A constitution is the rule book for a state. It sets out the fundamental principles by which the state is governed.  It describes the main institutions of the State and defines the relationship between these institutions (for example, between the executive, legislature, and judiciary).  It limits the exercise of power and sets out the rights and duties of citizens.  Constitutions may be written or unwritten, codified or uncodified, and complex or simple, providing vastly different governance patterns.

The Constitution of India came into force on 26th January 1950. At the time of its adoption, the Constitution contained 395 Articles and 8 Schedules and was about 145,000 words long, making it the longest national Constitution ever to be adopted. Every Article in the Constitution was debated by the members of the Constituent Assembly, who sat for 11 sessions and 167 days to frame the Constitution, over 2 years and 11 months.

November 26 is celebrated as Constitution Day. Find out here why we must honor and celebrate our Constitution and how we can do so on this auspicious day.

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The Preamble to the Constitution

The preamble is an introductory statement in the Constitution that explains the reasons and guiding values of the Constitution. The Preamble is the soul of the Indian Constitution, which contains the philosophy on which the Constitution was built.

The Assembly adopted the Preamble as presented by the Drafting Committee. | Image source: DNA India

The Constituent Assembly debated the Preamble on 17th October 1949. The debates around the Preamble revolved around the name of India and the inclusion of 'God' and 'Gandhi.' One member urged the Assembly to rename India as the ‘Union of Indian Socialistic Republics’, similar to the USSR. This suggestion did not convince members as they felt it would go against the already adopted constitutional scheme.

Another member sought to include ‘In the name of God. Many were opposed to this suggestion – it was noted that it was unfortunate to put ‘God’ on the vote. One member believed that the inclusion of ‘God’ would amount to a ‘compulsion of faith’ and violate the fundamental right to freedom of faith.

Another proposal was made to include Gandhi’s name in the Preamble. A member was discontent with the already adopted draft articles as he felt that the Indian constitution was based on the American Supreme Court cases and the Government of India Act. He opposed any association of Gandhi with the ‘rotten Constitution.’

The amendments moved by the members were negatived. However, this was one of the rare instances of the Assembly proceedings wherein the members voted on the proposal to include ‘God’ by a show of hands. The Assembly was divided, with 41 voting in favor and 68 voting against it.

What Every Indian Must Know about the Constitution

Longest Written Constitution

The Constitution of India is the lengthiest and most detailed constitutional document the world has produced. It is a very comprehensive, elaborate, and detailed document. The factors responsible for this are:

  • The vastness of the country and its diversity.
  • The influences of history, such as the Government of India Act of 1935
  • Single constitution for both the Centre and the states
  • The dominance of legal luminaries in the Constituent Assembly

Drawn from Various Sources

The Constitution of India has borrowed most of its provisions from the constitutions of various other countries and the Government of India Act of 1935. Dr. B R Ambedkar proudly acclaimed that the Constitution of India has been framed after ‘ransacking all the known Constitutions of the world.'

The structural part of the Constitution is, to a large extent, derived from the Government of India Act of 1935. The philosophical part of the Constitution (Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy) derives their inspiration from the American and Irish Constitutions, respectively. The political part of the Constitution (the principle of Cabinet government and the relations between the executive and the legislature) has been largely drawn from the British Constitution.

Blend of Rigidity and Flexibility

The Indian Constitution is a unique example of the combination of rigidity and flexibility. A constitution may be called rigid or flexible based on its amending procedure. The Indian Constitution provides for three types of amendments ranging from simple to most difficult procedures depending on the nature of the amendment.

Federal System with Unitary Bias

The Constitution of India establishes a federal system of government. It contains all the usual features of a federation, such as two governments, division of powers, written constitution, the supremacy of the constitution, rigidity of the Constitution, independent judiciary, and bicameralism. However, the Indian Constitution also contains many unitary or non-federal features, such as a strong Centre, a single Constitution, the appointment of a state governor by the Centre, all-India services, an integrated judiciary, and so on.

The Parliament is the supreme lawmaker in India, according to the Constitution. | Image source: Parliament of India

Moreover, the term ‘Federation’ has nowhere been used in the Constitution. Article 1 describes India as a ‘Union of States,' which implies two things:

  1. Indian Federation is not the result of an agreement by the states.
  2. No state has the right to secede from the federation.

Parliamentary Form of Government

The Constitution of India has opted for the British Parliamentary System of Government rather than the American Presidential system of government. The parliamentary system is based on the principle of cooperation and coordination between the legislative and executive organs. In contrast, the presidential system is based on the doctrine of separation of powers between the two organs.

Synthesis of Parliamentary Sovereignty and Judicial Supremacy

The doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament is associated with the British Parliament, while the principle of judicial supremacy is with that of the American Supreme Court. The framers of the Indian Constitution have preferred a proper synthesis between the British principle of parliamentary sovereignty and the American principle of Judicial supremacy. The Supreme Court can declare parliamentary laws unconstitutional through its power of judicial review. The Parliament can amend the major portion of the Constitution through its constituent power.

Rule Of Law

According to this axiom, people are ruled by law but not by men, that is, the basic truism that no man is infallible. The axiom is vital to a democracy. More important is the meaning that law is the sovereign in democracy.

The chief ingredient of law is custom, which is the habitual practices and beliefs of common people over a long number of years.

In the final analysis, rule of law means the sovereignty of the common man’s collective wisdom. Apart from this crucial meaning, rule of law means a few more things like:

  • There is no room for arbitrariness
  • Each individual enjoys some fundamental rights, and
  • The highest judiciary is the final authority in maintaining the sanctity of the law of the land.

Fundamental Rights

Part III of the Indian Constitution guarantees 6 fundamental rights to all Indian citizens. Fundamental Rights are one of the important features of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution contains the basic principle that every individual is entitled to enjoy certain rights as a human being, and such rights do not depend upon the will of any majority or minority.

No majority has the right to abrogate such rights. The fundamental rights are meant to promote the idea of political democracy. They operate as limitations on executive tyranny and the legislature's arbitrary laws. They are justiciable and enforceable by the courts for their violation.

Directive Principles of State Policy

According to Dr. B R Ambedkar, the Directive Principles of State Policy is a ‘novel feature’ of the Indian Constitution. They are enumerated in Part IV of the Constitution. The Directive Principles were included in our Constitution to provide social and economic justice to our people. Directive Principles aim at establishing a welfare state in India where there will be no concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. They are non-justiciable.

Fundamental Duties

The original constitution did not provide for the fundamental duties of the citizens. They were added to our Constitution by the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976 on the recommendation of the Swaran Singh Committee. It lays down a list of 10 Fundamental Duties for all citizens of India. Later, the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act of 2002 added 1 more fundamental duty. While the rights are guaranteed to the people, the duties are obligations that every citizen is expected to perform. However, like the Directive Principles of State Policy, the duties are also non-justiciable.

The Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion to all Indian citizens. | Image source: Wrytin

Indian Secularism

The Constitution of India stands for a secular state. Hence, it does not uphold any particular religion as the official religion of the Indian State. The distinguishing features of a secular democracy contemplated by the Constitution of India are:

  • The State will not identify itself with or be controlled by any religion;
  • While the State guarantees everyone the right to profess whatever religion one chooses to follow (which also includes the right to be an antagonist or an atheist), it will not accord preferential treatment to any of them;
  • The State will show no discrimination against any person on account of his religion or faith
  • The right of every citizen, subject to any general condition, to enter any office under the state will be equal to that of fellow citizens. Political equality, which entitles any Indian citizen to seek the highest office under the State, is the heart and soul of secularism as envisaged by Constitution.

The Constitution abolished the old system of communal representation. However, it provides for the temporary reservation of seats for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes to ensure adequate representation of them.

The Constitution wasn't printed or typed out — calligrapher Prem Behari Narain Raizada handwrote it in a flowing italics style. Raizada, who belongs to a family of calligraphers, was asked by Jawaharlal Nehru to write the first copy of the document. Each page of the handwritten document was decorated by artists like Beohar Rammanohar Sinha and Nandalal Bose from Shantiniketan, West Bengal.

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Shreyanjana

Shreyanjana is an archaeologist who ironically finds the written word to be the most powerful means of storytelling. A travel buff and a photography enthusiast, she has been writing and sharing stories of all sorts ever since she can remember.