Basics of Indian Constitution | Introduction to Constitution of India

In 1934, the Indian National Congress made the demand for a Constituent Assembly. During the Second World War, this assertion for an independent Constituent Assembly formed only of Indians gained momentum and this was convened in December 1946. Between December 1946 and November 1949, the Constituent Assembly drafted a constitution for independent India. Free to shape their destiny at last, after 150 years of British rule, the members of the Constituent Assembly approached this task with the great idealism that the freedom struggle had helped produce. The result was the longest written constitution of any sovereign country in the world, which is safeguarding the democratic nature of our country for the last 65 years.

The Indian Constitution: Key Features
These members of the Constituent Assembly had a huge task before them. The country was made up of several different communities who spoke different languages, belonged to different religions, and had distinct cultures. Also, when the Constitution was being written, India was going through considerable turmoil. The partition of the country into India and Pakistan was imminent, some of the Princely States remained undecided about their future, and the socio-economic condition of the vast mass of people appeared dismal. All of these issues played on the minds of the members of the Constituent Assembly as they drafted the Constitution. They rose to the occasion and gave this country a visionary document that reflects a respect for maintaining diversity while preserving national unity. The final document also reflects their concern for eradicating poverty through socio-econoic reforms  as well as emphasing the crucial role the people can play in choosing their representatives.  Listed below are the key features of the Indian Constitution.

1. Federalism: This refers to the existence of more than one level of government in the country. In India, we have governments at the state level and at the centre. Panchayati Raj is the third tier of government that exits at grass root level. While each state in India enjoys autonomy in exercising powers on certain issues, subjects of national concern require that all of these states follow the laws of the central government. The Constitution  contains lists that detail the issues that each tier of government can make laws on. In addition, the Constitution also specifies where each tier of government can get the money from for the work that it does. Under  federalism, the states are not merely agents of the federal government but draw their authority from the Constitution as well.

2. Parliamentary Form of Government: The different tiers of government consist of representatives who are elected by the people. Constitution of India guarantees universal adult suffrage for all citizens. When they were making the Constitution, the members of the Constituent Assembly felt that the freedom struggle had prepared the masses for universal adult suffrage and that this would help encourage a democratic mindset and break the clutches of traditional caste, class and gender hierarchies. This means that the people of India have a direct role in electing their representatives.

3. Separation of Powers:  According to the Constitution, there are three organs of the State. These are the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The legislature refers to our elected representatives. The executive is a smaller group of people who are responsible for implementing laws and running the government. The judiciary refers to the system of  courts in this country. In order to prevent the misuse of power by any one branch of the State, the Constitution says that each of these organs should exercise different powers. Through this, each organ acts as a check on the other organs of the State and this ensures the balance of power between all three.

4. Fundamental Rights: The section on Fundamental Rights has often been referred to as the ‘conscience’ of the Indian Constitution. It protect citizens against the arbitrary  and absolute exercise of power by the State. The Constitution, thus, guarantees the rights of individuals against the State as well as against other individuals. It also guarantees the rights of minorities against the majority. In addition to Fundamental Rights, the Constitution also has a section called Directive Principles of State Policy. This section was designed by the members of the Constituent Assembly to ensure greater social and economic reform, and to serve as a guide to the independent Indian State to  institute laws and policies that help reduce the poverty of the masses.

5. Secularism: A secular state is one in which the state does not officially promote any one religion as the state religion.

The Fundamental Rights in the Indian Constitution include:
1. Right to Equality: All persons are equal before the law. This means that all persons shall be equally protected by the laws of the country. It also states that no citizen can be  discriminated against on the basis of their religion, caste or sex. Every person has access to all public places including playgrounds, hotels, shops etc. The State cannot discriminate  against anyone in matters of employment. The practice of untouchability has also been  abolished.

2. Right to Freedom: This includes the right to freedom of speech and expression, the right to form associations, the right to move freely and reside in any part of the country,  and the right to practise any profession, occupation or business.

3. Right against Exploitation: The Constitution prohibits trafficking, forced labour, and children working under 14 years of age.

4. Right to Freedom of Religion: Religious freedom is provided to all citizens. Every person has the right to practise, profess and propagate the religion of their choice.

5. Cultural and Educational Rights: The Constitution states that all minorities, religious or linguistic, can set up their own educational institutions in order to preserve and  develop their own culture.

6. Right to Constitutional Remedies: This allows citizens to move the court if they believe that any of their Fundamental Rights have been violated by the State.

State and Government : The government can change with elections. The "State" refers to a political institution that represents a sovereign people who occupy a definite territory. The Indian State has a democratic form of government. The government (or the executive) is one part of the State. The State refers to more than just the government and cannot be used interchangeably with it.

Points to Remember
1. It is the longest written constitution of any sovereign country in the world, containing 450 articles in 22 parts, 12 schedules and 95 amendments.
2. The Constitution was enacted by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949, and came into effect on 26 January 1950.
3. It declares the Union of India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty, and endeavours to promote fraternity among them. The words "socialist", "secular", and "integrity" were added to the definition in 1976 by constitutional amendment.
4. After coming into effect, the Constitution replaced the Government of India Act 1935 as the country's fundamental governing document.
5. The first president of the Constituent Assembly was Dr Sachidanand Sinha. Later, Rajendra Prasad was elected president of the Constituent Assembly.
6. Harendra Coomar Mookerjee was the Vice President of the Constituent Assembly of India, and Chairman of the Minorities Committee of that assembly.
7.  Dr Ambedkar was the chairman of the drafting committie  along with six other members.
7. Indian Constitution is heavily influenced by British model of parliamentary democracy and American model of federal structure and  the establishment of supreme court
8. Amendments to the Constitution are made by the Parliament, the procedure for which is laid out in Article 368. But the basic structure of the Constitution is immutable.