At 69 and stepping into 70, India’s Constitution is one of the world’s oldest and most enduring.
Importance of 26 November
Text of the Preamble
“We, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, Social, Economic and Political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all;
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION”.
Views of constitutional experts on Indian Constitution: Ivor Jennings was one of the biggest critiques of the Indian Constitution.
- Too long, too rigid, too prolix: India’s Constitution, Ivor Jennings declared, was “far too large and therefore far too rigid”, too caged by its history, and too unwieldy to be moulded into something useful through judicious interpretations.
Overall, his judgment was that the Constitution would not endure.
- In the 1960s, the same Sir Ivor Jennings had been commissioned to write a new Constitution for Sri Lanka then known as Ceylon. Despite all precautions taken in its drafting, that Constitution lasted about six years.
- Recently, a work of the University of Chicago titled “The Lifespan of Written Constitutions, by Thomas Ginsburg, Zachary Elkins, and James Melton” on the longevity of constitutions the world over was published.
- The study identified a Universe of 792 new constitutional systems, of which 518 have been replaced, 192 still in force, 82 have been formally suspended ultimately to be replaced.
What is behind the success of Constitutions?
- The specificity of the document, the inclusiveness of the constitution’s origins, and the constitution’s ability to adapt to changing conditions are important for longevity.
- Constitutions whose provisions are known and accepted will more likely be self-enforcing, for a common language is essential to resolving coordination problems.
- Constitutions that are ratified by public reference enjoy higher levels of legitimacy.
- Constitutional durability should increase with the level of public inclusion both at the drafting stage and the approval stage.
- And the primary mechanism through which a constitution should be interpreted is a court empowered with powers of constitutional judicial review.
The success story of the Indian Constitution
- Promoted unity in diversity: It points to India is an example of the fact that fractionalized environments produce constitutional stability precisely because no single group can dominate others.
- Public ratification produces a more enduring constitution in democracies — but not in autocracies.
- Longer constitutions are more durable than shorter ones which suggest that specificity matters.
- Flexible: In conclusion, the study points out that constitutions work best when they are most like ordinary statutes: relatively detailed and easy to modify.
- Indian constitution stood firm on some of these aspects -
- Inclusiveness during the formative years of the Constitution-making debates;
- The specificity of the provisions that produced an excellent balance between redundant verbosity and confounding ambiguity;
- Fundamental rights and judicial review being made sheet anchors of the instrument;
A workable scheme for amending the constitutional provisions which the current study found among others important to ensure the longevity of Constitutions, were all applied even in the 1940s by our Constitution makers.
On the twenty-sixth day of November 1949, the Indian Constitution was enacted and adopted by the constituent assembly of India. At 69 and stepping into 70, highlight the features that helped the Indian constitution to sail through thick and thins of political environment prevailing in all these years.