Evolution of the Indian Constitution

Evolution of the Indian Constitution

GS2 | Indian Polity | Constitution

Table of contents

The evolution of the Indian Constitution can be viewed in two distinct dimensions:

  • Evolution prior to the adoption of the Constitution (pre-1950 era), and
  • Evolution as an ongoing process (1950 onwards).

Each phase marks significant milestones in the development of India’s foundational legal document.

The Pre-1950 Era

The Constituent Assembly

The Constituent Assembly was tasked with framing the Constitution of India, a sovereign democratic nation. This representative body of the people was elected to consider and adopt a Constitution.

Genesis of the Idea

  • The idea of a Constituent Assembly was implicit in the Indian National Congress's demand for Swaraj as early as 1906.
  • In 1936, the Congress resolved that a genuine democratic state in India could only be created through a Constituent Assembly.
  • On March 15, 1946, Prime Minister Clement Atlee admitted the right of Indians to frame their own Constitution.
  • The British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act in July 1947, creating two independent dominions effective August 15, 1947.

Formation and Composition

  • The Constituent Assembly, formed under the Cabinet Mission plan, had 389 members: 93 from princely states and 296 elected from British Indian provinces.
  • The Assembly first met on December 9, 1946, and elected Dr. Rajendra Prasad as its permanent Chairman on December 11, 1946.
  • The Assembly was partly elected and partly nominated, representing all sections of Indian society, though indirectly elected by provincial assemblies.


The Assembly appointed several major and minor committees to handle various aspects of Constitution-making.

Major Committees:

  • Union Powers Committee: Jawaharlal Nehru
  • Union Constitution Committee: Jawaharlal Nehru
  • Provincial Constitution Committee: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
  • Drafting Committee: Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
  • Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities, and Tribal and Excluded Areas: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
  • Rules of Procedure Committee: Dr. Rajendra Prasad
  • States Committee: Jawaharlal Nehru
  • Steering Committee: Dr. Rajendra Prasad

Minor Committees:

  • Committee on the Functions of the Constituent Assembly
  • Order of Business Committee
  • House Committee
  • Ad-hoc Committee on the National Flag
  • Special Committee to Examine the Draft Constitution
  • Credentials Committee
  • Finance and Staff Committee
  • Hindi Translation Committee
  • Urdu Translation Committee
  • Press Gallery Committee
  • Committee to Examine the Effect of the Indian Independence Act of 1947
  • Committee on Chief Commissioners’ Provinces
  • Commission on Linguistic Provinces
  • Expert Committee on Financial Provisions
  • Ad-hoc Committee on the Supreme Court

Working of the Constituent Assembly

Objective Resolutions

J.L. Nehru moved the historic ‘Objectives Resolutions’ within the Assembly. The basic idea of the ‘Objective Resolutions’ was to lay down the fundamentals and philosophy of the constitutional structure.

Its prominent excerpts were:

  • The Constituent Assembly declares its firm and solemn resolve to proclaim India being an independent sovereign republic.
  • All the power and also the authority of independent sovereign India, its constituent parts and organs of presidency shall be derived from its people. (Advocating Democracy)
  • People shall be guaranteed justice and secured social, economic and political equality of status of opportunity and before law, freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, vocation, association, action and public morality. (Fundamental Rights)
  • Adequate safeguards will be provided for minorities, backward and tribal areas and depressed classes, and other backward classes. (Part X, Part XVI)
  • Government at the centre shall maintain the integrity of the territory of the republic of India and its sovereign rights on land, sea and air based on laws of civilized nations of the world.
  • India as an ancient land attains its rightful and honoured place in the world and shall make its full contribution to the promotion of world peace and the welfare of mankind.

The ‘Objectives Resolutions’ later became the basis of the Preamble of the Constitution.

Enactment and Enforcement

  • After two readings of the draft, during which various alterations were accommodated, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar proposed a motion on 26th November, 1949, which has been mentioned as the day ‘people of India in the Constituent Assembly adopted, enacted and gave to themselves the Constitution of India’.
  • January 26, 1950, was chosen as the ‘date of commencement’ on which the Constitution came into force owing to its historic importance (although some provisions came into force on 26th November, 1949 only).

Criticism of the Constituent Assembly

  • Not a Representative Body: Members of the Constituent Assembly weren’t directly elected by people according to universal adult franchise.
  • Not a Sovereign Body: It is said that the Constituent Assembly was formed, based on the proposals of the British Government. Further, it held its sessions with permission of British Government.
  • Domination of Congress members: Granville Austin, an English constitutional expert, remarked: “The Constituent Assembly was a one-party body in an essentially one-party country. The assembly was the Congress and also the Congress was India.”
  • Lawyer-Politician Domination: The fact that lawyers and politicians dominated the membership of the assembly is cited as the main reason behind the bulkiness and complicated nature of the Constitution.

Evolution as an Ongoing Process (1950 Onwards)

  • Justice H. R. Khanna, in his ‘Making of Constitution,’ said: “The framing of a Constitution calls for the highest statecraft. Those entrusted with it have to realize the practical needs of the government and have, at the same time, to keep in view the ideals, which have inspired the nation”.
  • A Constitution has to be a living thing, living not for one or two generations but for succeeding generations of men and women.
    • It is for this reason that the provisions of the Constitution are couched in general terms. The great generalities of the Constitution have content and significance that vary from age to age and have transcendental continuity about them.
    • A Constitution states, or ought to state, not the rules of the passing hour but the principles for an expanding future.

Constitutional Amendments

It is open to constant changes. Whether by ratifying the Constitution by a new amendment or by repealing an existing amendment.

Here are a few examples to ascertain our point:

  • 42nd Amendment: Explicitly included secularism and socialism.
  • 1st Amendment (Article 15(4)): Provided affirmative action for socially and economically backward sections.
  • 93rd Amendment (Article 15(5)): Extended affirmative action to educational institutions.

Supreme Court Interpretations

The Supreme Court has played a crucial role in keeping the Constitution relevant by interpreting its provisions to meet contemporary needs.

  • Right to Education (Article 21A): Incorporated through the 86th Amendment after landmark judgments.
  • Right to Life and Personal Liberty (Article 21): Expanded through various judgments to include rights like adequate shelter, privacy, and the right to die with dignity.

The Constitution is open to constant interpretation by the Supreme Court. This feature allows the Supreme Court to accord such interpretations so as to make the Constitution:

  • Increasingly relevant to the time and tenor of the contemporary reality.
  • Reflect, to the maximum extent possible, the needs and aspirations of the people.

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