The Constitution of India is the Supreme Law of India. It lays down the framework defining fundamental political principles, establishes the structure, procedures, powers, and duties of government institutions, and sets out fundamental rights, directive principles, and the duties of citizens. It is the longest[ written constitution of any sovereign country in the world, containing 448 articles in 22 parts, 12 schedules and 97 amendments. Besides the English version, there is an official Hindi translation. Dr B.R. Ambedkar is widely regarded as the father of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution was enacted by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949, and came into effect on 26 January 1950.
The date 26 January was chosen to commemorate the Purna Swaraj declaration of independence of 1930. With its adoption, the Union of India officially became the modern and contemporary Republic of India and it replaced the Government of India Act 1935 as the country’s fundamental governing document. The Constitution declares India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty, and endeavours to promote fraternity among them. The words “socialist” and “secular” were added to the definition in 1976 by constitutional amendment.[ India celebrates the adoption of the constitution on 26 January each year as Republic Day |
Main article: Indian independence movement
The major portion of the Indian subcontinent was under British colonial rule from 1757 to 1947. The impact of economic, political and social exploitation during this period helped the gradual rise of the Indian independence movement to gain independence from foreign rule. The movement culminated in the formation of the Dominion of India on 15 August 1947, along with the Dominion of Pakistan. The Constitution of India was adopted on 26 November 1949 and came into effect on 26 January 1950, proclaiming India to be a sovereign, democratic republic. It contained the founding principles of the law of the land which would govern India after its independence from British rule. On the day the constitution came into effect, India ceased to be a dominion of the British Crown.
The Indian constitution is the world’s longest constitution. At the time of commencement, the constitution had 395 articles in 22 parts and 8 schedules. It consists of almost 80,000 words and took 2 years 11 months and 18 days to build. In the United Kingdom the office of the Secretary of State for India was the authority through whom Parliament exercised its rule (along with the Council of India), and established the office of Viceroy of India (along with an Executive Council in India, consisting of high officials of the British Government).
The Indian Councils Act 1861 provided for a Legislative Council consisting of the members of the Executive council and non-official members. The Indian Councils Act 1892 established provincial legislatures and increased the powers of the Legislative Council. Although these Acts increased the representation of Indians in the government, their power still remained limited. The Indian Councils Act 1909 and the Government of India Act 1919 further expanded participation of Indians in the government.
Government of India Act 1935
Main article: Government of India Act 1935
The provisions of the Government of India Act 1935, though never implemented fully, had a great impact on the Constitution of India. Many key features of the constitution are directly taken from this Act. The federal structure of government, provincial autonomy, a bicameral central legislature consisting of a federal assembly and a Council of States and the separation of legislative powers between the centre and states are some of the provisions of the Act which are present in the Constitution of India.
The Cabinet Mission Plan
Main article: 1946 Cabinet Mission to India
In 1946, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee formulated a cabinet mission to India to discuss and finalize plans for the transfer of power from the British Raj to Indian leadership as well as provide India with independence under Dominion status in the Commonwealth of Nations. The Mission discussed the framework of the constitution and laid down in some detail the procedure to be followed by the constitution drafting body. Elections for the 296 seats assigned to the British Indian provinces were completed by August 1946. The Constituent Assembly of India first met and began work on 26 November 1946. The mission consisted of Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade, and A. V. Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty. However, Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India, did not participate.
Indian Independence Act 1947
Main article: Indian Independence Act 1947
The Indian Independence Act, passed by the British Parliament on 18 July 1947, divided British India into two new independent states, India and Pakistan, which were to be dominions under the Commonwealth of Nations until they had each finished drafting and enacted a new constitution. The Constituent Assembly was divided into two for the separate states, with each new Assembly having sovereign powers transferred to it for the respective dominion.
The Act also terminated British suzerainty over the princely states, each of which was left to decide whether to accede to one or other of the new dominions or to continue as independent states in their own right. However, in most cases the states were so dependent on central institutions that they were widely expected to accede to a dominion. When the Constitution of India came into force on 26 January 1950, it repealed the Indian Independence Act. India ceased to be a dominion of the British Crown and became a sovereign democratic republic. 26 November 1949 is also known as National Law Day.
Main article: Constituent Assembly of India
The Constitution was drafted by the Constituent Assembly, which was elected by the elected members of the provincial assemblies. Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Sanjay Phakey, Jawaharlal Nehru, C. Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Kanaiyalal Munshi, Purushottam Mavalankar, Sandipkumar Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Nalini Ranjan Ghosh, and Balwantrai Mehta were some important figures in the Assembly.
There were more than 30 members of the scheduled classes. Frank Anthony represented the Anglo-Indian community, and the Parsis were represented by H. P. Modi. The Chairman of the Minorities Committee was Harendra Coomar Mookerjee, a distinguished Christian who represented all Christians other than Anglo-Indians. Ari Bahadur Gururng represented the Gorkha Community. Prominent jurists like Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer, Benegal Narsing Rau and K. M. Munshi, Ganesh Mavlankar were also members of the Assembly. Sarojini Naidu, Hansa Mehta, Durgabai Deshmukh, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Vijayalakshmi Pandit were important women member
Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is hailed as the prime architect of Indian Constitution The first temporary 2-day president of the Constituent Assembly was Dr Sachidanand Sinha. Later, Rajendra Prasad was elected president of the Constituent Assembly. The members of the Constituent Assembly met for the first time on 9 December 1946.
India acquired independence on 15 August 1947 though sections of the country were carved out and stitched together to create another new country, Pakistan. The “institutional” road to independence was perhaps laid down by the Government of India Act of 1935, where the gradual emergence of India as a self-governing entity had first been partly envisioned. Following India’s independence in 1947, the Constituent Assembly deliberated over the precise constitutional future of India. On 26 January 1950, India became a Republic, and the Constitution of India was promulgated. Jawaharlal Nehru had become the country’s first Prime Minister in 1947, and in 1952, in the country’s first general election with a universal franchise, Nehru led the Indian National Congress to a clear victory.
The Congress had long been the principal political party in India, providing the leadership to the struggle for independence, and under Nehru’s stewardship it remained the largest and most influential party over the next three decades. In 1957, Nehru was elected to yet another five-year term as a member of the Lok Sabha and chosen to head the government. His ‘regime’ was marked by the advent of five-year plans, designed to bring big science and industry to India; in Nehru’s own language, steel mills and dams were to be the temples of modern India. Relations with Pakistan remained chilling, and the purported friendship of India and China proved to be something of a hoax.
China’s invasion of India’s borders in 1962 is said to have dealt a mortal blow to Nehru. Nehru was succeeded at his death on 27 May 1964 for a period of two weeks by Gulzarilal Nanda (1898-1998), a veteran Congress politician who became active in the non-cooperation movement in 1922 and served several prison terms, principally in 1932 and from 1942-44 during the Quit India movement. Nanda served as acting Prime Minister until the Congress had elected a new leader, Lal Bahadur Shastri, also a veteran politician who came of age during the Gandhi-led non-cooperation movement. Shastri was the compromise candidate who, perhaps unexpectedly, led the country to something of a victory over Pakistan in 1965.
Shastri and the vanquished Pakistani President, Muhammad Ayub Khan, signed a peace treaty at Tashkent in the former Soviet Union on 10 January 1966, but Shastri barely lived to witness the accolades that were now being showered upon him since he died of an heart attack the day after the treaty was signed. Shastri’s empathy for the subaltern classes is conveyed through the slogan, “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan”, “Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer”, which is attributed to him and through which he is remembered at Vijay Ghat, the national memorial to him in New Delhi in the proximity of Rajghat, the national memorial to Mohandas Gandhi.