Main Features of Indian Constitution

Main Features of Indian Constitution

The constitution of India has many distinctive features of its own. The main features of Indian Constitution are discussed in this article.

The key person behind the Constitution of India was Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. He was a learned person had good vision of future India.

One of repeated criticism of the Indian constitution is that it is very little original and mostly borrowed from other constitutions. Even Dr. Ambedkar admitted in the Constituent Assembly that many elements were borrowed from foreign constitutions but they were not “slavish imitations” but adoption of time-tested constitutional principles like the “Rule of Law” or “Equality before Law” to serve the interests of the people.

The first feature of Indian constitution is the most voluminous constitution ever created by men. In its original shape the constitution had 395 articles and several schedules. Our constitution have been amended from time to time. There have been 99 odd amendments (as on Dec’ 2014) since 1950 only add to the bulk of the constitution. When contrasted with the six effective articles and 27 ratified amendments of the U. S. constitution, one appreciates how bulky our constitution is.

Again drafting of the constitution has not been very happy. The Constituent Assembly was pre-dominated by lawyers. The constitution is drafted in legalistic terms making it a ‘lawyer’s paradise’. This stands in sharp contrast with the U. S. constitution which is acclaimed as specimen of lucid constitutional drafting. However, the fact that our constitution has endured for over sixty years and during periods of acute crisis, shows its inherent strength and resilience. When constitutions of neighboring countries like Pakistan, Burma or Bangladesh were crumbling like houses of cards, our constitution stood steady like a rock.

The great bulk of the Indian constitution is due to several factors.

  • Our founding fathers borrowed great constitutional principles from the foreign constitutions while avoiding their loopholes to ensure healthy political life to the citizens. Thus, the fundamental rights were borrowed from the U. S. constitution, Parliamentary system of government from British, the Directive principles from the Irish constitution and the idea of emergency from the German Constitution and the Government of India Act of 1935.
  • Unlike other constitutions, the Indian constitution provides not only the basic law. It also provides very detailed and minute administrative provisions. This was to prevent subversion of the constitution through legislative process.
  • The vastness of the country and its population size and diversity, compelled the framers of the constitution to make provisions for the protection and promotion of the interests of different regions and groups in the country. Thus, the constitution contains elaborate provisions for the minorities, scheduled castes and tribes etc.
  • Finally, the Indian constitution is an omnibus constitution. It is at the same time a constitution for the whole nation as well as for the component states of the Union.

Second main feature of the Indian constitution is that it is a federal constitution. The term federal has not been used in the constitution. Instead India has been described as a “Union of States.” However all the characteristics of a federation viz. two sets of government—national government and a number of governments of the component units, division of powers between the national government and the governments of the units and a federal judiciary to act as the guardian of the constitution and to settle disputes between the centre and the units—are all present in the Indian constitution. However, the nature of the Indian federation is different from the nature of older federations like the U.S.A.

Third feature of  the Indian constitution it that it provides for parliamentary form of government both at the centre and in the states. This is borrowed from the Westminster model. The adoption of this model is partly due to India’s long familiarity with it during the British rule. However, in the face of existence of multiplicity of parties in India, some political scientists question the wisdom of this step.

Fourth feature of Indian Constitution is that  though India has a written constitution which is a federal necessity, India’s constitution is far less rigid than a normal federal constitution. Truly, it is more flexible than rigid. Because of this flexibility, it has been possible to amend the constitution 99 times in less than sixty-five years. By contrast the U. S. constitution could be amended only 27 times in about 200 years.

Fifth important feature of Indian Constitution is that the constitution like any modern written constitution has a preamble before it. The preamble is very lucid exposition of the philosophy of the constitution. The original preamble declared India to be a Sovereign Democratic Republic. The 42nd amendment makes India “a Sovereign, Secular Socialist Democratic Republic”.

Justice, liberty, equality and fraternity are set as the ideas to be achieved by India as a nation. The preamble to the Indian constitution is praised by all critics for its lucid exposition of lofty political ideals.

Sixth important feature of Indian Constitution is that the constitution guarantees fundamental rights of the citizens. Rights to equality, freedom, religion and constitutional remedies are the enumerated fundamental rights of Indian citizens. Originally right to property was also a fundamental right. Subsequently right to property was removed from the list of fundamental rights. Hence right to property is now a legal rather than constitutional right. The status property has been altered to give substance to India’s socialist aspirations.

Seventhly, taking cue from the Irish constitution, our constitution also provides a number of Directive Principles. Such principles do not constitute any constitutional obligation for the government to fulfill; rather they are guide-lines to the government.

Upholding secularism is another lofty aspect of our constitution. India is a secular nation and does not have any state religion. In a country inhabited by people of all faiths, it is essential that the state remains neutral between religions. Acceptance of secularism as a political ideal was an act of wisdom and boldness particularly after the traumatic experience of India’s partition on religious lines.

Finally, Indian constitution does not sanction double citizenship as in federations like the U.S.A. There is only one uniform Indian citizenship.

Our constitution was carefully tailored to suit the needs of the Indian people. It is a tribute to the founding fathers that their work has endured in spite of strains and stresses.

Last updated: 16.05.2015