Historical Background of Constitutional Development in India

20/04/2024 0 By indiafreenotes

The historical background of constitutional development in India is a complex and multifaceted journey that spans several centuries, reflecting the socio-political evolution of the subcontinent under various rulers and administrations, particularly during British rule. The development of constitutionalism in India involved a series of legislative acts, reforms, and the contributions of numerous Indian leaders and thinkers.

Pre-British Influences

Ancient India had various texts like the Manusmriti and the Arthashastra which offered detailed descriptions of governance, although not constitutions in the modern sense. These texts discussed the duties of rulers and the governed, and principles of statecraft.

British Colonial Period

  • Regulating Act of 1773:

This was the first step towards central administration in India. It set the framework for British control by regulating the British East India Company’s rule in India, laying the groundwork for future administrative reforms and centralization of power.

  • Charter Acts:

Over the early 19th century, several Charter Acts were enacted (in 1833, 1853, etc.) to consolidate British power, regulate Company activities, and make the beginnings of a central administrative structure.

  • Government of India Acts 1858 and 1909:

After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Government of India Act 1858 transferred control from the East India Company to the British Crown, initiating direct rule. The 1909 Act, also known as the Morley-Minto Reforms, allowed Indians to sit as members of the legislative council but did not grant much legislative power.

  • Government of India Act 1919 (Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms):

This Act introduced a dual administration system or dyarchy that divided subjects delegated to the provinces into ‘transferred’ and ‘reserved’ categories. It was an attempt to introduce responsible government in the provinces.

  • Government of India Act 1935:

This was the longest Act enacted by British Parliament at that time and was a major restructuring of the governance of India. It provided for more autonomy to Indian provinces and was the blueprint for many features of the future Constitution of India.

Post-World War II

This was aimed at discussing the transfer of power from the British government to the Indian leadership, leading to the formation of a Constituent Assembly, which would draft a constitution for independent India.

Constituent Assembly and Drafting of the Constitution

  • Constituent Assembly (1946-1949):

Comprised of elected representatives, this assembly was responsible for drafting the Constitution of India. Influential figures like Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Sardar Patel played crucial roles in the assembly. The assembly held sessions open to the public and involved thorough debates on each aspect of the Constitution.

  • Influences on the Constitution:

Indian Constitution drew on various sources, reflecting indigenous ideas along with influences from British, American, Irish, and other democracies to adapt to the unique Indian context.

  • Adoption of the Constitution:

Constitution was adopted on November 26, 1949, and came into effect on January 26, 1950, marking the completion of the country’s transition to full independence.

Features and Legacy:

Indian Constitution established a federal structure with a clear separation of powers, a bicameral national legislature, and an independent judiciary. It also enshrined a comprehensive list of fundamental rights guaranteeing civil liberties for all citizens against state encroachment.