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Indian Polity: Salient Features of the Indian Constitution



The Constitution of India is the supreme law of the land that lays down the framework of the political system, the structure and functions of the government, the rights and duties of the citizens, and the principles of governance. It is one of the most comprehensive and detailed constitutional documents in the world. It has been drafted after studying and borrowing from the constitutions of various countries as well as from the Government of India Act of 1935. Here, we will discuss some of the salient features of the Indian Constitution that make it unique and distinctive. We will also look at some of the previous year civil service questions related to this topic.


Features of Indian Constitution


The Indian Constitution has several features that distinguish it from the constitutions of other countries. Some of the major features are:


  • Lengthiest Written Constitution: The Indian Constitution is the longest written constitution in the world. It contains 395 articles, 22 parts, 12 schedules, and 103 amendments (as of January 2020). It is very elaborate and detailed, covering not only the fundamental principles of governance but also the administrative and legal aspects. The factors that contributed to the lengthiness of the Constitution are: the vastness and diversity of the country, the historical influences of the Government of India Act of 1935, the single constitution for both the Centre and the states, and the dominance of legal experts in the Constituent Assembly.

  • Drawn from Various Sources: The Indian Constitution 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, the chief architect of the Constitution, proudly declared that the Indian Constitution was drafted after “ransacking all known Constitutions of the world”. Some of the sources of the Constitution are: the British Constitution (parliamentary system, rule of law, bicameralism, etc.), the US Constitution (federal system, judicial review, fundamental rights, etc.), the Irish Constitution (directive principles of state policy, nomination of members to Rajya Sabha, etc.), the Canadian Constitution (federation with a strong Centre, residuary powers to the Centre, etc.), the Australian Constitution (concurrent list, joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, etc.), the French Constitution (republican form of government, ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, etc.), the German Constitution (suspension of fundamental rights during emergency, etc.), the Japanese Constitution (procedure for amendment, etc.), and the South African Constitution (procedure for election of Rajya Sabha members, etc.).

  • Blend of Rigidity and Flexibility: The Indian Constitution is neither too rigid nor too flexible. It is a blend of both. Rigidity means that the Constitution can be amended only by a special procedure that requires a high degree of consensus among the different organs of the government. Flexibility means that the Constitution can be amended by a simple procedure that requires a simple majority of the Parliament. The Indian Constitution can be amended by three different methods, depending on the nature and scope of the amendment. The first method requires a special majority of both the Houses of Parliament and ratification by at least half of the state legislatures. This method is used for amending the federal and constitutional provisions, such as the distribution of powers, the representation of states, the fundamental rights, etc. The second method requires a special majority of both the Houses of Parliament but no ratification by the states. This method is used for amending the non-federal and non-constitutional provisions, such as the creation of new states, the abolition of the Legislative Councils, the citizenship, etc. The third method requires a simple majority of both the Houses of Parliament and no ratification by the states. This method is used for amending the ordinary and procedural provisions, such as the salaries and allowances of the President, the judges, the members of Parliament, etc. The blend of rigidity and flexibility ensures that the Constitution can adapt to the changing needs of the society without compromising its basic structure and values.

  • Federal System with Unitary Bias: The Indian Constitution establishes a federal system of government, where the power is divided between the Centre and the states. However, the Indian federalism is not a pure or classical federalism, but a “quasi-federal” or “federation with a strong Centre”. The Constitution has given more powers and authority to the Centre than to the states. Some of the features that make the Indian federalism unitary in nature are: a single Constitution for both the Centre and the states, a single citizenship for all the people, a strong and integrated judiciary, the power of the Centre to legislate on the subjects in the state list under certain circumstances, the power of the Centre to create or reorganise the states, the power of the Centre to impose emergency in the states, the power of the Centre to appoint the Governor and the Chief Election Commissioner, the financial dependence of the states on the Centre, etc. The unitary bias of the Indian federalism is justified by the need to maintain the unity and integrity of the nation, especially in the face of diversity and regionalism.

  • Parliamentary Form of Government: The Indian Constitution has adopted the parliamentary form of government, both at the Centre and the states. The parliamentary system is based on the principle of cooperation and coordination between the executive and the legislative branches of the government. The executive is a part of the legislature and is responsible and accountable to it. The executive consists of two organs: the President, who is the nominal or titular head of the state, and the Prime Minister, who is the real or effective head of the government. The President is elected by an indirect method, while the Prime Minister is appointed by the President from among the members of the majority party or coalition in the Lok Sabha. The Prime Minister is assisted by a Council of Ministers, who are also appointed by the President on his advice. The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha and can be removed by a vote of no-confidence. The President exercises his powers and functions on the aid and advice of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers, except in some matters where he can act in his discretion. The parliamentary system ensures the stability and continuity of the government, the representation of diverse interests, the responsiveness of the executive to the public opinion, and the check and balance of the executive by the legislature.

  • Synthesis of Parliamentary Sovereignty and Judicial Supremacy: The Indian Constitution has tried to strike a balance between the parliamentary sovereignty and the judicial supremacy. Parliamentary sovereignty means that the Parliament is the supreme law-making authority and can enact any law within its competence. Judicial supremacy means that the judiciary is the supreme interpreter and guardian of the Constitution and can declare any law or action of the government as unconstitutional. The Indian Constitution has given the Parliament the power to amend the Constitution, subject to some limitations. The Constitution has also given the judiciary the power to review the constitutional validity of the laws and actions of the government, subject to some restrictions. The Parliament and the judiciary have been engaged in a constant tussle over their respective roles and powers, especially in the matters of constitutional amendments and fundamental rights. The Supreme Court has evolved the doctrine of the basic structure of the Constitution, which implies that the Parliament cannot amend the essential features or the core values of the Constitution, such as democracy, secularism, federalism, judicial independence, etc. The doctrine of the basic structure has been upheld by the Supreme Court in several landmark cases, such as Kesavananda Bharati (1973), Indira Gandhi (1975), Minerva Mills (1980), etc. The synthesis of parliamentary sovereignty and judicial supremacy aims to preserve the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law, while allowing the necessary changes and reforms in the constitutional system.

  • Rule of Law: The Indian Constitution is based on the concept of the rule of law, which means that the law is supreme and no person, whether high or low, is above the law. The rule of law implies that the government is conducted according to the law, the people are governed by the law, and the rights and liberties of the people are protected by the law. The rule of law also implies the equality before the law, the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers, the due process of law, and the judicial review. The rule of law ensures that the government is not arbitrary or tyrannical, but democratic and accountable. The rule of law also ensures that the people are not oppressed or exploited, but free and dignified.

  • Integrated and Independent Judiciary: The Indian Constitution has established a single and integrated judiciary for the whole country, unlike the dual judiciary in the USA. The Supreme Court is the apex court of the country, followed by the High Courts at the state level, and the subordinate courts at the district and lower levels. The Supreme Court and the High Courts have the power of judicial review, which means that they can examine the constitutional validity of the laws and actions of the government. The Supreme Court and the High Courts also have the power of judicial activism, which means that they can intervene in the matters of public interest and social justice, even without a formal petition or case. The Supreme Court and the High Courts also have the power of issuing writs, which are the orders or directions to the government or any authority to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens. The writs are: habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto, and certior.


Sources of Indian Constitution


The sources of Indian Constitution are the various documents, laws, and constitutions of other countries that influenced the drafting of the Indian Constitution. The Constituent Assembly of India, which was formed in 1946, studied and borrowed from the constitutions of various countries as well as from the Government of India Act of 1935, which was the last legislation enacted by the British Parliament for India. Some of the major sources of Indian Constitution and the features borrowed from them are:


  • Government of India Act of 1935: This act provided the basis for the federal scheme, the office of the governor, the judiciary, the public service commissions, the emergency provisions, and the administrative details of the Indian Constitution.

  • British Constitution: The Indian Constitution adopted the parliamentary system of government, the rule of law, the legislative procedure, the single citizenship, the cabinet system, the prerogative writs, the parliamentary privileges, and the bicameralism from the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom.

  • US Constitution: The Indian Constitution borrowed the fundamental rights, the independence of judiciary, the judicial review, the impeachment of the president, the removal of Supreme Court and High Court judges, and the post of vice-president from the written constitution of the United States of America.

  • Irish Constitution: The Indian Constitution took the directive principles of state policy, the nomination of members to Rajya Sabha, and the method of election of the president from the constitution of Ireland.

  • Canadian Constitution: The Indian Constitution followed the federation with a strong Centre, the vesting of residuary powers in the Centre, the appointment of state governors by the Centre, and the advisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court from the constitution of Canada.

  • Australian Constitution: The Indian Constitution incorporated the concurrent list, the freedom of trade, commerce and intercourse, and the joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament from the constitution of Australia.

  • French Constitution: The Indian Constitution adopted the republican form of government and the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity from the constitution of France.

  • German Constitution: The Indian Constitution borrowed the suspension of fundamental rights during emergency from the constitution of Germany (Weimar Republic).

  • Soviet Constitution: The Indian Constitution derived the fundamental duties, the ideals of justice (social, economic and political) in the Preamble, and the five-year plans from the constitution of the former Soviet Union.

  • South African Constitution: The Indian Constitution copied the procedure for amendment and the election of members of Rajya Sabha from the constitution of South Africa.

  • Japanese Constitution: The Indian Constitution followed the procedure established by law from the constitution of Japan.

These are some of the main sources of Indian Constitution that influenced its drafting and content. However, the Indian Constitution is not a mere copy of these sources, but a unique and original document that reflects the aspirations and values of the Indian people. The Indian Constitution is also a living and dynamic document that can be amended and adapted to the changing needs and circumstances of the nation.


Previous Year Civil Service Questions:


 

  1. Discuss the salient features of the Indian Constitution and their significance in upholding democracy and rule of law. (UPSC 2021)

  2. Examine the sources of the Indian Constitution and their role in shaping its provisions. (UPSC 2019)

  3. Evaluate the importance of fundamental rights in the Indian Constitution and their role in safeguarding individual liberties. (UPSC 2017)


 

Conclusion:


The Indian Constitution stands as a beacon of democracy and inclusivity, reflecting the collective aspirations of the Indian people. For UPSC aspirants, a thorough understanding of its salient features is crucial to grasp the nuances of Indian polity and governance. As you embark on your journey towards the civil services, delve deep into the intricacies of the Indian Constitution, for therein lies the essence of India's democratic ethos.

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