The Indian constitution is not just a document that consists of knows and how's
to governance. it is a monumental organic document of governance and democracy
through which the country derives its sovereignty and stands as a testament to
the enduring constitutionalism in shaping the world's largest democracy.
constitution frames gave this meticulously drafted document to the citizens of
India which embodies a profound commitment to the principles of
constitutionalism, which not only serves as the bedrock of the legal framework
but also serves as the cornerstone of democratic India. The impact of
Constitutionalism on the Indian Constitution cannot be overstated as its values
flow down and percolate the state's machinery, leading to the improvement of
each and every citizen's well-being within the states.[i]
What is Constitutionalism?
"The mere existence of a constitution does not ensure constitutionalism."[ii]
Constitutionalism is a vital political and legal philosophy that forms the
bedrock of contemporary democratic states. It comprises core principles and
ideals governing government structures, state authority, and individual rights.
Constitutionalism recognises the power vested to the government and at the same
time stresses the importance of limitation on those powers. In essence, it
restricts the arbitrary powers of the government. If left unchecked, the
legislative or the executive may exercise their powers uncontrollably and act in
an arbitrary manner which will lead to a despotic, oppressive and authoritarian
government which will jeopardize the rights and freedom of the citizens.
Constitutionalism checks the legitimacy of a government's action, i.e., whether
the various organs of the government are performing their public duty within
their authority i.e., conforming to the limitation placed. Thus,
constitutionalism is said to be the antithesis of arbitrariness.[iii]
Impact of Constitutionalism on Indian Constitution
To understand the significant impact of constitutionalism, we first need to
understand its essence and how it is incorporated into our constitution.
Rule of Law
"Between a tyrant and a prince there is this single or chief difference, that
the latter obeys the law and rules the people by its dictates, accounting
himself as but their servant"[iv]
The rule of law is a critical requirement for constitutionalism. The rule of
law, according to Prof. A.V. Dicey, is the lack of broad powers in the hands of
government authorities. Essentially it means that the government has to comply
by the laws that have been publicly announced in advance i.e., the government
must work within the ambit of the approved legislature, not by arbitrary
decisions and discretion of individuals holding government offices.
A few examples of the implementation of the rule of law into our constitution
are, Article 14- Right to Equality, Article 21- Fairness, Justice and
Reasonableness, Article 265- No tax should be imposed or collected except by the
authority of the law.
Separation of Power
This concept, introduced by Montesquieu, refers to the allocation of
governmental duties among various branches of the government to ensure a system
of checks and balances.[v] The intention behind the principle is that no single
entity has a concentration of power which can cause abuse of power and may lead
to tyranny or dictatorship.
The Indian constitution embodies separation of power by dividing the government
into three organs- legislative, executive and judiciary. To prevent any one
branch from becoming overly dominant, these organs balance one another. For
example, the President had the power to veto laws passed by the Parliament, But,
with a vote of two-thirds of the chamber, the parliament can overturn the veto.
The judiciary can also strike down laws that it finds to be unconstitutional.
This means that the judiciary can check the power of the legislative and
In the Kesavananda Bharti[vi] case,
the Supreme Court has ruled that the
Parliament's authority to make amendments to the Constitution is limited by the
fundamental principles and core values enshrined in the Constitution itself.
Therefore, any amendment that contradicts or undermines these fundamental
principles will be deemed unconstitutional. In Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain[vii],
the court held that even with the ability to modify the constitution, parliament
cannot perform the judicial duty of adjudicating a specific issue.
Hence, constitutionalism encompasses limitations on both legislative and
executive authority via the process of judicial review. Further, this
constrained model constitutionally entrenches the separation of powers and the
rule of law.[viii]
An independent judiciary plays a pivotal role in a liberal democracy by
safeguarding individual rights, upholding the rule of law, and ensuring
adherence to constitutional principles. Utilizing the mechanism of Judicial
Review, an autonomous judiciary possesses the authority to invalidate laws that
are in conflict with the Constitution. This underscores its significant role in
upholding constitutional supremacy and rendering impartial judgments.
Few landmark judgments that highlighted the significance of
- I.R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu [ix]:
In order to prevent the destruction of
democratic norms, including the safeguarding of fundamental rights, the court
remarked that the notion of constitutionalism is now a legal principle that
necessitates oversight over the use of governmental authority.
- Swaran Singh v. State of U.P.[x]:
The court emphasized that the exercise of
public power, including constitutional authority, should never be arbitrary or
done in bad faith. Typically, adhering to guidelines for fair and equal
execution ensures the legitimate exercise of power. Even though this power is of
utmost importance, it cannot operate independently but must be guided by the
principles of constitutionalism.
Constitutionalism has provided a foundation for the courts to develop and apply
the doctrine of Constitutional Morality[xi], and highlighted its significance in
the case of State (NTC of Delhi) v. Union of India
[xii] by stating:
constitutional functionaries owe a greater degree of responsibility towards this
eloquent instrument for it is from this document that they derive their power
and authority and, as a natural corollary, they must ensure that they cultivate
and develop a spirit of constitutionalism where every action taken by them is
governed by and is in strict conformity with the basic tenets of the
It is impossible to overstate the importance of constitutionalism in defending
our democracy and constitution from dangers of absolutism. It has served as both
a barrier against oppression and a tool for reform that has formed our
civilization. It now serves as the foundation of India and has permeated the
fabric of governance, having an influence on residents' daily lives.
- Shakti Vahini v. Union of India, (2018) 7 SCC 192.
- R.C. Poudyal v. Union of India (1994).
- "Charles H. Mcilwain, Constitutionalism : Ancient and Modern, 21; S.A. De Smith, Constitutional and Administrative Law, 34 (1977); Giovanni Sartori, Constitutionalism : a preliminary discussion. (1962) 56 am. Pol.Sc.Rev. 853. Recited in Indian Constitutional Law by M.P. Jain, fifth edition, 2006 at p. 5."
- John of Salisbury
- Prof. GS Pande, Constitutional Law (6th Edition, Lexis Nexis 2010) 6.
- Kesavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala AIR 1973 SC 1461.
- AIR 1975 SC 2299
- I.R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu, (2007) 2 SCC 1
- AIR 2007 SC 611.
- 1988 SCC ONLINE ALL 633.
- Naz Foundation v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2009 SCC Online Del 1762.
- State (NCT of Delhi) v. Union of India, (2018) 8 SCC 501