A Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It is the basic structure which defines the powers of the State and the rights and duties of the citizens. According to Gilchrist, a Constitution consists of “that body of rules or laws, written or unwritten, which determines the organisation of government, the distribution of powers to the various organs of government and the general principles on which those powers are exercised.”
A Constitution comes to life only when people start working on its various provisions in the real spirit. As time passes, it almost imperceptibly changes in form and content and assumes a new shape and even a new meaning. This comes out of the nature and temper of those who work it. Time and circumstances do have their impact on it. Yet, it is men, more than anything else, who shape and mould the destiny of a written Constitution.
The Constitution of India is the culmination and expression of the aspirations of the Indian people to be free from the yoke of British imperialism and guide their destiny so as to follow a path of economic prosperity and social justice. The struggle for independence sought to attain not only political freedom but also to secure economic and social justice which was not possible while living under imperialist rule.
No Constitution is perfect and the Constitution of India is no exception to this general rule. But it goes to the credit of India that the urge for Constitutional Government was so deep-seated in her that she devised a Constitution of her own within three years after achieving political independence. The Constitution that she adopted was intended to be not only merely a means of establishing a government machinery but also an effective instrument for orderly social change. The strength and stability of a Constitution depends largely on its ability to sustain a healthy and peaceful social system and when occasion demands, facilitate the peaceful transformation of its economic and social order. From this point of view, the Indian Constitution has set an ideal which not even its severest critic would characterise as outmoded or reactionary.
The Constitution of India establishes a ‘Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic’ and paves the way for securing to the citizens of India economic, social and political justice. It establishes not only a secular parliamentary democracy but also sets an ideal of a social and economic democracy. Apart from the guarantee of Fundamental Rights, it lays down the Directive Principles of State Policy in the pursuance of which the Government has adopted the socialistic pattern of society as its ideal.
Rights and duties go together. Without duties there can be no rights. But in our Constitution, originally there was no mention of duties. Of course, in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union (now C.I.S.) and Japan, not only rights have been provided to the citizens but certain duties have also been imposed on the citizens. For the first time, under the Forty-second Amendment of 1976, ten Fundamental Duties for the citizens of India were included in Part IV-A, under Article 51A of the Constitution.
The Constitution of India, in reality, has no constitutional history behind it in respect of its content of sovereignty. Instead, it has a long history of political struggle and administrative reforms under the British domination. A historical survey of British rule in India shows that up to 1858, administrative machinery was only meant to govern British India as a police state from England and there was no question of consultation or cooperation of the people of India. After 1858, although the executive remained entirely responsible to the British Parliament, yet in the governance of the country it tried to ascertain and understand public feelings with a view to making its measures effective and acceptable to the Indians. It was a sort of benevolent despotism tempered by the public interest and the haphazard interest of a remote democracy. The educated class of Indian population reacted to the despotism and economic exploitation of foreign imperialism and an urge for liberation from alien rule was felt by them. The national movement was started in an organised form as early as 1885 when the Indian National Congress was formed. The main demand at this stage was the association of
Indians with the administration of the country. The movement was constitutional and limited to Council Chambers and some concessions for educated Indians were generally sought for.
During the period between 1900 and 1919, Indian politics became radical and revolutionary.
This period is known as the period of extremist politics led by the trio—Lal, Bal and Pal (Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal). Tilak was active in Maharashtra, Lajpat Rai in Punjab and Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal.
Tilak revived the festivals of Ganapati and Shivaji in Maharashtra to arouse a new spirit among the youth of the country. Ganapati was the remover of obstacles. The name of Shivaji created in the minds of the people the spirit of rebellion against the despotic rule. It also gave them the feeling of their national pride. Tilak spoke to them in their own language, the Marathi, through his newspaper, Kesari. Tilak’s “Freedom is my birthright” became the slogan of the freedom movement.
What Tilak did in Maharashtra, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai accomplished in Bengal and Punjab, respectively. Bipin Chandra was a great orator. He started a weekly, New India, through which he preached his views. He often took up the burning issues. His arguments won him many adherents throughout the country. In 1906, he started the daily Bande Mataram to spread his message to the masses. Unfortunately, it had to close down barely two years after its publication because the government brought out a prosecution case against it.
Lala Lajpat Rai attended the fourth session of the Congress at the age of twenty-four. He had already been well known for his political writings in Koh-i-noor, an Urdu weekly published from Lahore. Later, he also edited the Punjabee, the Bande Mataram in Urdu and the People in English. He wrote in three languages, Urdu, English and Punjabi, but his short biographies of Mazzini and Garibaldi in Urdu did much to arouse the feelings of patriotism among the youth of Punjab. Lajpat Rai was also a great orator and could move the people to utmost enthusiasm. He was, therefore, known as “Lion of Punjab”. Like Tilak, he was deported along with Ajit Singh in 1907 under Regulation III of 1818.
In short, the radical nationalists did a lot for their country. They brought the lower middle class, the students, the youth and the women to the forefront of the national struggle. They placed before them very clear objectives, gave them a spirit of self-reliance and self-confidence. It was, indeed, a big contribution.
Politics came out of the Council Chambers and the masses were organised. Movements for use of swadeshi goods and boycott of foreign goods took birth. Besides extremist movement being led by the great patriots, this period saw the bomb cult. The revolutionary organisations sprang up throughout the country, the Gadar Movement being the most important and most pervading of them. This period is known as a period of militant nationalism. The British Government followed a dual policy of suppressing the revolutionary and radical movement and winning over the moderate elements in the political life on the one hand and sowing the seeds of communal hatred on the other. The 1909 Reforms extended the representation of Indians in Councils and granted separate communal representation to the Muslims. It was during this period that, for the first time, Indians were included in the Executive Councils of the Governor-General and the Governors.
And 1919 Reforms
As a result of the bomb cult, extremist movements and the First World War, the British Government made Declaration of Policy of 1917. In this Declaration, the Government promised responsible government to India as soon as possible after the War. But instead of introducing any responsible form of government in India, it came forward with its 1919 Reforms. These reforms were a milestone in the constitutional development of India. Dyarchy was introduced in the provinces. For the first time, Indians were given some share of power in the provincial administration, however little it was. The administration of the provinces was divided into two parts—Reserved and Transferred. The Reserved subjects were put directly under the British Governors while the Transferred half were administered by Indian Ministers. The legislatures had official and elected members. Bicameral Central Legislature was established, with the lower chamber called the Legislative Assembly, having non-official majority. This Central Legislature continued till 1947, when power was transferred to Indian hands.
However, these reforms failed to satisfy the political aspirations of India because no responsible government as promised in the 1917 Declaration was granted. In fact, all powers were concentrated in the hands of the Governor-General at the Centre and the Governors in the Provinces. The Ministers worked under the pleasure of the Governors and were subject to their overriding authority. As a consequence, the political movement became militant and radical. From then started the Gandhian era in Indian politics.
Gandhi Enters Politics
Gandhiji, who had already won recognition for his successful passive resistance movement in South Africa against Asiatic Law, easily captured the minds of the Indians for his appealing personality. He was a great cooperator and prided in the citizenship of British Empire for which he had a genuine sense of loyalty. He was awarded medal for his meritorious service during the First World War. But the passing of the Rowlatt Act, severe treatment to Turkey—the seat of the Caliph of Muslim people—and the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy shook his faith in the British sense of justice and fairness and turned him a non-cooperator. To forge Hindu-Muslim unity, he extended his help to Muslims and headed the Khilafat Movement. No other period saw such a great Hindu-Muslim cooperation at the political level. Millions participated in these movements and went to jail. Gandhiji made the political movement popular with the teeming millions of India.
The Russian Revolution
The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a landmark in world history. It had great impact on Indian politics. It was during 1920s that the Communist Party was formed and the Trade Union Movement was organised in India, which soon became militant. Socialist, communist and other left organisations came into being. The students, youth and peasants movements sprang up. Young and progressive leaders like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose entered politics. The Congress began to talk of economic and social programmes in free India. It adopted the policy of linguistic organisation of States. Politics became so militant that in 1929 the Congress, at its Lahore session, adopted a resolution for complete independence of India. It was a step further than the Dominion Status that had been its demand till then.
However, it was during 1905 and thereafter that communalism became active. Communal riots occurred on an unprecedented scale. The Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League came out of their grooves and began to count in Indian political life though seeds of separatism were sown in 1906 when the Muslim League, with Agha Khan as chairman, was formed and even earlier. The partition of Bengal was done out of communal considerations. Under the 1909 Reforms, communal representation was conceded to the Muslims and this policy was extended under the 1919 Reforms. The various unity conferences for forging Hindu-Muslim unity failed. The constitutional and communal tangle remained unresolved. The communal award of 1932 laid down the foundation of Pakistan and subsequently Mohammed Ali Jinnah, on the basis of the two-nation theory, could not be satisfied with less than a separate State for Muslims.
The Simon Commission
The Simon Commission visited India during this period with a view to making recommendations on the next constitutional step since the 1919 Reforms had proved a failure. It was boycotted by all the political elements in India except the communal parties like the Hindu Mahasabha and a section of the Muslim League. It was during this boycott of the Simon Commission that Lala Lajpat Rai got injured at the hands of the police and died at the altar of mother India.
Bhagat Singh’s Clarion Call
When Indian politics had taken to constitutionalism and vested interests were utilising the communal parties to divide the progressive national forces, a clarion call was given by the great patriot, Sardar Bhagat Singh. By throwing a bomb in the Central Assembly, he not only expressed the anger of the Indian people against imperialism, but also warned the Indian politicians of the purpose before them, which they had at that moment forgotten and had fallen in communal squabbles.
Nehru Committee Report
It was here and now that the Indian political elements accepted the challenge of the British Government that the Indians could not agree among themselves and produce a Constitution. The Nehru Committee, appointed by all parties, produced a Constitution for India. Many features of the present Constitution are similar to those of the Constitution propounded in the Nehru Committee Report. It has been called the “Blueprint of New Constitution”.
Round Table Conference
The Government called for a Round Table Conference to determine the next step in the constitutional advancement of India. It invited representatives of all the reactionary and vested interests in the Indian society. The Indian National Congress, a dominant political force in India, refused to participate in the Conference. The Congress started satyagraha for the demand of complete independence. January 26, 1930 was celebrated as Independence Day and it was for this reason that the Constitution was inaugurated on January 26, 1950. Since then, this Independence Day has become the Republic Day.
Gandhiji entered into an agreement with Lord Irwin. This is known as Gandhi-Irwin Pact. Gandhiji, as a consequence, participated in the Second Round Table Conference as the sole official representative of the Congress. The satyagraha was suspended. The conference failed. Gandhiji was arrested on his return. It was at the Karachi Session that the Fundamental Rights Resolution was adopted by the Congress, which was embodied in the Constitution under the chapter of Fundamental Rights. It was as a result of the proceedings of the Second Round Table Conference that the British Government gave Communal Award, under which, besides giving separate representation to various communities, it gave separate representation to the Muslims even in those provinces where they were in majority as in Bengal and Punjab. The Harijans were also given separate representation. Thus, a sinister attempt was made to divide the Hindu society as well. Mahatma Gandhi went on fast unto death and it resulted in an agreement under which the Harijans were given reserved representation in place of separate representation. The unity of the Hindu community was thus preserved.