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Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Constitution of India

Finally did something I had been wanting to do for sometime- read up on the making of our constitution. It has been a fascinating and engrossing read spread over almost a week. Below is an abridged version of  that reading.

When the Constitution of India came into effect on 26th January 1950 it signaled both the culmination of a process steeped in history and a glorious end to the story of a country’s struggle to find its own place under the sun. India ceased to be a dominion of the British Crown and became a sovereign democratic republic. The lengthiest written constitution of any country in the world is an inclusive document, establishing the structure, functioning, powers and duties for a government system and its institutions and at the same time defining fundamental political principles, rights, directive principles and the duties of the citizens of India. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is widely regarded as its architect and its conscience keeper.

An aftermath of the uprising of 1857 was The Government of India Act, 1858, which brought India under the direct rule of the British Empire. The feelings of resentment which the events of 1857 had brought to the forefront, coupled with developments post 1857, gave momentum to the movement for a free India. As early as the nineteen twenties it was clear to those at the steering wheel of the movement that India’s future would be shaped by Indians themselves. In 1922 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi a.k.a Mahatma said “Swaraj will not be a free gift of the British Parliament. It will be a declaration of India’s full self-expression”. The demand for a Constituent Assembly was vindicated after the failure of the Simon Commission (1928-29) and the three Round Table Conferences of 1930, 1931 and 1932. It became an official demand of the Indian National Congress in 1935, and was accepted by the British in August 1940. The ‘August Offer’ made by Viceroy Lord Linlithgow included, among other things, permission to Indians to draft their own constitution. 

Origin of the Constituent Assembly

On June 3, 1947 Lord Mountbatten introduced the Indian Independence Act 1947 and scrapped the Cabinet Mission Plan. The Act was passed on July 18, 1947, a precursor to independence on August 15, 1947. The Constituent Assembly met for the first time on June 9, 1946, reassembling in the Constitution Hall on the evening of August 14, 1947 as a sovereign body and successor to the British parliament's authority in India.

Composition of the Constituent Assembly
The Constituent Assembly had 385 members. B N Rao was the constitutional advisor of the assembly and Dr. Sachidanand Sinha its interim President. The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly took place on Dec 9, 1946 .Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected as its President on Dec 11, 1947. The assembly was chaired by Prasad when it met as a constituent body and by G. V. Mavlankar when it met as a legislative body. The Constituent Assembly had 13 Committees. The Drafting Committee, which bore the responsibility of drafting the Constitutional document, was formed on August 29, 1947 under the Chairmanship of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar .

The Assembly met for the first time in New Delhi on December 9,1946, and its last session was held on  January24, 1950. During this period (two years, eleven months and eighteen days) it held eleven sessions, sitting for a total of 166 days. December 13, 1946 Jawaharlal Nehru introduced an "objective resolution", laying down the underlying principles of the constitution. This resolution was passed on January 22, 1947. July 22, 1947 the National flag was adopted and on January 24, 1950 "Jana Gana Mana“ was adopted as the national anthem, and the first two verses of "Vande Mataram"  became the national song. Rajendra Prasad was elected the first president of India.
During deliberations on the draft Constitution, the Assembly moved, discussed and disposed of as many as 2,473 amendments out of a total of 7,635 tabled. It was finally passed and accepted on Nov 26, 1949, a day  remembered as National Law Day. At the special session of the assembly held on Jan 24, 1950, a day on which the Gods above  literally showered their blessings, 284 members of the Assembly signed the official copies of the Indian Constitution which came into effect on Jan 26, 1950, henceforth celebrated as the Republic Day of India. From this day the Constitution of India became the law of all the States and territories of India. The defunct Assembly functioned as the  provisional Parliament of India until a new Parliament was constituted in1952.

The original Constitution of India is  beautifully calligraped by Nandalal Bose and  each page beautified and decorated by artists from Shantiniketan including the famous Beohar Rammanohar Sinha.  There was no typing or print involved. The original copies are kept in special helium-filled cases in the Library of the Parliament of India. 

Features of the Constitution
The Constitution laid down a parliamentary system of government with the executive being directly accountable to the legislature. Article 74 anoints  the Prime Minister of India as the head of government. Articles 52 and 63 state  that there shall be a President of India and a Vice-President of India with the President being a ceremonial head of state. The Constitution of India is Quasi-Federal in form because it has the features of a federation as well as unitary features. Each state and  Union territory of India has  a Chief Minister heading the government and a Governor (in case of states) or Lieutenant Governor (in the case of Union territories) as the ceremonial head . The state of Jammu and Kashmir was given a special status  through article 370. Panchayati Raj in rural areas and municipality in urban areas were introduced in the 73rd and 74th Amendment Act .

The Constitution, in its current form  consists of a preamble, 448 articles in 25 parts, 12 schedules, 5 appendices and 98 amendments.
The words which give meaning to the spirit and intention of the makers of the constitution and are termed as “the soul of the constitution” are enshrined in the preamble.


The  twenty five parts deal with matters such as Union and its Territory, Citizenship, Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles of State Policy, The Panchayats, Elections, Languages, Finance, Property, Contracts and Suits, Trade and Commerce within the territory of India, The scheduled and Tribal Areas, Services Under the Union, the States and many more areas.


Schedules, Amendments, Judicial review

The twelve Schedules are lists in the Constitution that categorize and tabulate bureaucratic activity and policy of the Government. Amendments to the Constitution are made by the Parliament, the procedure for which is laid out in Article 368. As of June 2015 there have been 100 amendments to the Constitution. Judicial review is dealt with under Article 13 and states that the Constitution is the supreme power of the nation and all laws are under its supremacy.

Adoptions from Other Constitutions

The reason why the Indian constitution is  called one of the best constitutions in the world is that its makers borrowed  from other models those features they felt would benefit and help and safeguard the interests of the people of the country. Features and principles have been adopted  from the constitutions of  Britian, the United States of America, Canada Ireland, Germany, Australia,  France, the erstwhile USSR and Japan.

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