The Constitution of India (Hindi: भारतीय़ संविधान, see names in other Indian languages) is the supreme law of India. It lays down the framework defining the fundamental political principles, establishing the structure, procedures, powers and duties, of the government and spells out the fundamental rights, directive principles and duties of citizens. Passed by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949, it came into effect on January 26, 1950. It declares The Union of India to be a sovereign, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty; the words "socialist" and "secular" were added to the definition in 1976 by constitutional amendment. India celebrates the adoption of the constitution on January 26 each year as Republic Day. It is the longest written constitution of any independent nation in the world, containing 395 articles , 12 schedules and 83 amendments, for a total of 117,369 words in the English language version. Besides the English version, there is an official Hindi translation. Being the supreme law of the country, every law enacted by the government must conform to the constitution.
In 1946, at the initiative of British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, a cabinet mission to India was formulated to discuss and finalize plans for the transfer of power from the British Raj to Indian leadership and providing 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. With the independence of India on August 15, 1947, the Constituent Assembly became a fully sovereign body and began work on 9 December 1947.
The Assembly met, in sessions open to public, for 166 days, spread over a period of 2 years, 11 months and 18 days before adopting the Constitution. After many deliberations and some modifications, the 308 members of the Assembly signed two hand-written copies of the document (one each in Hindi and English) on the January 24, 1950. Two days later, the Constitution of India became the law of all the Indian lands.
The basic form of the Union Government envisaged in the Constitution was introduced by Dr. Ambedkar as follows,
A democractic executive must satisfy two conditions:India, thus adopted a Parliamentary form of government, with the President as the nominal head of the Executive and the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers wielding actual power.
1. It must be a stable executive, and
2. It must be a responsible executive.
Unfortunately, it has not been possible so far to devise a system which can ensure both conditions in equal degree. ..... The daily assessment of responsibility, which is not available in the American system is, it is felt, far more effective than the periodic assessment and far more necessary in a country like India. The Draft Constitution in recommending the parliamentary system of Executive has preferred more responsibility to stability.
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 preamble is not a part of the Constitution of India as it is not enforceable in a court of law. However, the Supreme Court has, in the case of Kesavananda Bharati vs. The State of Kerala, recognized that the Preamble is a part of the Constitution and may be used to interpret ambiguous areas of the Constitution where differing interpretations present themselves. However, the Preamble is useful as an interpretive tool only if there is an ambiguity in the article itself and should not be treated as a rights bestowing part of the Constitution.
An interesting side note concerns the words "SOCIALIST" and SECULAR in the preamble. The original drafting used the words "SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC". The two additional words "SOCIALIST" and SECULAR were introduced by the controversial 42nd amendment. The amendment was pushed through by Indira Gandhi in 1976, when she had dictatorial powers. A committee under the chairmanship of Sardar Swaran Singh recommended that this amendment be enacted after being constituted to study the question of amending the constitution in the light of past experience.
The first words of the Preamble - "We, the people" - signifies that power is ultimately vested in the hands of the people of India. It also tells that the constitution is made by & made for the people of India and not given to them by any outside powers.The Preamble lays down the most important national goals which every citizen and the government must try to achieve, such as socialism, secularism and national integration. Lastly, it lays down the date for the adoption of the Constitution - 26 November 1949.
India has adopted a mixed economy and the government has framed many laws to achieve the aim.
However demand for Uniform civil code is generally perceived as anti-Secular and subsidizing religious schools or pilgrims is generally perceived as promoting secularism in India.
Preamble plays pivotal role when there is ambiguity in provisions of any Article or interpretation becomes confusing, spirit of preamble becomes guiding factor. Preamble is stem, root and source of constitution.
On paper, an amendment to the Constitution is an extremely difficult affair, and normally needs at least two-thirds of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to pass it. However, the Constitution is one of the most frequently amended governing documents in the world; amendments average about two a year. The document outlines governmental powers in considerable detail, meaning that amendments are required to deal with matters addressed by ordinary statute in most other democracies.
In 1974, the Supreme Court of India in the landmark case of Kesavananda Bharati vs. The State of Kerala enunciated the Basic Structure Doctrine, which expanded the scope of judicial review to include the power to review Constitutional Amendments passed by the Legislature. Using this doctrine, the Supreme Court has struck down the 39th Amendment and parts of the 42nd Amendment as being in violation of the Basic Structure of the Constitution. Some noted authors of Constitutional law, such as HM Seervai, have argued that this is an usurpation of amending power by the judiciary, which was never intended by the framers of the Constitution. However, it can be argued that this doctrine is necessary to protect basic human rights from being legislated away. The 44th Amendment has repealed many of the provisions of the 42nd Amendment during Morarj Desai's Janata Party rule in 1977.
Since then, it has been established that the basic structure of the constitution cannot be amended by any means. The principles of Basic Structure and liberal interpretation of Fundamental Rights are well discussed in famous cases like - Keshvanand Bharti, Maneka Gandhi, Minerva Mills, Bonded Labour, Bhopal Gas tragedy case etc. The method of amendment was borrowed from South African constitution. The constitution laid down three lists of subjects for law-making - namely; Union, State and Concurrent. The Union law is more powerful compared to the State law, but, if the president has given assent to the State law, then it prevails over the Union Law.
There have been a total of 94 amendments to the constitution of India, as of 2006. It has now crossed the 100th mark. One of the major amendments (74th) was to reserve one third of PRI seats for women. It was a landmark amendment legislating affirmative action for women. After 1994, more than a million women are able to enter politics to share power with men.