The Constitution of India is the supreme law of India and the permanent instrument that makes the government system function. It lays down the framework defining fundamental political principles, establishes the structure, procedures, powers and duties of government institutions and fundamental rights, directive principles and the duties of citizens.
Following its independence, India’s Constituent Assembly set up a drafting committee headed by Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar to prepare a draft constitution for India to form the basis on which the newly independent India would be governed.
The Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November, 1949, and came into effect on 26 January, 1950. With its adoption, the Union of India officially became the modern Republic of India and the Constitution became the country's fundamental governing document. Each year, India celebrates the coming into force of the constitution on 26 January as the country’s Republic Day.
The Indian Constitution is a distinctive document with many extraordinary facets to it, including being the longest written constitution of any sovereign nation in the world. In its original shape, it had 395 articles and eight schedules. Overtime the number of articles has increased to 448 due to 100 amendments.
The length is mainly because the framers of the constitution borrowed many of its, principles from foreign constitutions while avoiding loopholes inherent in those constitutions, so as to ensure healthy political life to its citizens. Thus, the fundamental rights were borrowed from the United States’ constitution, parliamentary system of government from the British, the directive principles from the Irish Constitution and the idea of emergency from the German Constitution and the Government of India Act of 1935.
Some of the characteristics that distinguish the Indian Constitution are:
Federalism: According to the Constitution, India is a ‘Union of States.’ However, all the characteristics of a federation are also present in the Constitution.
Parliamentary form of government: The Constitution provides parliamentary form of government both at the center and in the states.
Flexible constitution: Although India’s constitution was initially in written form, it is far less rigid than many other federal constitutions. It is because of this flexibility that it has been possible to amend the constitution 99 times in less than sixty-five years.
Existence of a preamble: Like any other modern written constitution, the Indian Constitution has a preamble before it. The preamble is a very lucid exposition of the philosophy of the constitution. The original preamble declared India to be a Sovereign Democratic Republic. The 42nd amendment makes India ‘a Sovereign, Secular Socialist Democratic Republic.’Justice, liberty, equality and fraternity are set as the ideas to be achieved by India as a nation.
Guaranteed fundamental rights: Rights to equality, freedom, religion and constitutional remedies are the enumerated fundamental rights of Indian citizens. Originally, right to property was also a fundamental right, but was later removed from the list.
Provision of Directive Principles: The Indian Constitution also provides a number of Directive Principles. Such principles do not constitute any constitutional obligation for the government to fulfill; rather they are guidelines to the government.
Secularism: India is a secular nation and does not have any state religion. In a country inhabited by people of all faiths, it is essential that the state remains neutral between religions. Acceptance of secularism as a political ideal was an act of wisdom and boldness particularly after the traumatic experience of India’s partition on religious lines.
Double citizenship: Indian constitution does not sanction double citizenship as in many other countries. There is only one uniform Indian citizenship.
The Indian Constitution was carefully tailored to suit the needs of the Indian people. It is a tribute to the founding fathers that their work has endured in spite of strains and stresses. Now reaching its 67th anniversary, the Constitution still remains strong and firm.