IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Kesavananda Bharati — the petitioner who saved democracy, but lost his case in Supreme Court

7th September, 2020 Polity

Context: Kesavananda Bharati Swamiji, the sole unwitting petitioner in the historic Fundamental Rights case, which prevented the nation from slipping into a totalitarian regime, died. He was 80.


  • Though the judgment is a landmark, the Swamiji did not win any relief in the case.
  • The amendments in the Kerala land reforms law, which he had challenged, were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1973.
  • It challenge a series of constitutional amendments introduced by the Indira Gandhi government granting unlimited power to Parliament to alter the Constitution.

The “Kesavananda Bharati versus State of Kerala” case

  • Was unique as the case was heard by a Bench of 13 judges — the largest formed in the Supreme Court.
  • It was heard over 68 working days from October 1972 to March 1973.
  • The judgment was a mammoth 703 pages.
  • The Kesavananda Bharati judgment introduced the Basic Structure doctrine, which limited Parliament’s power to make drastic amendments that may affect the core values enshrined in the Constitution like secularism and federalism.
  • The verdict upheld the power of the Supreme Court to judicially review laws of Parliament.
  • It evolved the concept of separation of powers among the three branches of governance — legislative, executive and the judiciary.
  • The Emergency was proclaimed shortly after the judgment was delivered on April 24, 1973.
  • The Kesavananda Bharati judgment proved timely and thwarted many an attempt on democracy and dignity of individual during those dark years.