Our constitution has adopted the best features of most of the major constitutions of the world as per the needs of the country. The parliamentary system of democracy has been taken from Britain, the concept of federalism from the USA, the idea of directive principles from Ireland, and a few more features from the constitutions of Australia and Canada. Our constitution is federal in structure but with unitary features. It is a lengthy and legalistic document, but reasonably flexible. This article lists the 13 major features of the constitution and comprehensively covers each of the features in the article.
Constitution of India – Major Features
The 13 Major features of the Indian constitution are listed below
1. Popular Sovereignty
2. Rule Of Law
3. Judicial Review
5. Secularism In Indian Constitution
6. Fundamental Rights
7. Directive Principles Of State Policy
9. Judicial Independence
10. Parliamentary System
11. Federal And Unitary Features
12. Lengthy And Legalistic Document
13. Flexibility Of The Constitution
14. Single Citizenship
15. Emergency Provisions
1. Popular Sovereignty
The constitution proclaims the sovereignty of the people in its opening itself. The idea is reaffirmed in several places in the Constitution, particularly in the chapter dealing with elections. Article 326 declares that “the elections to the House of People and the Legislative Assembly of every state shall be on the basis of adult suffrage”. As a result, the Government at the Centre and in the States derive their authority from the people who choose their representatives for Parliament and the State Legislatures at regular intervals. Further, those who wield the executive power of the government are responsible to the legislature and through them to the people. Thus, in the affairs of the State, it is the will of the people that prevails ultimately and not the will of a few selfish individuals. This is the principle of popular sovereignty.
In spite of the ignorance and illiteracy of large sections of the Indian people, the Constitution Assembly adopted the principle of the adult franchise with faith in the common man and the ultimate success of democratic rule. The Assembly was of the opinion that democratic government on the basis of adult suffrage would alone “bring enlightenment and promote well-being.”
Free elections are, perhaps, the greatest forum of mass education. The dangers inherent in adult suffrage among illiterate peoples can be mitigated only by the blessings of universal education. In a country like India, the large majority of whose population is illiterate, the attainment of universal education is a goal still a long way off. But this need not necessarily mean that until a certain minimum standard of universal education is realised, the Indian masses are incapable of properly exercising their right of franchise. Illiteracy is not quite the same thing as ignorance. A free election, which ensures the free exchange of ideas and free canvassing by contending parties who stand for different programs of social organization for the realisation of the common welfare, offers the best medium for the political education of the illiterate masses. It is this that the constitution guarantees. The constitution-makers were not satisfied by merely providing for adult suffrage. They wanted to ensure free elections by creating an independent constitutional authority to be in charge of everything connected with elections. The free election is a reality in India. It ensures for the electors both the freedom of choice and the secrecy of the ballot. The general elections have demonstrated that the ordinary man, in spite of his so-called ignorance, has been able to exercise his robust common sense in electing candidates of his choice. Neither money nor social status nor official position has been powerful enough to make him a convenient tool in the hands of a few is itself guarantee that popular sovereignty will remain a living reality in India despite the fact that most of its people are steeped in ignorance, poverty and social backwardness.
All that the constitution provides is that every adult citizen of India shall have the right to vote. This becomes significant when viewed in the background that for quite a long time, the women in many parts of Europe did not enjoy any such right. In addition, under the Government of India Act, 1935, hardly 15 per cent of Indian citizens had this right. According to some thinkers, this is the boldest step which has been taken by our constitution fathers. This shows that they had full faith in the capacity of the people of India to use their right properly. Some critics of course felt that it was premature to give to the people of India this right when there were poverty and illiteracy and the masses were yet politically not mature. But constitution fathers took a bold step and resolved to go ahead and wanted to make a beginning in this direction right earnestly.
The principle of popular sovereignty has not been a mere ideal embodied in the constitution but has been a living reality during about five decades through which the Constitution has been in operation. The previous right in the hands of the citizen which ensures the democratic ideal of “one man, one vote, one value”, irrespective of his wealth, education, social status and “importance”, has, in fact, enhanced their self-respect as citizens of a democratic India
Rule Of Law
According to this axiom, people are ruled by law but not by men, that is, the basic truism that no man is infallible. The axiom is vital to a democracy.
More important is the meaning that law is the sovereign in democracy. The chief ingredient of law is custom which is nothing but the habitual practices and beliefs of common people over a long number of years. In the final analysis, rule of law means the sovereignty of the common man’s collective wisdom. Apart from this crucial meaning, rule of law means a few more things like (a) there is no room for arbitrariness (b) each individual enjoys some fundamental rights, and (c) the highest judiciary is the final authority in maintaining the sanctity of the law of the land.
It is this spirit that is making us make various efforts to make Article 14 (all are equal before the law and all enjoy equal protection of laws) meaningful, like providing legal assistance to the needy, promotion of Lok Adalats and the venture of the Supreme court known as “public interest litigation”. Also, as per today’s law of the land, any litigant can appeal to the presiding judicial authority to argue the case by himself or seek legal assistance with the help of the judiciary.
The right of the judiciary to review executive acts and legal enactments where there they are not in conformity with the established law of the land and its procedures is known as judicial review. Based on this principle the American Supreme court has acquired the power to so interpret the Constitution that it has come to be known as the third chamber of the Constitutions, whereas, in India, our Supreme court does not enjoy the power of adding to the Constitution but it can only strike down any, act or any, legislation on the ground that it is contrary to the basic framework of the constitution or violative of the procedure established by law.
As the constitution stands today, the judiciary in India has the right to review legislative enactments and executive acts provided they are brought before the courts except for a few specific acts like the discretionary powers of the governors, the privileges and immunities of the members of the legislatures, etc. In pronouncing its verdict on legislative acts and executive actions the Supreme Court primarily bases itself on what is known as the basic framework of the Constitution-a phrase which has never been spelt out so that others could know the ingredients that go into the making of the basic framework of the Constitution. However, it is clear from the constitution as it is today that the Parliament has the right to amend the constitution as long as it does not erode the basic framework of the constitution. Thus, making additions or deleting some Articles of the constitution is the power of the Parliament but not that of the Supreme Court as in the case of the U.S.
Increasing intervention, as well as participation by the State in the economic field, has been a distinguishing feature of the twentieth century. There is hardly any country today in which the State is not actively engaged in a variety of economic activities. In varying degrees, governments everywhere are involved in economic, industrial, commercial management. This is broadly described as the influence of socialist ideas on State activity.
Even before the adoption of a new Constitution, the Government of independent India had made clear its policy to enter the economic field in a very active manner. The Industrial Policy Resolution of 1948 gives ample evidence of this. It envisaged a greater role for the State in the economic development of the country. Certain industries such as atomic energy, manufacturing of arms and ammunition were declared to be the sole monopoly of the State. The right of the State to nationalise any major industry and bring it within the public sector was also clearly stated.
The Directive Principles of State Policy, however, unmistakably set out the socialist objective of the Constitution, although one might point out that they do not go far enough to establish a full-fledged socialist order. But then, it is also clear that our conception with its emphasis on a set of guaranteed fundamental rights did not envisage collectivist socialist State like those that existed in Eastern Europe during 1945 and 1990. On the contrary, it aims to establish a democratic socialist state which while moving progressively towards the social ideal, wants at the same time to protect and preserve basic human rights.
Nevertheless, successive amendments to the Constitution clearly show that the direction is more towards the realisation of socialist than the democratic ideal. The constitution was amended several times with a view to realising this objective. Among those amendments, special mention may be made of the First, Fourth, Seventeenth, Twenty-fifth, Twenty-ninth, Thirty-fourth and Forty-second Amendments. Almost every one of these give precedent to the Directive Principles over Fundamental Rights in the implementation of certain legislative enactments. The Forty second Amendment (1976) went a step further and amended the permeable of the Constitution to include specifically the term “socialist” which was absent in the original form in which it was enacted.
Secularism In Indian Constitution
India has declared its identity as a “Sovereign, Socialist, Secular Democratic Republic.” The attributes of Socialist and Secular were added in 1976 by the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution. The bulky document does not attempt to define secularism. However, a definition is derived from the fundamental right that proclaims that “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex place of birth or any one of them. “The Indian State has no religion of its own. The fundamental right of speech and freedom also means the right to preaching and proselytising religion. This is made clearer in Articles 25—28, “Subject to public order, mortality and health… all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practice and propagate religion”. The wearing and carrying of kirpans (swords) shall be deemed to be included in the freedom of the Sikh religion. Every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, to maintain its own affairs in matters of religion. No person shall be compelled to pay any taxes for promotion of any particular religion. No religious instructions shall be provided in any educational institutions wholly maintained out of the State funds.”
The distinguishing features of a secular democracy as contemplated by the Constitution of India are: (i) that the State will not identify itself with or be controlled by any religion; (ii) that while the State guarantees to everyone the right to profess whatever religion one chooses to follow (which includes also the right to be an antagonist or an atheist), it will not accord preferential treatment to any of them; (iii) that no discrimination will be shown by the State against any person on account of his religion or faith; and (iv) that the right of every citizen, subject to any general condition, to enter any office under the state will be equal to that of the fellow citizens. Political equality which entitles any Indian citizen to seek the highest office under the State is the heart and soul of secularism as envisaged by Constitution.
The conception aims to establish a secular state. This does not mean that the State in India is anti-religious. Secularism in its original, historical sense was an anti-God and anti-religious concept. But in the Indian context, that concept has no relevance.
The constitution contains the basic principle that every individual is entitled to enjoy certain rights as a human being and the enjoyment of such rights does not depend upon the will of any majority or minority. No majority has the right to abrogate such rights. In fact, the legitimacy of the majority to rule is derived from the existence of these rights. These rights include all the basic liberties such as freedom of speech, movement and association, equality before the law and equal protection of laws, freedom of religious belief and cultural and educational freedoms.
The constitution has classified these rights into seven categories and one of them is the right to constitutional remedies which entitles every aggrieved person to approach even the Supreme Court of India to restore to him any fundamental right that may have been violated. It is, thus, a basic affirmation of the Constitution that the political system that it establishes should provide conditions favourable for the maximum development of the individual’s personality. The framers of the Constitution were conscious of the fact that in the absence of the enjoyment of the above-mentioned rights, such development of the personality was impossible and democracy would sound an empty word. Having spent most of their lives under a foreign rule and having fought relentlessly for the enjoyment of these rights by themselves, it was only natural that they should have wanted to embody them in the Constitution they framed for the establishment of a democratic political order. They hoped to build this political order on the firm foundation of the freedom of political competition. The prime importance of these rights is that while the will of the majority decides how these freedoms are to be implemented, the existence of the freedoms themselves is not subject to that will. On the contrary, these freedoms set the conditions under which the will of the majority is to be formed and exercised.
Directive Principles Of State Policy
It is for the first time in India’s Constitution, a chapter on Directive Principles of the State Policy has been included. Before it, in the Government of India Act, 1935, there was no Instrument of Instructions for the Governor-General, but it was quite different from the present Directives. These Directives are a guideline for the governments, but their violation cannot be challenged in the court of law. According to few critics when the Directive has no legal binding, these are useless. But that is not so. These are the manifestation of our aims and aspirations. The government of the day can choose to violate these but if the people take the violation seriously they can throw the government out of power. The greatest force behind these Directives is the will of people. The Directives are guidelines both for the people as well as the government. These save us from duping in the dark. Thus these principles are not mere precepts but a great moral force.
The wall of separation which the fundamental rights erect between the government and the people is indeed one of the greatest and surest safeguards of the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of the individual. But conditions of absolute and unhindered growth of private power, like absolute governmental power, are capable of destroying individual freedom. The concentration of private power, mainly in the form of economic controls, in the hands of a few individuals is equally destructive of the dynamic qualities of a democratic society as a dictatorial government could be. In a highly capitalist society, a few giants in the industrial and financial world, who concentrate in themselves the bulk of economic power, can easily subject the rest of the community to the travails of a new feudalistic order. After having provided against the emergence of a totalitarian system through the constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights, the framers turned their attention to deal with the possible future menace of a private capitalist concentration of economic power and to ensure the establishment and sustenance of a society which provided for the diffusion of economic power among the different sections of the people. The methods they sought to provide for the purpose are embodied in the chapter on Directive Principles of State Policy. The State and every one of its agencies are commended to follow certain fundamental principles while they frame their policies regarding the various state activity. These principles, on the one hand, are assurances to the people as to what they can expect from the State and, on the other, are directives to the Government, Central and State.
Originally Fundamental Duties were not there in the constitution. It was a great lacuna of the constitution. Hence the Swaran Singh Government was appointed which recommended 12 Fundamental Duties. However, out of that 10 Fundamental Duties were accepted by the 42nd Amendment of the constitution. But at present, one more fundamental duty has been added under the 86th Amendment Act, 2002. There are total of 11 Fundamental duties altogether.
Now in their modified form, the Fundamental Duties are as follows: