Kesavananda Bharati was a Carnatic and Hindusthani vocalist and master of Yakshagana, an Indian art and theatre form, and had also written many devotional songs and dramas. He was a patron of education, Kannada culture and humanities, including Yakshagana, music and drama.
Swami Kesavananda Bharati had moved the Supreme Court on March 21, 1970, challenging the Kerala government’s takeover of land owned by the mutt (monastery) as per the state’s revolutionary land reforms act of 1969. The seer realised that it might be challenging to run the mutt once its property and source of income for running it was acquired by the government.
The seer was behind the court verdict within the “His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors. vs State of Kerala and others” case that has been etched into the annals of the Indian system together with the best Constitutional cases within the country and even now keeps reverberating within the corridors of justice.
Bharati argued that the three amendments breached his fundamental rights under Article 25 (right to practice and propagate religion), Article 26 (freedom of spiritual denomination, including managing and administering its property) and Article 31 (right to property).
The Kesavananda Bharati case was the culmination of a significant conflict between the judiciary and the government, then headed by Mrs Gandhi. In 1967, the Supreme Court took an extreme view, within the Golak Nath case, that the Parliament couldn’t amend or alter any fundamental right.
2 years later, Gandhi nationalised 14 major banks and, therefore, the paltry compensation was made payable, fettered and matured after 10 years. This was struck down by the Supreme Court, although it upheld the proper of Parliament to nationalise banks and other industries.
A year later, in 1970, Mrs Gandhi abolished the Privy Purses. This was a constitutional betrayal of the solemn assurance given by Sardar Patel to all or any of the erstwhile rulers. The Supreme Court also struck this down. Ironically, the abolition of the Privy Purses was challenged by the late Madhavrao Scindia, who later joined the Congress Party.
Smarting under three successive adverse rulings which had all been argued by NA Palkhivala, Gandhi decided to chop the Supreme Court and, therefore, the High Courts to size. She introduced a series of constitutional amendments that nullified the Golak Nath, Bank Nationalisation and Privy Purses judgments. During a nutshell, these amendments gave Parliament unchecked power to change or maybe abolish any fundamental right.
This case of Kesavananda Bharati was decided by a narrow majority of seven to six. It had been held that there were certain essential features of the Constitution which couldn’t be destroyed or damaged while amending the Constitution. While any provision of the Constitution might be amended by following the procedure prescribed under Article 368, such an influence to amend wasn’t absolute in the maximum amount because the basic features of the Constitution couldn’t be destroyed or emasculated during such an amendment.
The court refused to offer an exhaustive list of all the essential features of the Constitution saying that the question was to be decided by the court on a case to case basis to ascertain if a specific amendment of the Constitution affects a basic feature of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court in the Kesavananda Bharati case ultimately upheld the reform Acts and, therefore, the Amendment Acts that had been challenged. The sole provision that was struck down was the portion of the Constitution, the 25th Amendment Act, which denied the likelihood of review.
Aman Banka and Nidhi Bhatt