Indian Constitution & Administration: Structure & Establishment

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

Discover the Constitution of India and its many parts, articles, and schedules. We also briefly detail the history of the constitution's establishment to get an idea of the context.

Rules

Every society, since the beginning of human civilization, has had some sort of rules. Moses had his commandments way back in biblical times, and the Mesopotamian culture's Code of Hammurabi coined the infamous phrase 'an eye for an eye.'

Today, most of our laws are a little more complicated and a little less barbaric. In fact, most democratic countries today rely on some sort of constitution for the basis of their laws. Let's explore just one of those constitutions, the Constitution of India, the basis for Indian law.

Indian History

India's constitution is a young one in comparison to the United States or other western countries. Of course, this is because another western country, Great Britain, occupied India until the mid-20th century.

Britain's history in the Indian subcontinent is long. The British began their presence in India in the 17th century with a few trading outposts. Over time, they gained control of most of the region and in 1858 instituted the British Raj, effectively turning India into a British colony.

An Indian coin depicting the British queen
indian coin

British rule was multifaceted; there were areas under direct British control and areas governed by British-friendly rulers. Regardless, British rule was opposed more and more over time, both violently and through non-violent protest. For example, Mahatma Gandhi's early 20th-century movement for Indian independence helped to force the hand of the British government.

By the end of WWII in 1945, the British government resolved to grant India its independence. In February 1946 the British government sent a special cabinet mission to India to determine the steps necessary to granting India its independence and creating a constitution for the new country.

After discussion with Indian leaders, the mission decided the best way would be by Constituent Assembly. One representative would be sent to the assembly for every one million Indians, and in December 1946, the assembly convened. When India gained formal independence in August 1947, the Constituent Assembly doubled as the country's first legislative body.

Constitutional Structure

Work continued on the constitution for nearly three years. Thousands of amendments were proposed and negotiated in the process. The final draft was ratified by the Constituent Assembly in November 1949. It took effect in January 1950 and still serves as the basis of Indian government today.

The Constitution of India has a preamble, 25 parts (three added by ammendments), 12 schedules, five appendices, over 400 articles and 98 amendments. It is the longest constitution in the world. As such, let's see just a brief overview of each section, the information it contains, and how it shapes Indian government.

Preamble

The short preamble sums up the spirit of the entire document. It was based on a previous resolution written by Jawaharlal Nehru, a delegate to the Constituent Assembly who became India's First Prime Minister.

It begins, ''We, the People of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic...'' before covering the four chief values that direct the Indian government: justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Parts

The parts of the constitution sets out the basic framework for India's parliamentary system and branches of government. Each of the 25 parts of the Indian Constitution is divided into chapters, which are then further divided into articles.

The constitution sets out the Indian government as a three-branched system with an executive, a legislative (parliament), and a separate judiciary branch. It also divides the country into a set of states, each of which has its own government setup with its own similar, three-branch system.

According to the constitution, the executive branch is composed of the President, Vice-President and his chief advisors, the Prime Minister, and the Union Cabinet. This includes the Planning Commission that takes charge of the economic policy in India and formulates India's Five Year Plans. India's economy has been centrally planned and directed since 1951, with the plan revisited and revised every five years.

It also dictates that India is to have a bicameral legislature, with an upper house (House of States) and a lower house (House of the People). The judiciary, like in the United States, is entirely separate from the other two branches and has the final say on all constitutional matters.

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