Most of you know that India became independent on August 15, 1947. But do you know why we celebrate Republic Day? January 26, 1950, is the day the Constitution of India came into effect. What was until then known as Union of India officially became the Republic of India. For 66 years now, the Indian Constitution has been the permanent instrument that ensures the working of the government system.
So what is this Constitution? It is the country’s supreme law and not only defines the framework of the basic political principles, but also establishes what the different government institutions should do in terms of procedure, powers and duties. It contains fundamental rights, directive principles and the duties of citizens. It is the longest written constitution of any country in the world. The Parliament cannot override it because the Constitution was created by a special Constituent Assembly.
In the making
Let’s take a look at how the Constitution was created. Though it came into force only in 1950, the demand for a Constituent Assembly was made back in 1934. M.N. Roy, a Communist party leader, was the first to moot the idea. This was then taken up by the Congress party and the British government accepted the demand in 1940. The August offer, as it was known, allowed Indians to draft their Constitution.
In 1946, elections to the Constituent Assembly were held and, of the 296 seats, the Congress won 208 and the Muslim League 73. The Constituent Assembly for undivided India met for the first time on December 9, 1946. However, relations between the Muslim League and the Congress deteriorated and the former demanded a separate assembly for Muslims.
By this time, events were moving rapidly towards independence. After independence, the members who represented the areas that had gone to Pakistan had to be replaced and new elections had to be held.
What the Constituent Assembly hoped to achieve was expressed by Jawarharlal Nehru: “The first task of this Assembly is to free India through a new constitution, to feed the starving people, and to clothe the naked masses, and to give every Indian the fullest opportunity to develop himself according to his capacity.”
A Drafting Committee was constituted on August 29, 1947, with Dr. B. R. Ambedkar as Chairman to prepare a Draft Constitution. This committee finally finished their work on November 26, 1949. The date is therefore known as Constitution or National Law Day. The process was complete when the members signed the document — two copies in English and Hindi — on January 24, 1950.
The final document drew upon the constitutions of many other countries. Here’s a quick overview of a few borrowed ideas: From Britain, the idea of parliamentary form of government and idea of single citizenship; from the U.S., the concept of fundamental rights and the government’s federal structure but the division of power between the central and state governments was taken from the Canadian constitution. From the French was borrowed the idea of liberty, equality and fraternity and, from the Soviet Union, the ideas of fundamental duties and the Planning Commission.
While the Constitution is written down, it is not a rigid set of rules or framework. The provisions were stated generally so that they could be adapted to changing times and situations. Take for instance the Right to Life under Article 21. From “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”, it has gone on to include Right to speedy trial; Right to water; Right to livelihood; Right to health and Right to education.
In his book Making of India’s Constitution, a well-known Supreme Court judge Justice H.R. Khanna wrote that the people are the trustees and custodians of the values in the Constitution. “A constitution is not a parchment of paper; it is a way of life. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and, in the final analysis, its only keepers are the people.”
Why do we need a Constitution?
Almost every aspect of our lives is governed by a set of rules. Think of your games; almost each one has its own specific regulations; your schools have certain rules that you have to follow. Adults are not exempt from rules; workplaces have them. Some are imposed by custom and tradition. Similarly society also needs certain rules so that people can live together in a safe manner. These are called Laws and are made by legislatures like our Parliament. The Constitution is the supreme law of the country and it contains laws concerning the government and its relationships with the people.
This quote by Patrick Henry, an American lawyer and politician, sums up the power of a Constitution best: “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”
The Assembly’s first meeting was in New Delhi on December 9, 1946, and its last on January 24, 1950. During this time, it held 11 sessions and met for 166 days.
Some of the important names in this assembly were Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer, B.R. Ambedkar, C. Rajagopalachari, G.V. Mavalankar, Jawaharlal Nehru, K.M. Munshi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. The Anglo-Indians was represented by Frank Anthony and the Parsis by HP Modi. Harendra Coomar Mookerjee, Chairman of the Minorities Committee, represented Christians other than Anglo-Indians. The Gorkha community were represented by Bahadur Gurung and some of the important women members were Sarojini Naidu, Durgabai Deshmukh, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Vijayalakshmi Pandit.
What is the Constitution of India?
The Constitution of India is a document that establishes the political values, the powers of government and the rights of the citizens of the country. It is the supreme law of India and is used by the prime minister, his cabinet of ministers and the courts to govern the country.
Before India came under British rule it was a collection of princely states, each of which had their own law based in separate religions, philosophies, and even ideas about beauty and art. When the British came into power they ruled colonial India with a set of rules and structure of government that was similar to their own.
The leaders of independent India realized that this new code would need to take into consideration the diversity of the land. They used the existing British model of government to set up a new framework that catered to the needs of the various communities of India.
Who wrote the Constitution of India?
The task of framing the constitution fell upon Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar. Although modeled on the British Constitution, it is designed to suit the needs of a developing nation with a much larger population and minorities within it. All this was taken into account when framing the new constitution.
There was a vision for the citizens of free India, an idea or plan for what values the new nation would be built on. This is brought out in the preamble, the introduction to the constitution so to speak.
“We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens:
Justice, social, economic and political;
Liberty, of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
Equality of status and of opportunity;
And to promote among them all
Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation;
In our constituent assembly this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this constitution.”
The first line of the Indian Constitution
“We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens.”
It is a declaration that the people of India have defined themselves as free people (sovereign). That there is social and economic equality in this state and there will be no discrimination based on caste or gender. Everyone has equal rights and opportunities to get jobs and earn their livelihood. For example, the government has started a rural employment scheme (socialist).
The government will not favour any one religion (secular). India will never be defined as a Hindu state, even though there is a majority of Hindus in the country. The government will respect the presence of Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and any other religion that someone chooses to follow.
All citizens are able and allowed to be part of the government and this person must be elected including the head of the state like the president (republic).
The government will be formed of the leaders elected by the people from each region or constituency and every citizen above 18 is eligible to vote barring none (democratic). India has 546 constituencies, therefore 546 leaders in the parliament.
How many Amendments are there in Indian constitution?
Just that one sentence is loaded with so much information, you can only imagine what the entire document is capable of talking about. The best part about the constitution is that it allows ‘amendments’ or changes. Naturally, not all the laws suitable for 1950 are suitable now. So the parliament is allowed to take a joint decision on which article of the constitution has to be amended. There have been 99 amendments so far.
Everything that the ruling party needs to know is laid out in the constitution – how many members of parliament, the number of states, the rights of the central government and the rights of the state governments, the fundamental rights and duties of citizens and so on. These are framed keeping in mind that India must always remain a sovereign, secular, socialist, democratic republic.
We celebrate the framing of the constitution – the rules of our republic – on 26th January each year.
There are 99 amendments to the constitution. Get a friend to find out about 10 of the amendments. Then you do the same. Compare and discuss each individual amendment and how it might relate to the population of India.