Salient Features of the Indian Constitution

1. Lengthiest Written Constitution

Constitutions are classified into written, like the American Constitution, or unwritten, like the British Constitution. The Constitution of India is the lengthiest of all the written constitutions of the world. Four factors have contributed to the elephantine size - Geographical factors (the vastness of the country and its diversity), Historical factors (influence of various Acts), Single Constitution for both the Centre and the states except Jammu and Kashmir, Dominance of legal luminaries in the Constituent Assembly.

2. Drawn From Various Sources

The Constitution of India has borrowed most of its provisions from the constitutions of various other countries as well as from the Government of India Act of 1935. Dr. B R Ambedkar proudly acclaimed that the Constitution of India has been framed after 'rensacking all the known Constitution of the World'.

3. Government of India Act of 1935

More than 2/3 (two-third) of the Constitution is taken from the Government of India Act of 1935. Basic structure of the polity, provisions regulating the Union-State relations, declaration of Emergency, Federal scheme, power of Federal Judiciary, and the office of the Governor etc are mainly lifted from this act.

4. Blend of Rigidity and Flexibility

Constitutions are also classified into rigid and flexible. A rigid Constitution is one that requires a special procedure for its amendment, as for example, the American Constitution. A flexible constitution, on the other hand, is one that can be amended in the same manner as the ordinary laws are made, as for example, the British Constitution.

The Constitution of India is neither rigid nor flexible but a synthesis of both. 

5. Federal System with Unitary Bias

The Constitution of India establishes a federal system of government. It contains all the usual features of a federation, viz., two government, division of powers, written Constitution, supremacy of Constitution, rigidity of Constitution, independent judiciary and bicameralism.

However, the Indian Constitution also contains a large number of unitary or non-federal features, viz., a strong Centre, single Constitution, single citizenship, flexibility of Constitution, integrated judiciary, appointment of state governor by the Centre, allIndia services, emergency provisions, and so on.

6. Parliamentary Form of Government

The Constitution of India has opted for the British parliamentary System of Government rather than American Presidential System of Government. The parliamentary system is based on the principle of cooperation and coordination between the legislative and executive organs while the presidential system is based on the doctrine of separation of powers between the two organs.

7. Synthesis of Parliamentary Sovereignty and Judicial Supremacy

The doctrine of sovereignty or Parliament is associated with the British Parliament while the principle of judicial supremacy with that of the American Supreme Court.

8. Integrated and Independent Judiciary

The Indian Constitution establishes a judicial system that is integrated as well as independent. The Supreme Court stands at the top of the integrated judicial system in the country. Below it, there are high courts at the state level. Under a high court, there is a hierarchy of subordinate courts, that is, district courts and other lower courts. This single system of courts enforces both the central laws as well as the state laws.

9. Fundamental Rights

Part III of the Indian Constitution guarantees six fundamental rights to all the citizens The Fundamental Rights are meant for promoting the idea of political democracy. They operate as limitations on the tyranny of the executive and arbitrary laws of the legislature.

10. Directive Principles of State Policy

According to Dr. B R Ambedkar, the Directive Principles of State Policy is a 'novel feature' of the Indian Constitution. They are enumerated in Part IV of the Constitution. They can be classified into three broad categories-socialistic, Gandhian and liberal intellectual.

11. Fundamental Duties

The original constitution did not provide for the fundamental duties of the citizens. These were added during the operation of internal emergency (1975-77) by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1976 on the recommendation of the Swaran Singh Committee.

12. A Secular State

The Constitution of India stands for a secular state. Hence, it does not uphold any particular religion as the official religion of the Indian State.

13. Universal Adult Franchise

The Indian Constitution adopts universal adult franchise as a basis of elections to the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies. Every citizen who is not less than 18 years of age has a right to vote without any discrimination of caste, race, religion, sex, literacy, wealth, and so on. The voting age was reduced to 18 years from 21 years in 1989 by the 61st to Constitutional Amendment Act of 1988.

14. Single Citizenship

Though the Indian Constitution is federal and envisages a dual polity (Centre and states), it provides for only a single citizenship, that is, the Indian citizenship.

15. Independent Bodies

The Indian constitution not only provides for the legislative, executive and judicial organs of the government (Central and state) but also establishes certain independent bodies.

They are envisaged by the Constitution as the bulwarks of the democratic system of Government in India. These are Election Commission, Comptroller and Auditor-General of India,, Union Public Service Commission, State Public Service Commission.

16. Emergency Provisions

The Indian Constitution contains elaborate emergency provisions to enable the President to meet any extraordinary situation effectively. The rationality behind the incorporation of these provisions is to safeguard the sovereignity, unity, integrity and security of the country, the democratic political system and the Constitution. The Constitution envisages three types of emergencies:

  • National emergency on the ground of war or external aggression or armed rebellion (Article 352)
  • State emergency (President's Rule) on the ground of failure of Constitutional machinery in the states (Article 356) or failure to comply with the directions of the Centre (Article 365)
  • Financial emergency on the ground of threat to the financial stability or credit of India (Article 360)

17. Three-tier Government

Originally, the Indian Constitution, like may other federal constitution, provided for a dual polity and contained provisions with regard to the organization and powers of the Centre and the States. Later, the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts (1991) have added a third tier of government (local) which is not found in any other Constitutional of the world.