Sources of Indian Constitution

The Constitution of a country is arguably the most important piece of document. It embodies certain features and codification of rules that aid smooth operations of governance and envisages an exponential growth of our democracy. Since becoming an independent nation, our country’s Constitution has evolved gradually, accommodating the needs of the people. It has relied significantly on various established Constitutions of the world, drawing from their experience. India, however, hasn’t merely relied on other countries for constructing this framework for governance; It has relied heavily on reports by various indigenous committees and their reports to understand the needs of the people right from the grassroot level. The Indian Constitution is quite comprehensive and is a unique blend of various provisions from different parts of the world and the needs of its people.

Introduction

The governing political system of a country, and its basic structure, is laid down by the country’s Constitution. It institutionalises the organs of a State – the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary. It also defines their powers, responsibilities and their interrelation with each other and the people of the republic.

Ideally, in a democracy, the people govern themselves – sovereignty vests with them.  However, the growing size of the populace, their division into nation-states, along with the complexities of administration render direct democracy infeasible. Therefore, the need for a complex structure, to support the growing needs of the state arises. The people’s inalienable right to choose their leader comes into play.

The foremost step, by the people, in institutionalising this structure of governance is to give themselves a constitution which codifies the process of governance and the allocation of duties and powers to various organs of the state. The role of a Constitution, among other things, is to demarcate and distribute powers between various organs, both at the Union and the State level.

The foundation of a country is said to be laid by its Constitution. The Constitution is representative of the ideas and ideologies of its founding fathers. It finds its genesis in the social, political, and economic spirit and the faith of its people. It is not merely a document.

It would be an error on anyone’s part who regards the Constitution as merely an inert document. The meaning of a constitution isn’t restricted to the text it embodies but goes beyond that. The Constitution is an ever-growing and ever-evolving organism. It derives meaning from the fashion in which its people operate it, resultant effects from its interpretation by the courts of the land, and the practices and conventions it births in the process of its operation.

Indian Constitution

The first Constitution of India, adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26th November 1949, came into effect on 26th January 1950. Originally, it had 22 parts, 395 articles and 8 schedules. Our Constitution, like most others, is amended from time to time and has, over 60 years, undergone 104 amendments. The number of Schedules rising from 8 to 12, and the Articles from 395 to 448.

Makings of the Constitution

Indigenous Origins

The Constitution of India is the lengthiest Constitution ever written. It has evolved over 60 years, deriving meaning from various acts and legislations worked out by the constituent assembly, and drawing inspiration from foreign constitutions. The aim was to learn and build upon the experience of established institutions. The evolution occurred through the nationalist struggle for freedom from British rule and the contemporaneous constitutional reforms. The process of building of legislatures started during the late 1920s. At the same time, the sources of some of the provisions can be traced back to the times when the East India Company and the British rule was beginning to take control over India.

The need for fundamental rights arose sometime in 1918, at the Bombay session of the Indian National Congress. The Commonwealth of India Bill, 1925 consisted specific declaration of rights like freedom of speech, assembly and religion, equality before law etc. At the Madras session of the Congress (1927), the demand for fundamental rights was restated. The Motilal Nehru Committee, in its report, declared that the primary concern for the people was to secure fundamental human rights.

Ten of the nineteen Fundamental Rights listed under the Nehru Committee Report made way to the Constitution of India without substantial changes. The Karachi Congress Resolution of 1931 had listed not only fundamental rights but also fundamental duties. Various social and economic rights mentioned in the 1931 resolution were expressed in the Directive Principles of the Constitution. Later, a chapter on fundamental duties, which wasn’t earlier placed in the original Constitution, got included by the Constitution (Forty-second) Amendment Act in 1976.

The 1928 Nehru Committee Report is also said to be the source of a parliamentary system, where the government has a responsibility to the Parliament, safeguards for minorities—all of which are found in the Constitution today.

Finally, and more centrally, almost 75 per cent of the Constitution finds its genesis in the Government of India Act, 1935—with necessary changes and modifications. Regulations of Union-State relations, declaration of Emergency, and the basic structure was some of the features derived from the 1935 Act.

Foreign Sources

In addition to the indigenous sources, the Constituent Assembly also relied moderately on various foreign models – drawing from established sources and their experiences. A lot of important features were adopted from several foreign models:

  1. The Concept of Directive Principles was adopted from the Irish Constitution.
  2. The Parliamentary system with an emphasis on ministerial accountability to the legislature came from the British. Issuing of writs was also taken from the British.
  3. Various powers of the President, Executive Head of the State, Supreme Commander of the armed forces and the Vice-President, ex-officio Chairman of the council of states—were all borrowed from the US model. (The Bill of Rights of the US is also said to be the inspiration behind our Fundamental Rights.)
  4. Distribution and division of power between the Union and the States, as well as the federal structure of government, were taken from the Canadian Constitution.
  5. The provision regarding freedom of Trade, Commerce and Intercourse, in the Concurrent List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, the Finance Commission, and Parliamentary privileges were all modelled on the Australian Constitution.
  6. Among other things, the provisions for Emergency were influenced by the Constitution of the German Reich.

Various other foreign sources made a great contribution to the formulation of our Constitution. (For ready reference, see the table below)

S.No.SourceFeatures
1.AustraliaConcurrent list;
Provisions regarding freedom of Trade, Commerce and Intercourse;
Joint-sitting of the two Houses of Parliament.
2.CanadaFederation with a strong Centre;
Vesting of residuary powers in the Centre;
Appointment of state governors by the Centre;
Advisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
3.IrelandDirective Principles of State Policy;
Nomination of members to Rajya Sabha;
Election Process of the President.
4.JapanProcedure Established by law.
5.Soviet Union (USSR) (now, Russia)Fundamental duties;
Social, Economic and Political Justice mentioned in the Preamble.
6.UKParliamentary government;
Rule of Law;
Legislative procedure;
Single Citizenship;
Cabinet system;
Prerogative writs;
Parliamentary privileges;
Bicameralism.
7.USFundamental rights;
Independence of Judiciary;
Judicial review;
Impeachment of the President;
Procedure for removal of Supreme Court and High Court Judges;
Post of vice-president.
8.Germany (Weimar)Suspension of Fundamental Rights during Emergency.
9.South AfricaProcedure to amend the Indian Constitution; Election of members of Rajya Sabha.
10.FranceConcept of a Republic;
Ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity enshrined in the Preamble.

Conclusion

Our Constitution is unique in many ways, distinguishing it from other Constitutions of the world – despite being an amalgamation of some of their features. We didn’t adopt anyone’s Constitution in its totality but cherrypicked the best features that would befit a democracy like ours. It has an element of flexibility.

The Constitution of India is quite comprehensive a document. It doesn’t fit a single mould or model. It is a unique blend of the flexible and the rigid, presidential and parliamentary, unitary and federal. It strikes a balance between the socio-economic interest of the people and security of the state on one hand and fundamental rights of individual on the other.

Several Constitutions framed after the Second World War have floundered into oblivion, our Constitution, however, in a display of its resilience, dynamism and growth potential, has successfully survived in the face of many crises.

References

  • Subhash C. Kashyap, Our Constitution: An Introduction to India’s Constitution and Constitutional Law 3 (5th ed. 2011)
  • M.V. Pylee, India’s Constitution (16th ed.)
  • Constitution (2nd July, 2020), https://tinyurl.com/yaaq8cuw

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What does the Constitution of a country signify?
  2. What are the main sources of the Constitution of India?
  3. Why is the Indian Constitution unique?
  4. What is the history behind the formulation of the Indian Constitution?

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