Every state has a constitution. In simple words, the constitution means a set of rules which determine the form of government, the powers of the government, the rights of the citizens and the relation between the government and its citizens. A constitution can be written or unwritten. A written constitution is a constitution in which these rules have been laid down in writing. The Indian and American constitutions are written. On the other hand, where these rules do not exist in a written form; they are based on customs and conventions, the constitution is aid to be an unwritten one. The British Constitution is an unwritten constitution.
The present constitution of India came into force on 26th January 1950. It was framed by a Constituent Assembly which was set up in 1946. The Constituent Assembly adopted this constitution on 26th November 1949 and it came into force on 26th January, 1950.
The main features of the Indian Constitution are as follows-
Written and Lengthy- The Constitution of India is a written constitution. It was framed by a Constituent Assembly which started its work in 1946. It contains 395 Articles and 12 Schedules. A number of amendments passed have also become a part of this constitution. It is the lengthiest constitution in the world.
Sovereign, Secular, Socialist, Democratic, Republic- The constitution declares India to be a Sovereign, Secular, Socialist, Democratic, Republic. Words ‘Secular’ and ‘Socialist’ were added by the 42nd amendment, in the Constitution which was passed in 1976.
Federal State- India is a Federal State. The powers of the government are divided between the central government and the government of the states. They have been put in three lists i.e. the Union List, the State List and the Concurrent List. On subjects given in the Union List, Parliament has the power to make laws. State legislatures enjoy the power to make laws on the subjects given in the State List. On the subjects given in the Concurrent List, both the Parliament and the state legislature can make laws. However, in the case of a conflict between a law passed by Parliament and any state legislature, the law made by the Parliament will prevail.
Partly Rigid and Partly Flexible- The Constitution of India is neither wholly rigid nor wholly flexible, it is partly rigid and partly flexible. For the purpose of amendment, our constitution has been divided in three parts- (i) certain provisions of the constitution can be amended by the Parliament by a simple majority. (ii) certain provisions can be amended by a two-third majority of the Parliament and its ratification by at least fifty per cent states. (iii) the remaining provisions can be amended by the Parliament by two-third majority.
Fundamental Rights and Duties- The Constitution of India guarantees Fundamental Rights to all its citizen. They are- Right to Equality, Right to Freedom, Right against Exploitation, Right to Freedom of Religion, Cultural and Educational Rights, Right to Constitutional Remedies. By the 42nd amendment of the constitution, ten fundamental duties have also been added. The eleventh Fundamental duty was added by the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2002.
Directive Principles of State Policy- Taking inspiration from the Constitution of Ireland, the framers of our constitution included the Directive Principles of State Policy in the constitution. They are in the form of directions to the central government and state governments.
Universal Adult Franchise- It means that every citizen who has completed the age of 18 is entitled to cast his vote.
Single Citizenship- Our constitution provides for single citizenship- citizenship of India. Unlike the USA, we do not have double citizenship, one of the union and the other of the state.
Special Provisions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes- The constitution provides for the protection of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It grants them special privileges.
Bicameral Legislature- The Indian Parliament is bicameral. It consists of two houses- Council of Staes (Rajya Sabha) and House of the People (Lok Sabha).
A Constitution derived from Many Sources- The framers of our constitution borrowed many things from different constitutions of the world and included them in our constitution. That is why some writers call the Indian constitution a ‘bag of borrowings’.