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The Kesavananda Bharati vs. State of Kerala

Case Summary


The Kesavananda Bharati vs. State of Kerala case emerged against the backdrop of a tumultuous period in Indian constitutional history. The 1960s and early 1970s witnessed significant political and constitutional developments, including attempts by the Parliament to assert its authority through constitutional amendments. These amendments raised concerns among jurists and scholars about the sanctity of the Indian Constitution and the erosion of fundamental rights and democratic principles. It was in this context that Kesavananda Bharati, the pontiff of the Edneer Mutt in Kerala, challenged the validity of certain amendments that sought to limit the scope of judicial review and curtail the judiciary's authority to interpret and protect constitutional rights. The case, therefore, symbolized a clash between parliamentary sovereignty and constitutional supremacy, with far-reaching implications for the future of Indian democracy.


The Supreme Court of India, in a landmark verdict delivered on April 24, 1973, pronounced its judgment in the Kesavananda Bharati case. The court, in a razor-thin majority of 7-6, upheld the doctrine of basic structure, fundamentally altering the landscape of Indian constitutional law. The judgment held that while the Parliament possessed the authority to amend the Constitution under Article 368, this power was not unfettered. The court articulated the doctrine of basic structure, which posited that certain core principles and features of the Constitution, such as the supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law, and the independence of the judiciary, were beyond the purview of parliamentary amendments. By establishing the basic structure doctrine, the Supreme Court struck a delicate balance between parliamentary sovereignty and constitutional supremacy, ensuring that the Constitution remained the paramount law of the land. This groundbreaking judgment reaffirmed the judiciary's role as the guardian of the Constitution and set a precedent for future cases involving constitutional amendments.


The Kesavananda Bharati case had a profound and enduring impact on Indian constitutional law and democracy. Firstly, it solidified the doctrine of basic structure as a cornerstone of Indian constitutional jurisprudence, providing a bulwark against arbitrary and unconstitutional exercises of power. The judgment empowered the judiciary to safeguard the core principles of the Constitution and uphold the rule of law, thereby reinforcing the democratic fabric of the nation. Secondly, the case set a precedent for judicial review of constitutional amendments, ensuring that the Constitution remained a living document capable of adapting to the evolving needs of society while preserving its foundational principles. Moreover, the judgment inspired a renewed sense of confidence in the Indian judiciary and its ability to protect constitutional rights and freedoms. The Kesavananda Bharati case, therefore, stands as a testament to the resilience of India's constitutional democracy and the judiciary's unwavering commitment to upholding the principles of justice, equality, and liberty.

Cases Linked to Kesavananda Bharati:

ü Indira Nehru Gandhi vs. Raj Narain (1975)

ü Minerva Mills Ltd. vs. Union of India (1980)

ü S. P. Gupta vs. Union of India (1981)

ü SR Bommai vs. Union of India (1994)

ü Keshavananda Bharati Educational Institution vs. State of Kerala (2003)

ü State of Karnataka vs. Union of India (1977)

ü L. Chandra Kumar vs. Union of India (1997)