In 1934, the Indian National Congress made the demand for a Constituent Assembly. During the Second World War, this assertion for an independent Constituent Assembly formed only of Indians gained momentum and this was convened in December 1946. Between December 1946 and November 1949, the Constituent Assembly drafted a constitution for independent India. Free to shape their destiny at last, after 150 years of British rule, the members of the Constituent Assembly approached this task with the great idealism that the freedom struggle had helped produce.
Now let’s see why we need constitution:
- Today most countries in the world have a Constitution. While all democratic countries are likely to have a Constitution, it is not necessary that all countries that have a Constitution are democratic.
- The Constitution serves several purposes. First, it lays out certain ideals that form the basis of the kind of country that we as citizens aspire to live in. Or, put another way, a Constitution tells us what the fundamental nature of our society is. A country is usually made up of different communities of people who share certain beliefs but may not necessarily agree on all issues. A Constitution helps serve as a set of rules and principles that all persons in a country can agree upon as the basis of the way in which they want the country to be governed. This includes not only the type of government but also an agreement on certain ideals that they all believe the country should uphold.
- Let us try and understand what we mean by this through two contrasting situations in the recent history of Nepal, a country that borders India on the north. Until quite recently, Nepal was a monarchy. The previous Constitution of Nepal, which had been adopted in 1990, reflected the fact that the final authority rested with the King. A people’s movement in Nepal fought for several decades to establish democracy and in 2006 they finally succeeded in putting an end to the powers of the King. Now the people have to write a new Constitution to establish Nepal as a democracy. The reason that they do not want to continue with the previous Constitution is because it does not reflect the ideals of the country that they want Nepal to be, and that they have fought for.
- As in the game of football, in which a change in the constitutive rules will change the game altogether, Nepal, by moving from a monarchy to a democratic government, needs to change all its constitutive rules in order to usher in a new society. This is why, the people of Nepal are in the process of writing a new Constitution for the country.
- The second important purpose of a Constitution is to define the nature of a country’s political system. For example, Nepal’s earlier Constitution stated that the country was to be ruled by the King and his council of ministers.
- In countries that have adopted a democratic form of government or polity, the Constitution plays a crucial role in laying out certain important guidelines that govern decision-making within these societies.
- In a democracy, we choose our leaders so that they can exercise power responsibly on our behalf. However, there is always the possibility that these leaders might misuse their authority and the Constitution usually provides safeguards against this. This misuse of authority can result in gross injustice
- In democratic societies, the Constitution often lays down rules that guard against this misuse of power by our political leaders. In the case of the Indian Constitution many of these laws are contained in the section on Fundamental Rights.
- Indian Constitution guarantees the right to equality to all persons and says that no citizen can be discriminated against on grounds of religion, race, caste, gender, and place of birth. The Right to Equality is one of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
- Another important function that a Constitution plays in a democracy is to ensure that a dominant group does not use its power against other, less powerful people or groups.
- The Constitution usually contains rules that ensure that minorities are not excluded from anything that is routinely available to the majority. Another reason why we have a Constitution is precisely to prevent this tyranny or domination by the majority of a minority. This can refer to one community dominating another, i.e. inter-community domination, or members of one community dominating others within the same community, i.e. intra-community domination.
- The third significant reason why we need a Constitution is to save us from ourselves. This may sound strange but what is meant by this is that we might at times feel strongly about an issue that might go against our larger interests and the Constitution helps us guard against this.
- It is possible that many people who live in a democracy might come to strongly feel that party politics has become so acrimonious that we need a strong dictator to set this right. Swept by this emotion, they may not realise that in the long run, dictatorial rule goes against all their interests. A good Constitution does not allow these whims to change its basic structure. It does not allow for the easy overthrow of provisions that guarantee rights of citizens and protect their freedom.
- From the above discussion, you will understand that the Constitution plays a very important role in democratic societies. Now let us try and understand the ways in which the above points get translated into certain ideals and rules by studying some key features of the Indian Constitution