India turns 76 today, August 15, 2023.
The road to freedom was a difficult and even when it happened, partition displaced tens of millions of people and caused immense loss of life and property, alomg with wounds that scarred an entire generation.
India only became a fully sovereign republic with its own head of state on January 26, 1950.
India’s then Constituent Assembly worked to shape the country as we know it today, and the outcome of their efforts is the Constitution, an impressive document which holds to scrutiny even today.
Here are a few things to know about the Indian Constitution.
At the time it was adopted in 1949, the Indian Constitution contained 395 articles and had approximately 145,000 words. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution, the world’s oldest democracy consisted of seven articles and about 4000 words.
Constitutions were not as common as they are today when the Indian Constitution was drafted, ratification was itself a major achievement. The process of drafting and ratifying a shared founding document for such a diverse nation with multiple cultures, languages and customs was an even bigger achievement.
Crowdsourcing in 1949
B.R. Ambedkar drew on his education in the U.S. and U, Advisor B.N. Rau traveled in the fall of 1947 to Canada, the U.S., Ireland and the U.K. to learn from their experiences, while putting together the Constitution.
India’s constitution had the concept of ‘Directive Principles,’ inspired by the Irish Constitution, these principles could not be enforced by courts.
This feature did not give undue power to either the lawmakers or courts and judges were to abide by a set of values to keep in mind.
India’s Constitution has 105 amendments with the last one passed in August 2021.
‘[T]here is no permanence in Constitutions,’ declared India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. ‘There should be a certain flexibility.’
This is where India’s Constitution stands in stark contrast to the US, the U.S. requires two-thirds of Congress to propose a constitutional amendment or two-thirds of the states to propose a constitutional convention to consider amendments. Ratification requires two-thirds of the states.
India’s constitutional amendments require a simple majority, in two ways:-
- It provides for two types of amendments, that is, by a special majority of Parliament and the special majority of parliament along with the ratification of half of the states legislatures by a simple majority.
- Amendment of certain provisions of the Constitution requires amendment by a simple majority of each house present and voting.
This flexibility can be credited for India’s Constitution having longevity, being one of only three countries to have had the Constitution remain largely the same in the post-war generation.
The Indian Constitution has several other elements that are remarkable – for better and for worse.
Article 21, subject to widespread acclaim, protecting life and personal liberty, has directly contributed to Indians’ right to a free, public elementary education and was cited in the Indian Supreme Court’s 2018 decision to decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct.
Future of democracy
Despite its long and generally promising history, India’s constitutional democracy has seenchallenges in the recent past, with many citizens accusing the current ruling disposition of trying to subvert many aspects of it and thus impinging on personal freedoms.
When they began drafting India’s constitution 75 years ago, Dr. Ambdekar and the other architects had the noblest of intentions to serve all Indians, no matter their faith, caste or gender.
Whether that tradition is held in good stead for another 75 years will depend on whether lawmakers and the courts uphold it in good faith.
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