Constitution means a set of fundamental principles, basic rules and established precedents (standards or instances). It identifies, defines and regulates various aspects of the State and the structure, powers and functions of the major institutions under the three organs of the Government - the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. It also provides for rights and freedoms of citizens and spells out the relationships between individual citizen and the State and government.
A Constitution may be written or unwritten, but it contains fundamental laws of the land. It is the supreme and ultimate authority. Any decision or action which is not in accordance with it will be unconstitutional and unlawful.
A Constitution also lays down limits on the power of the government to avoid abuse of authority. Moreover, it is not a static but a living document, because it needs to be amended as and when required to keep it updated. Its flexibility enables it to change according to changing aspirations of the people, the needs of the time and the changes taking place in society.
The Indian Constitution
Indian Constitution is the longest of all the written constitutions. It was prepared by a representative body, known as the Constituent Assembly. Most of its members were deeply involved in the freedom struggle. They are respectfully called the founding fathers of the Constitution. The process of constitution-making was greatly influenced by the following factors:
- Aspirations generated during the long drawn freedom struggle
- The constitutional and political changes that took place during the British rule
- The ideas and thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, popularly known as Gandhism
- The socio-cultural ethos of the country
- The experiences of the functioning of Constitutions in other democratic countries of the world
The Constitution came into effect on 26 January, 1950 and since then this day is celebrated as the Republic Day every year.
The Constituent Assembly began to prepare the Constitution on 9 December, 1946. Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected as its President on 11 December, 1946. Dr. Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee. The Constituent Assembly met for 166 days, spread over a period of 2 years, 11 months and 18 days. The making of the Constitution was completed on 26 November, 1949 when the Constituent Assembly adopted the Draft Constitution of India.
The Constitution of India defines all aspects of the Indian political system including its basic objectives. It has provisions regarding
- The territories that India will comprise
- Fundamental rights
- Directive principles of state policy and fundamental duties
- The structure and functioning of governments at union, state and local levels
- Several other aspects of the political system
It defines India as a sovereign, democratic, socialist and secular republic. It has provisions for bringing about social change and defining the relationship between individual citizen and the state.
The Constitution of any country serves several purposes. It lays down certain ideals that form the basis of the kind of country that citizens aspire to live in. A country is usually made up of different communities of people who share certain beliefs, but may not necessarily agree on all issues. A Constitution helps serve as a set of principles, rules and procedures on which there is a consensus. These form the basis according to which the people want the country to be governed and the society to move on.
This includes not only an agreement on the type of government but also on certain ideals that the country should uphold. The Indian Constitution has certain core constitutional values that constitute its spirit and are expressed in various articles and provisions. A value is that which is very essential or worth having and observing for the existence of human society as an entity. The Indian Constitution contains all such values, the values that are the universal, human and democratic of the modern age.
The constitutional values are reflected in the entire Constitution of India, but its Preamble embodies ‘the fundamental values and the philosophy on which the Constitution is based’. The Preamble to any Constitution is a brief introductory statement that conveys the guiding principles of the document.
The Preamble to the Indian Constitution also does so. The values expressed in the Preamble are expressed as objectives of the Constitution. These are: sovereignty, socialism, secularism, democracy, republican character of Indian State, justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, human dignity and the unity and integrity of the Nation.
The Preamble declares India "a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic". Being sovereign means having complete political freedom and being the supreme authority. It implies that India is internally all powerful and externally free. It is free to determine for itself without any external interference (either by any country or individual) and nobody is there within to challenge its authority.
This feature of sovereignty gives the dignity of existence as a nation in the international community. Though the Constitution does not specify where the sovereign authority lies but a mention of ‘We the People of India’ in the Preamble clearly indicates that sovereignty rests with the people of India. This means that the constitutional authorities and organs of government derive their power only from the people.
The social and economic inequalities have been inherent in the Indian traditional society. Which is why, socialism has been made a constitutional value aimed at promoting social change and transformation to end all forms of inequalities. Indian Constitution directs the governments and the people to ensure a planned and coordinated social development in all fields.
It directs to prevent concentration of wealth and power in a few hands. The Constitution has specific provisions that deal with inequalities in the Chapters on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy.
India is a home to almost all major religions in the world. Secularism implies that the country is not guided by any one religion or any religious considerations. However, the Indian state is not against religions. It allows all its citizens to profess, preach and practise any religion they follow. At the same time, it ensures that the state does not have any religion of its own. Constitution strictly prohibits any discrimination on the ground of religion.
The Preamble reflects democracy as a value. As a form of government it derives its authority from the will of the people. The people elect the rulers of the country and the elected representatives remain accountable to the people. The people of India elect them to be part of the government at different levels by a system of universal adult franchise, popularly known as ‘one man one vote’.
Democracy contributes to stability, continuous progress in the society and it secures peaceful political change. It allows dissent and encourages tolerance. And more importantly, it is based on the principles of rule of law, inalienable rights of citizens, independence of judiciary, free and fair elections and freedom of the press.
India is not only a democratic nation but it is also a republic. The most important symbol of being a republic is the office of the Head of the State, i.e. the President who is elected and who is not selected on the basis of heredity, as is found in a system with monarchy. This value strengthens and substantiates democracy where every citizen of India is equally eligible to be elected as the Head of the State. Political equality is the chief message of this provision.
Living in a democratic system alone does not ensure justice to citizens in all its totality. There are a number of cases where not only the social and economic justice but also the political justice is denied. Which is why, the constitution-makers have included social, economic and political justice as constitutional values.
By doing so, they have stressed that the political freedom granted to Indian citizens has to be instrumental in the creation of a new social order, based on socio-economic justice. Justice must be availed to every citizen. This ideal of a just and egalitarian society remains as one of the foremost values of the Indian Constitution.
The Preamble prescribes liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship as one of the core values. These have to be assured to every member of all the communities. It has been done so, because the ideals of democracy can not be attained without the presence of certain minimal rights which are essential for a free and civilised existence of individuals.
Equality is as significant constitutional value as any other. The Constitution ensures equality of status and opportunity to every citizen for the development of the best in him or her. As a human being everybody has a dignified self and to ensure its full enjoyment, inequality in any form present in our country and society has been prohibited. Equality reflected specifically in the Preamble is therefore held as an important value.
There is also a commitment made in the Preamble to promote the value of fraternity that stands for the spirit of common brotherhood among all the people of India. In the absence of fraternity, a plural society like India stands divided. Therefore, to give meaning to all the ideals like justice, liberty and equality, the Preamble lays great emphasis on fraternity.
Fraternity can be realised not only by abolishing untouchability among different sects of the community, but also by abolishing all communal or sectarian or even local discriminatory feelings which stand in the way of unity of India.
10. Dignity of the individual
Promotion of fraternity is essential to realise the dignity of the individual. It is essential to secure the dignity of every individual without which democracy can not function. It ensures equal participation of every individual in all the processes of democratic governance.
11. Unity and Integrity of the Nation
Fraternity also promotes one of the critical values, i.e. unity and integrity of the nation. To maintain the independence of the country intact, the unity and integrity of the nation is very essential. Therefore, the stress has been given on fostering unity among all the inhabitants of the country. The Constitution expects from all the citizens of India to uphold and protect the unity and integrity of India as a matter of duty.
12. International Peace and a Just International Order
The value of international peace and a just international order, though not included in the Preamble is reflected in other provisions of the Constitution. The Indian Constitution directs the state (a) to promote international peace and security, (b) maintain just and honourable relations between nations, (c) foster respect for international law and treaty obligations, and (d) encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration.
To uphold and observe these values is in the interest of India. The peace and just international order will definitely contribute to the development of India.
13. Fundamental Duties
The Constitution prescribes some duties to be performed by the citizens. It is true that these duties are not enforceable in the court of law like the fundamental rights are, but these duties are to be performed by citizens. Fundamental duties have still greater importance because these reflect certain basic values like patriotism, nationalism, humanism, environmentalism, harmonious living, gender equality, scientific temper and inquiry, and individual and collective excellence.