The Transformative Nature of the Indian Constitution

The Constitution of India was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26th November 1949 and it became effective from 26th January 1950. In the past 69 years, the Indian Constitution has been amended more than a hundred times. In sharp contrast, the US Constitution, which was enacted way back in 1789, has been amended a mere 27 times. 

What makes the Indian Constitution so amendment-prone compared to the US Constitution, which, despite being enacted in a bygone era, has been amended so infrequently? Is it that Indian Constitution was drafted so poorly that it needed amendment so many times? Or is it something else? 

The answer lies in the fact that the Indian Constitution is essentially a ‘transformative’ document, which is amenable to the changing times. It is a true reflection of the changing societal dynamics traversing through the length and breadth of India. 

“Transformative constitutionalism”, a term first coined by KE Klare, refers to the long drawn process of attempts to bring about a social change directed towards an egalitarian, democratic, and progressive society through a process grounded in law.

The Indian Constitution envisages transformation of the society in at least two distinct ways. 

The first and immediate transformation our Constitution envisaged was that of the legal relationship between the individual and state. When India was slowly rising out from the shackles and remnants of the colonial rule, the Constitution envisioned a transformation of relationship from one between colonial rulers, monarchs and their subjects, to one between citizens having civil, economic and political rights and a constitutional democratic republic state. This change involved removal of power concentrated in a few pockets, elimination of a system of nepotistic rule, and bringing forth an era of rule of law, based on adult franchise. 

Additionally, the transformation also envisaged the normalisation of central goals of a constitutional democracy like public participation, inclusivity, socialism, and secular values in a society that was till then conditioned to function under a feudalistic, colonial rule. Part III of the Constitution guaranteed the protection of certain rights and freedoms vertically, against misuse by a powerful state, and the rest of the constitutional scheme embodied the administrative details in depth. These were the instruments to effectuate the change in relationship between state and its citizenry. 

The second limb of the transformative dream that our Constitution envisioned was a restructuring of the society itself. Relationship between citizens was sought to be based on dignity and considerations of egalitarianism, thus paving the way to a progressive society. Provisions such as Article 17 of the Constitution ensured that no individual was deprived of the basic considerations of equal respect and concern. The Constitution aimed to bring about an egalitarian, inclusive society that matched the ideals of the modern democratic age, through restrictions on how private individuals must deal with each other, such as abolition of untouchability and the prohibition of forced labour.

Thus, through its transformative nature, our Constitution envisages to address social and societal oppression and past injustices through a vertical and horizontal approach simultaneously.

Democracy dies in darkness. The resilience of a country’s democracy lies in the robustness of the country’s constitution, which in turn is reflected through the dynamic nature of the constitution. There is not even an iota of doubt that our founding fathers envisioned the Indian Constitutional project as a progressive and transformative document. The next article will make reflections on the historical background in which the Indian constitution was developed, the factors that influenced and shaped the outlooks of our founding fathers. An attempt will also be made to show the role played by the Judges of the Indian Supreme Court in shaping the Indian Constitution as a transformative and egalitarian document. At the end of the day, the constitution is a mere piece of paper in which life has been infused by the creative interpretations of wise and progressive minded judges.   

Aditya Manubarwala

Aditya Manubarwala is a Law Clerk Cum Research Assistant at the Supreme Court of India. He is a regular columnist and commentator on issues of law, public policy and international affairs.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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