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Episode 7


The new Janata government is keen to roll back the excesses of the emergency. Law minister Shanti Bhushan has to undo the constitutional damage of the emergency years. Legislation doesn't solve all the problems—one final battle remains. And Nani Palkhivala returns to fight for the basic structure. The Minerva Mills case becomes the final phase of this battle between the court and the government. We then examine the legacy and impact of the basic structure judgement both in India and abroad. 



Host: Raghu Karnad

Research Manager: Ramya Boddupalli

Research: Bhavya Dore, Ramya Boddupalli

Legal Research: Aishwarya Chaturvedi

Script writing: Bhavya Dore, Ramya Boddupalli

Script Editor: Supriya Nair

Producer: Gaurav Vaz

Sound Design, Score & Title Track: Saachi Rajadhyaksha

Mixing & Mastering: Ayan De

Advisors: Lawrence Liang, Ranvir Singh, Shyam Divan and Vivek Divan

Show notes

Guest speakers in this episode include:​

  1. Gautam Bhatia

  2. Prashant Bhushan

  3. KK Venugopal

  4. Lawrence Liang

  5. Navroz Seervai

  6. Justice Rohinton Nariman

  7. Sandip Thakore


Special thanks to Anand Thakore, Gita Sahgal, Homi Ranina, Lalitha Kumaramangalam, Reetika Subramanian and Vimal Thakore.



Book and other resources

1. "Working a Democratic Constitution"  Granville Austin

2.  "India's Political Economy 1947-2004: A Gradual Revolution"  Francine Frankel

3. "The Kesavananda Bharati Case: The Untold Story of Struggle for Supremacy by Supreme Court and Parliament" TR Andhyarujina

4. "Indira Gandhi, Tryst with Power" Nayantara Sahgal

5. "We, the People: India: The Largest Democracy" Nani Palkhivala

6. Memorandum on Appointment of Chief Justice of India


Clip: Indira Gandhi: What do you mean comeback? But I had never gone anywhere. (Laughter) So far as the political scene has been there, I have always been there.  

Host: That was Indira Gandhi, speaking to a throng of journalists and supporters during a visit to London in 1978. She looked, and sounded, unfazed, even though her political career appeared to have tanked after the 1977 elections. In fact, through a series of well thought-out PR moves, she was on a comeback trail. 

Indira Gandhi: And if I may say so, it was the Janata Party which has helped me stay in the forefront.


Host: Gandhi’s resurgence irritated the Janata government, which had ridden in to power on a wave of public anger at the atrocities of the emergency. But its attempts to hold Gandhi and her aides accountable were failing, and it opted for more dramatic means. She was arrested twice on charges of corruption and abuse of power. Even Janata Party president Chandra Shekhar later admitted that this was a mistake: the allegations did not amount to much, and Gandhi turned her arrests into a national spectacle. 


Chandra Shekhar: I said at that very time, being the president of the Janata Party that it was a big mistake and that was done on flimsy grounds, without any preparation. And anything which is done to seek vengeance [unclear].. that is a wrong step… (03:50 to 04:02) that was one thing in which the people became suspicious about the functioning of the Janata government. 

Host: The Janata government’s missteps weren’t surprising. They were a hastily formed coalition thrown together with only one common ground: their animosity towards Indira Gandhi. There were growing fears that this government would soon disintegrate.



Despite the chaos and the difficulty of keeping the coalition together, the Janata Party was making good on its promise to restore fundamental rights and democratic government. It revived a culture of consultation in Parliament, stayed out of the judiciary’s business and let the press function freely. It looked like the Constitution was healing. 



In the previous episode, we told the story of how the Indira Gandhi government killed the basic structure doctrine and established Parliament as supreme. Now, we’ll follow the Janata government’s efforts to repeal Gandhi’s drastic amendments. We also look at why it took Nani Palkhivala to fight one more case to revive the basic structure and put an end to India’s first major constitutional crisis. I’m Raghu Karnad, and this is the seventh and final episode of S2 of Friend of the Court, a series about the most important case in the legal history of independent India. 

<Title Track>

Host: In 1975, 50-year-old Shanti Bhushan had pulled off the unthinkable. He’d cross-examined a sitting Prime Minister in court, and gotten her election disqualified. That case put Indian democracy through a trial by fire. After the emergency, he got the chance to apply his legal acumen in a different context. He was picked by the Morarji Desai government to be its law minister. Now, another seemingly enormous task lay before him: undoing the damage caused by the emergency. In particular, the damage of the 42nd amendment. As we heard last time, the amendment breached the basic structure in at least two ways. It subordinated three key fundamental rights to all directive principles; and it prevented courts from hearing any challenges to constitutional amendments. The Janata government was determined to repeal it. But the government soon found itself in an inconvenient political situation. It had the numbers in the Lok Sabha, but the Congress still controlled the Rajya Sabha. Here’s Shanti Bhushan himself explaining the situation in an interview to the news channel IBNLive years later:

Shanti Bhushan: It was difficult to push it through on account of the fact that it required 2/3rd amendment (sic) in each house separately. While the Janata Party had more than 2/3rd majority in the Lok Sabha, it did not even have 1/3rd in the Rajya Sabha. Therefore the question was how to get the support of the Congress for these amendments when only a year back during Emergency in 1976 they had passed the 42nd amendment. 

Host: The Janata government had neither the inclination, nor the power, to effect change in Gandhi’s brute-majority style. Instead, it reached across the aisle and consulted all political parties, including the Congress, to build consensus. 



The consultations resulted in the 44th amendment. Introduced in May 1978, the amendment aimed to prevent future governments from misusing emergency powers. For example, it said the President could proclaim an emergency only on the written advice of the cabinet. The lawyer Prashant Bhushan, Shanti Bhushan’s son, tells us about another significant provision. 


Prashant Bhushan: So one of them was that the most important part of the 44th amendment was that during an emergency, he said that Article 21 would not be suspended. 

Host: That is, the right to life and liberty. As we heard previously, it was the suspension of these rights that allowed the government to jail its opponents without trial during the emergency. 

Prashant Bhushan: The 44th amendment provided that and while other fundamental rights could be suspended, article 21 (couldn’t be) so as to preserve at least habeas corpus etc.

Host: Then, in keeping with its election promise, the Janata government made the fundamental right to property an ordinary legal right. Meaning, violating this right would attract less severe scrutiny. These provisions sailed through Parliament. 


But the 44th amendment failed on two other fronts. Congress MPs in the Rajya Sabha voted against repealing the dreaded Article 31C. Meaning, the rights to equality and freedom could still be taken away in the name of directive principles. 


Host: That wasn’t the only miscalculation on Bhushan’s part. The government also failed to restore the court’s power to review constitutional amendments. Bhushan had proposed an unusual scheme: conduct a referendum and let the public decide on the validity of all future amendments. That proposal failed. Parliament remained free to amend the Constitution however it liked without fear of court action. 

The 44th amendment was passed in December 1978, leaving two of the worst provisions from the Emergency era still intact. Political processes had failed to revive the basic structure doctrine. But  not all was lost. 


Host: On the other side of the planet in Washington DC, Nani Palkhivala followed these events with growing impatience. The Janata government had handpicked him to serve as India’s ambassador to the United States. A month after the 44th amendment came into effect, Palkhivala told the press that he was going back to India, to “fight for the supremacy of human rights”.


Nariman: So, Palkhivala had said that, never mind, even if the Janata government was not able to undo these two provisions, he would come to India, and he would argue the matter before a constitution bench, which is exactly what he did. 

Host: This is former Supreme Court judge, Justice Rohinton Nariman. In 1979, he was fresh out of college and worked with Palkhivala as a junior counsel. 


Nariman: So he had come back. And he had made that promise in the United States that I will take up this matter, and I will do it myself. And in pursuance of that promise, he contacted Mr. Dadachandji and asked Mr. Dadachandji to fish out a petition, which would raise a challenge to Article 31C.

Host: We’ve met JB Dadachandji before. He was one of the solicitors who put together the team in the Kesavananda case. In 1979, he pulled out a petition filed by Minerva Mills, a silk textile unit in Bangalore. Years earlier, the Indira Gandhi government had said that the mill was being mismanaged and took control, saying it was for the collective good.  Palkhivala wanted to use the Minerva Mills petition as a springboard to make his broader point: that the remaining provisions of the 42nd amendment violated the basic structure. The petition was set to come up before a five-judge bench led by the Chief Justice of India, YV Chandrachud. Since the Emergency was lifted, the Supreme Court had been going through a reckoning of its own. Its lowest point was the habeas corpus case, in which it held that citizens do not enjoy the right to life and liberty during an emergency. 


Bhagwati: The Supreme Court’s attitude was far from satisfactory during that period. Supreme court should have been more bold in (the) Emergency. That Supreme Court failed there is no doubt about it.


Host: Justice PN Bhagwati, whom you just heard, himself ruled for the government in the habeas corpus case, and later regretted it. Chief Justice YV Chandrachud had ruled in favour, too. In fact, in 1978, when it was his turn to become the Chief Justice, noted public intellectuals and lawyers wrote an open letter against his elevation. But the Janata government refused to supersede him and allowed convention to take its course. The government also reversed transfers of judges who ruled against Gandhi during the Emergency. These measures went some way in restoring trust between the court and government. Sandip Thakore, a lawyer in Palkhivala’s team, noticed a shift in the vibe at court. 


Thakore: When the right to property was turned down, the judges became braver. After the emergency and after Indira Gandhi, after the elections, the mood had changed. 



Host: Hearings began in October 1979. Palkhivala’s arguments in this case might be best described as his greatest hits from Kesavananda. First, he attacked Article 31C. He said it was absurd that it remained even after the emergency was lifted. The continuation of this provision meant that governments had the legal backing to violate the rights to freedom and equality without even declaring an emergency. Nariman tells us more:

Nariman: Now, one of the things he said, and I remember this very clearly, is the challenge to 31C, it was in the form of three beautiful sentences. He said 31C has made the Constitution stand on its head, fullstop. Whereas fundamental rights are enforceable in courts of law, they have been rendered unenforceable. Fullstop. And whereas Directive Principles of state policy are not to be enforced in courts of law, they have been made enforceable in the place of fundamental rights. That was the sum and substance of the challenge to 31 C. 

Host: Then, he attacked the 42nd amendment for expanding Parliament’s amending powers. He said that a limited amending power was a part of the basic structure. Palkhivala argued that by taking court review away, the 42nd amendment reduced the judiciary to a silent spectator.  



Host: The proceedings in court sometimes digressed into the merits of different ideologies. 


Nariman: Now, Justice NL Untwalia was one of the judges in the Minerva Mills case, was a very garrulous judge, he kept speaking. And at one point, he went on and on about socialism, and how Mr. Palkhivala is essentially espousing capitalism. That was the sum and substance of a 40-minute harangue.  

Host: All this while, Palkhivala was nervously gathering his thoughts, looking between his colleagues and the judge. 

Nariman: And finally, at one point, he says, “Has Your Lordship quite finished?” very sweetly. So the harangue stopped and he said, not even a LUNATIC—he shouted the word lunatic. Shouted it. And the effect was electric—would ever think of crossing the wall from West Berlin to East Berlin. Now with that kind of, you know, answer to socialism versus capitalism. I mean, it was like an atom bomb. After that there was nothing but rubble.


Host: The government’s turn to argue came in November.  Attorney General Lal Narain Sinha led arguments. He did not push back against Palkhivala’s contentions on the amending power, he only focused on the validity of Article 31C. Sinha insisted that this clause improved the Constitution because it prioritised social and economic justice.




Another lawyer we’ve met before was by his side. KK Venugopal was by then additional solicitor general. His father MK Nambyar had first introduced the idea of basic structure way back in the Golak Nath case. We spoke to Venugopal, who is now 92, about Minerva Mills. He remembers feeling that this case was a lost cause for the government.


KKV: And therefore, to say that you will not be able to take it to challenge any amendment was something which no government in its senses should have passed…. It was practically impossible to defend them. The government was giving itself the power to put in a declaration for any law, saying this is for the purpose of directive principle and the fundamental rights can be taken away  – 14 and 19. Therefore, it is a very difficult thing to defend. 

Host: Arguments ended on November 16 and the bench reserved its judgement. The petitioners were optimistic.


Nariman: From the way they were questioning the Attorney General, who appeared on the other side after Palkhivala, and Mr. Venugopal, who happened to be my senior later, who was the then additional Solicitor General, it did seem like they were largely in our favour. And by the time it ended, we were pretty sure that we would go through. 


Host: In May 1980, six months after the hearings concluded, the court issued its  judgement.  It answered two questions that have appeared so many times they will be familiar to you. First, did Parliament have unlimited amending power? This was straightforward. All five judges said no. They reiterated the Kesavananda judgement: Parliament’s amending power was limited so it could not take away the court’s power to review constitutional amendments. Justice Nariman takes us through that decision:


Nariman: 368 (4) and (5) went first on the ground that all amendments could not be touched, even if there was a procedural snag. And second, on the ground, that there was no question that as Seervai and AG De had conceded, suppose, for example, you were to abolish the entire Constitution and put nothing in its place. Would such an amendment stand? And answer was, of course not. There should be a basic structure of a Constitution left. And if that is not left, then there's no Constitution left. 


Host: The second question: were fundamental rights inferior to directive principles? Four judges, including Chief Justice Chandrachud, said fundamental rights were part of the basic structure. These rights could not be taken away on the pretext of implementing directive principles. 

Nariman: Chief Justice Chandrachud wrote a judgement in which he actually spoke of the Directive Principles as being ends to legislation. And the fundamental rights are a means to an end.

Host: The majority said that the balance between rights and directive principles formed the core of the Constitution. Together, they served to achieve social transformation. One without the other would be meaningless. 

Nariman: And said, both have to be followed. And if there is any coach and four driven into this scheme of things, then obviously such an amendment would violate what we call the basic structure of the Constitution. 

Host: One judge, Justice PN Bhagwati partly dissented. 


Nariman: What we didn't realise was that Justice Bhagwati would dissent on 31C. On 368 (4) and (5), all five of them were ad idem. 


Host: Meaning they were all in agreement. 


Nariman: But somehow on Article 31C, Justice Bhagwati went the other way. And he went the other way by saying that look, in essence, we are socialist. Since we are socialist, and if there's a law truly made, and herein lies the catch, truly made. to implement some socialist programme, which is covered by a directive principle, then where's the question of any fundamental right coming in the way? I mean, he put it like that. So Justice Bhagwati took this route, and said, if there's something absolutely necessary, to the directive principle, then that part of the law stands shielded. 


Host: The Minerva Mills case was the first time since Kesavananda that the court considered the question of amendments and fundamental rights in detail. Palkhivala later said it saved our freedoms from being euthanised. The judgement finally cleared up seven years of confusion about what Kesavananda had actually held. But above all, it was a lesson for future judges. It showed how they could identify features of the basic structure in the Constitution. Lawyer and constitutional scholar Gautam Bhatia explains:


Bhatia: And I think in many ways, it is the most detailed judgement on the basic structure, because the court explains that the doctrine is not something free floating or free standing, you know, in the sky beyond the Constitution. Actually, you extract basic structure or basic features from the constitutional structure and the design. 



Host: The political sands were shifting even as the Minerva Mills case was being heard. The Janata government was rapidly disintegrating and by January 1980, Indira Gandhi was back in power. But this was a changed Indira Gandhi. She no longer claimed that socialism was the answer to India’s problems. She trod softly in constitutional matters, choosing subtler means to undermine the courts. Her government filed for a review of Minerva Mills, but the attempt didn’t gain traction. With that, the constitutional crisis which began 13 years ago with Golak Nath, finally came to an end. The age of the basic structure doctrine dawned just as an age of political innocence was ending – as many Indians first realised that the government they elected could turn against them. It would become a crucial safeguard in times of crisis. 


Bhatia: It ensures that when you have, you know, a supermajority dominant executive or dominant party in Parliament, as in Indira Gandhi's time, and if in the future, that that kind of dominance in Parliament reoccurs, then something as basic as the right to life, right to personal liberty, and equal treatment, and the rule of law is protected by the basic structure from, you know, a single party deciding to, to change the constitutional structure. 

Host: In Nani Palkhivala’s words, the basic structure ensured that Parliament could not use its powers to assume the role of “Official Liquidator of the Constitution.” Even former government counsel HM Seervai, one of its earliest and most erudite opponents, warmed up to it.  

Navroz Seervai: So he changed his mind and accepted that, given the circumstances, and what we'd gone through, the basic structure doctrine… was a good thing and protected democratic values and human rights and fundamental rights of the citizens of this country.


Host: This is Navroz Seervai, the senior advocate. Here he is telling us about why his father changed his mind about the basic structure. 


Navroz: And I think what nailed it for dad was the outrageous violation of the Constitution, not to mention other outrages perpetrated during those 18 months, during the emergency. Because he never thought in his wildest dreams that Parliament in its constituent character could be so shamelessly abused as it was during the emergency. 

Host: The emergency shook HM Seervai’s worldview. He no longer believed that elected representatives could be trusted to do what’s best for the people and called for checks on their power. Seervai said that Parliament could not be allowed to destroy the values of a free democratic society as envisaged in the Constitution. He supported even a vaguely defined basic structure doctrine against the “grave consequences of unlimited amending powers.” 


Seervai’s original fears that the basic structure doctrine would cripple Parliament have not come to pass. The Constitution has been amended over 70 times in the 50 years since the doctrine was developed. But there have been just 22 reported cases which challenged constitutional amendments using the doctrine. On the whole, the court actually used it to strike down amendments only seven times. But it would be a mistake to judge the basic structure only by this yardstick.



Constitutional crises come in all shapes and forms. Kesavananda was a result of a crisis triggered by Parliament’s amending power. But in the years since we have had crises created by other forms of political and state action. And the court has used the basic structure to settle those. It has done so by identifying new essential features and expanding the basic structure. 


Liang: If you look at the number of cases which have expanded or have actually defined, what is the basic structure, they are actually only a handful. And that is not a bad thing at all. Because if you are talking about something being so central and such a fundamental kind of core, then you can’t spread yourself too thin.


Host: This is Lawrence Liang, Dean at the School of Law, Governance and Citizenship at Ambedkar University Delhi. Liang takes us through some of these cases:


Liang: If you look at the cases where the question of what has been determined to be a part of the basic structure, those are actually very pivotal cases. So to name a few. In the Bommai judgement, the Supreme Court held secularism to be a part of the basic structure. The preamble has been held to be a part of the basic structure.


Host: The Bommai case was about centre-state relations. The verdict helped define more clearly and narrowly the circumstances for imposing President’s rule. Among other things, the court held that secularism was a part of the basic structure and the central government could impose president’s rule if a state government posed a threat to the secular fabric of the nation. Back to Liang: 


Liang: Judicial review is a part of the basic structure, judicial independence has been read in the NJAC judgement to be a part of the basic structure.


Host: In the NJAC case, which Liang just referred to, the court struck down a judicial reform law passed by the Modi government in 2014. It said that the law violated the basic structure because it gave the executive a greater say in appointing judges. 


Liang: The entire idea of fundamental rights, as you know, is part of the basic structure. So these are literally you know, the only instances that you will find where the courts have actually defined what is basic structure. But they are so important that they are



Host: These principles can be found in various parts of the Constitution. Many of us take it for granted that these are essential features of our political system. But as our history shows, once a political party gains enough power, the temptation to change - or to suppress - these principles is strong. And this can place the Constitution and our future as a democracy in grave danger. At moments like these, courts have used the doctrine of basic structure to protect the Constitution. That's why we've come to see it, in symbolic terms, as something like the moral compass of our democracy. And a reflection of our values, as a nation.



Host: The German scholar Dieter Conrad first introduced the idea of the basic structure to India, all the way back in 1965. At the time, the dominant view was that courts could not examine amendments passed by elected representatives. This notion was based mostly on the experience of democracies like the US, with a much older constitutional tradition. There were no immediate fears that a ruling party would fundamentally reshape the founding document. But in 1973, the Indian Constitution seemed to be on the brink of a collapse that many had assumed was inevitable in  a fragile, newly independent post-colonial nation: its constitution subordinated to brute political power. 

Kesavananda opened a new chapter in constitutional development. Its idea of the basic structure has since resonated with other countries that have witnessed similar dilemmas. Gautam Bhatia throws more light on the doctrine’s influence outside India:


Bhatia: In the 50 years, after, you know, after it was articulated in India, it has really been discussed and debated a lot across the world. So for example, some of the countries where it has been accepted, for instance, have been Bangladesh, and Pakistan, two of our neighbours, so it's been accepted over there, in Slovakia, in Belize, in Colombia. And so, you know, all these countries have accepted the doctrine, applying reasoning, rather similar to the Indian Supreme Court’s. So I think it really brought this idea of the basic structure of, of substantive limitations to check parliamentary abuse of constitutional amendments into the global constitutional lexicon. And that's an enduring legacy of the judgement.


Host: Kesavananda Bharati is the story of how the Supreme Court created the ultimate safeguard for our Constitution. It is also about the political conditions that made such a safeguard necessary. It was an assertion that the Constitution was the life force of our democracy; that the founding charter was not a plaything of temporary political majorities. For the most part, it seems that politicians have got this message. There has been no serious attempt to undermine the Constitution fundamentally since the 1970s. Gautam Bhatia sees this as a subtle impact of the doctrine on our politics:


Bhatia: In many ways, the impact of such doctrines is not visible in court judgments, but actually, in cases that never come to court. Parliament, knowing that a certain kind of amendment would violate the basic structure, would refrain from doing it altogether.

Host: This could be partly because of the rise of coalition politics, which made it difficult to build consensus for radical constitutional change. Let’s take an example. In the year 2000, the Vajpayee-led NDA government set up a commission to review the Constitution. But one of its coalition partners insisted that the recommendations should not violate the basic structure doctrine. It was a sign that the doctrine and the idea that the Constitution is supreme had gained acceptance in political culture as well.  That is, until now. 


Host: As India experiences another era of one-party dominance, it’s hard not to feel like the Constitution is at a crossroads once again. Government ministers have criticised the courts for overstepping their authority and undermining Parliament. Some prominent establishment figures have even called for rewriting the Constitution. While there have been no efforts to transform the , the basic structure doctrine isn't quite enjoying peak popularity at the moment. Take Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar’s remarks for example:

Vice President Dhankar: In Kesavananda Bharati’s case the Supreme court came up with the basic structure. Parliament can amend the Constitution but not the basic structure. With due respect to the judiciary I cannot subscribe to this.

Host: Then, Ranjan Gogoi, former Chief Justice of India, later nominated to the Rajya Sabha, said the doctrine has a doubtful basis.

Gogoi: Sir, I have to say something about the basic features… my view is that the doctrine of basic structure of the Constitution has a debatable jurisprudential basis. 

Host: The growing attacks on the doctrine have led to nervous speculation about the government’s intentions. In court, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud brushed aside Gogoi’s remarks as “just opinion.” At the 2023 Ram Jethmalani memorial lecture, Chandrachud refused to wade into the subject of basic structure. 

CJI Chandrachud: The topic of the day, which Mahesh Jethmalani has thought everybody should open up with, is about the basic structure doctrine. Much as I admire Ram Jethmalani, one thing I wouldn’t like to share is his ability to court controversy. So I thought if I had to do something about this doctrine, I should do it through my judgements and not in an off-the-court pronouncement. 

Host: But others, like the legal legend Fali Nariman, have been less equivocal. 


Clip: Karan Thapar: So in your opinion, has Justice Gogoi made a bad mistake claiming there’s no Basic Structure?

Fali Nariman: I’m afraid so, but that’s all right. Different people may have different views. I think so.

Thapar: People have a right to hold different things but his view in your opinion is wrong?

Nariman: Yes, totally wrong!

Host: There’s a new seriousness to all the talk about fundamentally changing our Constitution. It’s something we have not seen since Indira Gandhi’s time. Of course, the big difference is that the Constitution now has an anchor and that’s the basic structure. Lawrence Liang tells us how it complicates any exercise to rewrite the Constitution:


Liang: The task of radically overhauling the Constitution is not going to be an easy one. You're always going to have this 13-judge bench coming in the way, the only manner in which you would be able to overrule it is by constituting a larger bench, as the Indira Gandhi government attempted to do in the aftermath of Kesavananda Bharati judgement. But even after that, I would imagine that it would not be easy. 

[Transition to epilogue]

Host: In these seven episodes, we've traced the arc of India's first major constitutional crisis. It is a story full of arcane points of law, distant from our everyday lives. At times, we struggled to unpack the finer points of the laws and complex arguments. But through it all we kept returning to a question relevant to all of us: what are the values that define us as a country, and what role do they play in our daily lives? 


When it was adopted in 1950, the Indian Constitution was seen as a radical experiment. It offered a liberal democratic framework for an unwieldy country, beset by extreme poverty,  inequality and injustice. Values like freedom, equality and dignity gained new meaning for ordinary Indians. The Constitution was the vehicle by which they would achieve their personal and collective aspirations. 


But these aspirations were not always compatible. Land reforms emerged as a major flashpoint. For the first decade or so, the conflict played out in Parliament. But it was only a matter of time before the Constitution itself turned into the battleground. The conflict began to be framed as a binary: who was supreme? The Constitution or the people? Opposing forces pitted individual freedoms against economic well-being. Palkhivala summarised the conflict:


Palkhivala: Do not make the mistake of thinking that so long as you enjoy your freedoms, your poverty cannot be eradicated, that bread and housing cannot be made available for the poor.  If today they are not made available, it is not the fault of the Constitution, it is the fault of the policies which are being pursued.

Host: For a long moment, it looked like India would veer away from democracy. But from the depths of this crisis came a powerful six-word phrase: Parliament cannot amend the basic structure. This sentence represented a coming-of-age for Indian constitutionalism. It was a decision that we would not barter our freedoms to fulfil temporary aspirations. And that ruling parties, and Parliamentary majorities, which come and go, would not be allowed to ride roughshod over our founding ideals. We end the season with some words from Anil Divan. 

Anil Divan: I will share with you what Nani Palkhivala wrote in 1984 in We the People:  “In the affairs of nations as in the business of elements, winds shift, tides ebb and flow, the boat rocks, luckily, we have let the anchor hold. We have survived as a united democracy, a historic achievement.” The anchor in my view has been our Constitution and constitutional values.

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