as  amended by Act XXVII of  1956).
By the same amending Act, an appeal was provided from orders
of Election Tribunals to the High Court of the State and  s.
116A(4) clothed the High Courts with power to stay operation
of  the  order appealed from-and if stay  was  granted ‘the
order  shall  be  deemed never to  have  taken offect.   Of
course,  against  appellate  orders of the  High  Court  the
disappointed  party  could  come to  this  Court  under  the
provisions of the Constitution (.Arts. 133 or 136).
20.Still  later,  by amending Act No. LXVII of 1966,  the
High  Court  was  conferred  original  jurisdiction  to  try
election  petitions and it was provided in s. 107 that the
order of the High Court ‘shall fake effect as soon as it  is
pronounced…… While a limited power to stay operation  of
the  order of the High Court was conferred by s. 116B(l)  on
the High Court itself, the statutory right of appeal to  the
Supreme  Court was provided for by S. 116A. However,  by
virtue of s.   116B(2) it was enacted :
       “116B(2).  Where an appeal has been  preferred
       against  an  order made under  section  98  or
       section 99,   the  Supreme  Court   may   on
       sufficient cause being shown and on such terms
       and  conditions as it may think fit, stay  the
       operation of the order appealed from.”
Thus,  for the first time, it was in 1966 that a  statutory
right  of  appeal to this Court was created  and  a  plenary
power to grant stay, conditional or otherwise, was vested in
this Court, independently of constitutional remedies.
21.This narration of the historical background regarding the
pre-1966 statutory position is sufficient to distinguish old
examples  of  the  pattern of stay granted  by this  Court.
Today there is no case of prohibition of publication in  the
Gazette.   Above all, the type-design, if I may use such  an
expression,  of  stay orders made by this  Court  under  the
present  law  has,  with  marginal  variations,  acquired  a
standardised  form.  Naturally, this cursus curiae  is more
persuasive  for adoption, unless exceptional legal or  other
grounds  for  deviation are made out for grant of  absolute
stay.
22.Even on the basis of the post-1966 law, Shri Palkhivala
has argued that taking legitimate cognizance of the peerless
position of the appellant as Prime Minister of the  country,
judicial  discretion must least disturb not merely her seat
in Parliament but her office in Government.
23.I  proceed  to take a close-up of the  ‘sample  orders’
made by this Court during the last many years, dissect them
in  the background of the judgments under appeal where such
orders were  passed  and mould my  order  deriving  support
therefrom.   So  I turn the focus on  the  implications  and
effect of the stay orders in the cases covered by

READ  Mahindra Kumar Narendra And Ors

Annexure  A filed by the respondent which are in  consonance
with  the  usual  orders passed by this  Court in  election
appeals.
24.It  is  evident  on its  face  that  the  orders   are
dichotomous  in character.  The two limbs stand out  clearly
and  they are : (a) that ‘the operation of the Judgment  and
Order of the High Court be and is hereby stayed’ and (b) the
petitioner shall abide by certain enumerated terms viz., (i)
he   will  be  entitled  to  attend  the  Sessions  of  the
Legislature  and sign the Register; (ii) he shall  not take
part  in  the proceedings of the House or vote or  draw  any
remuneration  as  such Member.  In  the  instances  I have
examined,  the appeals are against orders  ‘unseating’  the
returned  candidate on the ground of corrupt  practice and,
disqualifying him  for  the  statutory   six-year   period
prescribed  in s.  8A.   If  corrupt  practice  is   found,
disqualification follows, although sometimes the trial Court
expressly writes it into the order itself, as in the present
case.  If the finding of corrupt practice does not come into
effect,  the sequel of disqualification also does  not come
into  effect. If the biopsy of the stay  order  inevitably
shows that the finding of corrupt practice is suspended  and
is    not   operative,  the   electoral    disqualification
automatically stands eclipsed.   Section  8A  being  the
necessary  follow-up of the judgment under s. 100,  what  is
the  legal effect of an order by this Court  suspending  the
operation of the judgment and order of the High Court ?   By
sheer  force of the first limb of this Court’s stay  order,
the  judgment and order of the High Court is  nullified  for
the   nonce   i.e.,  till  the appeal  is   disposed  of.
Consequentially, the disqualification also ipso jure remains
in abeyance.
25.What  then is the import of the conditions  imposed in
the  stay  order  ? They inhibit  the  elected member,  who
otherwise  by  virtue of the stay of the judgment,  will  be
entitled  to  exercise all his  rights  and  privileges  as
Member,  from doing certain things expressly tabooed,  viz.,
(a ) participating in the proceedings; (b) voting or drawing
remuneration.  For all other purposes, the voiding  judgment
being  suspended, he continues as Member.  Indeed, the very
direction that he attend the House and sign in the  Register
as  Member to avoid disqualification under Art. 101  of  the
Constitution  postulates  that he is a Member and  is  not
disqualified   under  s.  8A  of  the  Act.   For,  if  the
disqualification under s. 8A operates and he ceases to be  a
Member,  there is no need to veto his drawing  remuneration,
voting or participating in the proceedings.  It would be  a
curious  contradiction to say that a person is disqualified
to be chosen as or being a Member and yet be allowed to sign
the Register as Member.  Can the Court, without  stultifying
itself and usurping power, permit a non-Member to sit in the
House instead of or even in the Visitor’s gallery, unless it
necessarily  reads  into  the order of stay  of  judgment  a
suspension of the disqualification also ? There are a number
of  other  privileges for a Member of Parliament  which  are
left untouched by this Court’s prior stay orders.  Moreover,
the  specific  direction suspending the judgment  and  order
under  appeal, read  in its plenitude,  also  suspends  the
finding   of   corrupt  practice.    So   much   so,  the
disqualification also shares the fate. I have no doubt that
the reasonable effect of a stay

order is that there is a plenary eclipse of the High Court’s
judgment  and  order  during the  pendency  of the  appeal,
subject to the’ few restraints clamped down on an appellant.
Those  restraints are the second limb of the stay order  and
are explicit enough.
26.The essential  point  to note  is  that  by  necessary
implication   the,   disqualification  imposed  oil   every
appellant also stands suspended in all cases of  conditional
stay. The stay is complete, but carved out of it  are  but
three, limitations.  ‘For all other purposes, the appellant,
in all such cases, continues a Member. For instance, if  he
is  prevented  from entering the Legislature,  a  breach  of
privilege  arises.   I have  gone  at length into   these
ramifications to remove recondite doubts.  The typical stay
restores  to the appellant, during its operation,  the full
status of  a  Member of a Legislature minus  the  right  to
participate  in  debates, including voting  and  drawing  of
remuneration as a legislator.
27.For  these reasons  I  propose  to  direct  a   stay,
substantially  on  the same lines as  have  been  made  in,
earlier   similar   cases,  modified  by the   compulsive
necessities of this case.
28.What would be the legal impact of an order of this type
on  the Prime Ministership of the petitioner ? The  question
canvassed  about  the office of the Prime Minister  and  its
involvement  in  the present case has exercised  counsel  on
both  sides  and it is but proper to dissolve the  mists  of
possible  misunderstanding by an explicit  statement. This
appeal,  it  is  plain,  relates solely  to  the  Lok  Sabha
Membership  of the appellant and the subject matter  of  her
office qua Prime Minister is not directly before this  Court
in  this litigation.  Indeed, that office and its  functions
are regulated carefully by a separate fasciculus of Articles
in the Constitution.  There is some link between  Membership
of  one  of the two Houses of  Parliament  and Ministership
(Art.  75  but once the stay order is made,  as  has been
indicated  above, the disqualification regarding  Membership
is  in suspended animation and does not operate.   Likewise,
the appellant’s Membership of the Lok Sabha remains in force
so  long  as  the  stay lasts. However,  there  will  be  a
limitation  regarding the appellant’s participation  in  the
proceedings  of  the  Lok Sabha in her capacity  as  Member
thereof, but, independently of the Membership, a  Minister,,
and,  a  fortiori,  the Prime Minister, has  the,  right  to
address  both Houses of Parliament (without right  to  vote,
though) and has other functions to fulfil (Arts. 74, 75,  78
and 88 are illustrative) In short, the restrictions set  out
in the usual stay order cannot and win not detract from  the
appellant being entitled to exercise such rights as she has,
including  addressing Parliament and drawing salary, in  her
capacity  as  Prime Minister.  There will thus be  no  legal
embargo  on  her  holding  the office of  Prime  Minister.
However,  this legal sequitur of the situation arising from
the  stay’  of the judgment and order of  the High  Court,
including  the suspension of the disqualification  under  S.
8A,  has  nothing  to do  with extra-legal  considerations.
Legality  is within the Court’s province to pronounce  upon,
but canons of political

propriety  and democratic dharma are  polemical  issues  on
which judicial silence is the golden rule.
29.It is true that between an absolute stay as sought  and
the  stay as granted there is practically little  difference
when the petitioner is a Minister.  Moreover when the  House
is not in session, as now, even the restrictions set out  in
sub-para  III  of  para 31 of this order  hardly,  have  any
operation.   In this view, the dispute between the  parties
one  asking  for  an absolute stay (as if it  were  a  magic
formula) and the other citing heaps of orders of conditional
stay  for adoption (as if much difference would be  made  in
practical  effect) appears to be shadow-boxing,  as  pointed
out by me even during the arguments.
30.Maybe,  brevity which is usual in this Court in  orders
of stay of this sort might well have sufficed here also but,
the  over  all desirability to  dispel  possible  ambiguity
warrants a hopefully longer speaking order.
       31.Let me sum up the terms of the operative
       order I hereby pass
       I.    Subject to para III below, there will be
       a  stay of the operation of the  judgment  and
       order of the High Court under appeal.
       II.Consequentially,  the  disqualification
       imposed  upon  the appellant  as a  statutory
       sequel  under s. 8A of the Act and as  forming
       part  of the judgment and order impugned will
       also   suspended.    That  is  to   say,  the
       petitioner  will remain a Member of  the  Lok
       Sabha  for all purposes except to  the  extent
       restricted  by  para III so long as  the stay
       order lasts.
       III. The appellant-petitioner, qua Lok  Sabha
       Member, will be entitled to sign the  Register
       kept in the House for that purpose and  attend
       the  Sessions of the Lok Sabha, but  she will
       neither participate in the proceedings in  the
       Lok  Sabha nor vote nor draw  remuneration  in
       her capacity as Member of the Lok Sabha.
       IV.   Independently of the restrictions  under
       para  III on her Membership of the Lok  Sabha,
       her  rights as Prime Minister or Minister,  so
       long as she fills that office, to speak in and
       otherwise  to take part in the proceedings  of
       either House of Parliament or a joint  sitting
       of  the Houses (without right to vote) and  to
       discharge other functions such as are laid
       down in Articles 74, 75, 78, 88 etc., or under
       any other law, and to draw her salary as Prime
       Minister,  shall not be affected or  detracted
       from on account of the conditions contained in
       this stay order.

32.This order, by me sitting single as Vacation Judge,, is
being  delivered  with a sense  of  hurry,  although  after
careful consideration of  arguments head till  last evening.
Now  the  Parliament in not in session and the veto  on  the
right  to  vote  is  currently academic.   Situations  may
develop,  circumstances  may change and this  order  itself,
like any interlocutory order, is provisional.  If new events
like  the  convening  of  Parliament  take  place  or  fresh
considerations  crop  up  warranting  the  review  of  the
restrictions  in this stay order,  the petitioner-appellant
will  be at liberty to move a Division Bench of  this  Court
again to   modify  the  restrictions or   pray   for   an
unconditional  stay.  Likewise, the respondent may  also  if
justifying considerations appear anew move for variation  of
the conditions in this stay order.
S.R.
Petition allowed.

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