THIS day, 66 years ago, on November 26,1949, “We the People of India” had given to ourselves a unique document — The Constitution of India — to govern ourselves. On May 16, 1946, the British Government announced the Constituent Assembly for India, thus it was a day of hope and promise. The idea of a Constitutent Assembly of India was proposed in 1934 by M N Roy, an advocate of radical democracy. It became the official demand of the Indian National Congress in 1935 and on August 8, 1940, the then Viceroy Lord Linlithgow made a statement about the expansion of the Governor-General's Executive Council to allow Indians to draft their own Constitution. Members of the Constituent Assembly were elected by the provincial assemblies.
Members of the Constituent Assembly embodied talent, scholarship and performance and it was, in fact, the congregation of best of the brains of the times. Its assemblage on August 14,1947 was as a sovereign body and successor to the British Parliament's authority in India. Its last session was held on January 24, 1950.
This grand Assembly held its first session on December 9, 1946. Outlining the vision of the Constitution, “Objectives Resolution” was introduced in the said Assembly on December 13, 1946, by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
Paras numbered 4 and 8 of this Resolution gave importance to the “people of India” as also to cause and concern of “world peace” and “welfare of the mankind.” Para 4 mentions: “Wherein all power and authority of the Soverign Independent India, its constituent parts and organs of government, are derived from the people”; and (para 8) “this ancient land attains its rightful and honoured place in the world and makes its full and willing contribution to the promotion of world peace and the welfare of mankind”. This Resolution in its main part now forms the Preamble to the Constitution of India and was unanimously adopted by the Constituent Assembly on January 22, 1947.
The desire of the Constituent Assembly to have a Constitution which is dynamic and vibrant in keeping with the changing times and lives of the people of India is reflected in the composition of its Drafting Committee, which was chaired by BR Ambedkar. The Committee was set up on August 29, 1947 to prepare a draft Constitution for India. It took the Assembly, two years 11 months and 18 days to debate and enact the Constitution. During this period, it held 11 sessions, covering a total of 165 days. By now, the Constitution has experienced 100 amendment surgeries.
The Indian Constitution, voluminous and detailed, is the largest written Constitution of the world. It consists of 395 Articles, divided into 22 parts and 12 Schedules. USA’s Constitution has seven Articles, France’s 87 Articles, that of China 138 Articles and Canada’s 107 Articles. Japan’s Constitution has 103 Articles. The Constitution of India declares India to be a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic. The words “Sovereign” and “Secular” were added to its Preamble by the 42nd Amendment in 1976.
The Constitution had to answer the multiple aspirations of the people with justiciable rights and incorporate elements of a responsive State with a clear policy framework and ideals as fundamentals for the governance of the country. To meet this end, the makers had not shied away from intelligent borrowing of several features from Constitutions of the world.
Dr BR Ambedkar though conceded that our Constitution had been framed after “borrowing from” the known Constitutions but his emphasis in the Constituents Assembly was that these were not a slavish imitation but adoption of time-tested provisions.
Borrowing from the world
From the US Constitution, we borrowed principles of judicial review, independence of the judiciary, impeachment of the President, post of a Vice-President, removal of Supreme Court and high court judges and fundamental rights. For the parliamentary form of government, law-making procedure, instiution of the Speaker, single citizenship and doctrine of pleasure of tenure of civil servants, we looked up to the British Constitution. Similarly, for freedom of trade and commerce, concept of the Concurrent List, joint sitting of two houses and power of the national legislature to make law for enforcement of treaties, even on matters otherwise outside federal jurisdiction, we took inputs from the Australian Constitution. The founding fathers went through the French Constitution for the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, whereas for the Directive Principles of state policy, nominations of Members of Rajya Sabha as also for election for the position of the President of India, the Irish Constitution was the inspiration. The Canadian Constitution gave us the concepts of the federal system with a strong centre, vesting of residual powers with the Centre, appointment of governors in the states by the Centre and the advisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The Constitution of the erstwhile USSR (now Russia) help ed to introduce the ideals of social, economic and political justice in the Preamble as also the inclusion of fundamental duties later on. The concept of the amendment of the Constitution came from the South African Constitution and Emergency provisions from the Weimar Constitution. The “due process of law” was imported from Japan. Thus the Constitution was framed by the assimilation of all these concepts as also with substantial provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935.
It is a document that guides the destiny of the Centre as also of the States of the Indian Union, a mixture of federalism and unitarianism, while incorporating flexibility and rigidity at the same time. Detailed and minute administrative provisions are a guarantee against the subversion of the Constitution through legislative powers.
The vastness of the country and a large population with diversity compelled the makers to provide for the protection and promotion of interest of different regions and groups in India. There are specific provisions for Minorities, Scheduled Castes and Tribes etc. The Indian Constitution is a living document that genuinely and faithfully manifests the sovereign will of the people.
Celebrating November 26 as Law Day every year all over India was the brainchild of Dr LM Singhvi, the then President of the Supreme Court Bar Association in 1979. It is a day to take stock of state of law and of administration of justice; reorient and re-engineer the legal and judicial system with a view to improving it and strengthening the concept of rule of law and independence of the judiciary. It helps to sustain the freedom of the legal profession and generate confidence of the masses in the legal and judicial system. As a democratic nation, we can effectively cater to our masses only by being ruled by law.
The writer is a former Judge of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, Chandigarh
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