A Constitution is a fundamental legal which the government of a country functions, These rules or laws are called the basic laws these laws are superior to all the laws of a country. That is, the laws written in the Constitution act as the source according to which rules and regulations of governing a country are framed. Every law enacted by the government has to be in conformity with the Constitution. But, the constitution constantly grows and evolves according to the needs, requirements and aspirations of the people and functioning institutions.
A Constitution signifies Independence. It establishes the main organs of the government – the legislature, the executive and the Judiciary. A Constitution defines the powers and responsibilities of each organ of the government. It regulates the relationship between the three organs and also with the people. It also enumerates our rights and duties as citizens.
It contains national goals such as democracy, secularism and socialism. To achieve these goals, it envisages various plans for implementation by the government. Every Constitution gets meaning and content only from the manner in which and by whom it is operated. In this way, our Constitution is very important to us. It is our foremost duty to respect our constitution.
Need of a Constitution
Every organisation or society needs certain rules and regulations for its smooth functioning. For example, we play games like cricket, football, etc. Each game has some rules according to which it is played. These rules help to define the game. They also help us in distinguishing one game from another.
Like these games, a society or country also needs some fundamental rules that are included in this. These rules make it what it is and differentiate it from other kinds of societies. That is why most countries in the world have a Constitution. In a democratic country like India, the importance of the Constitution is more significant.
The Constitution is needed for the following reasons :
- In a democratic government, the citizens participate in the functioning of the government – directly or indirectly. It is the Constitution in which the government’s powers and citizens’ rights are clearly defined.
- It prevents the government from misusing its rights and thus, safeguards the rights of the citizens. A Constitution is not a mere document but, a living document. This means that it constantly grows and evolves according to the needs, requirements and aspirations of the people of the country.
- It consists of certain ideas that form the basis of the kind of country that we want as citizens. That is, it tells us the fundamental nature of our society. For example, after independence, we adopted a Constitution that reflects the ideals of our country. Similarly, Nepal adopted a new Constitution in order to usher in a new society, when it moved from a monarchy to a democratic government.
- A country is usually made up of different communities of people. The Constitution helps serve as a set of rules and principles that all persons in a country can agree upon the democracy.
- The constitution defines the nature of a country’s political system.
Why Do We Need a Constitution?
Why Do We Need a Constitution? – India’s Constitution is the supreme law of India. It defines the Government’s fundamental political values, policies, processes, powers, rights, and duties. It helps in the relationship between the people and government.
The South African example is a good way to understand why we need a constitution and what do constitutions do.
The oppressor and the oppressed in this new democracy were planning to live together as equals. It was not going to be easy for them to trust each other. They had their fears. They wanted to safeguard their interests.
The black majority was keen to ensure that the democratic principle of majority rule was not compromised. They wanted substantial social and economic rights. The white minority was keen to protect its rights and property.
After long negotiations both parties agreed to a compromise. The whites agreed to the principle of majority rule and that of one person one vote. They also agreed to accept some basic rights for the poor and the workers. The blacks agreed that majority rule would not be absolute. They agreed that the majority would not take away the property of the white minority. How was this compromise going to be implemented? Even if they managed to trust each other, what was the guarantee that this trust will not be broken in future?
The only way to build and maintain trust in such a situation is to write down some rules of the game that everyone would abide by these rules lay down how the rulers are to be chosen in future. These rules also determine what the elected governments are empowered to do and what they cannot do. Finally these rules decide the rights of the citizen.
These rules will work only if the winner cannot change them very easily. This is what the South Africans did. They agreed on some basic rules. They also agreed that these rules will be supreme that no government will be able to ignore these. This set of basic rules is called a constitution. Constitution-making is not unique to South Africa.
Every country has diverse groups of people. Their relationship may not have been as bad as that between the whites and the blacks in South Africa. But all over the world people in differences of opinion and interests. Whether democratic or not, most countries in the world need to have these basic rules. This applies not just to governments. Any association needs to have its constitution. It could be a club in your area, a cooperative society or a political party, they all need a constitution.
Thus, the constitution of a country is a set of written rules that are accepted by all people living together in a country. Constitution is the supreme law that determines the relationship among people living in a territory (called citizens) and also the relationship between the people and government.
A constitution does many things:-
- First, it generates a degree of trust and coordination that is necessary for different kind of people to live together.
- Second, It specifies how the government will be constituted, who will have power to take which decisions.
- Third, it lays down limits on the powers of the government and tells us what the rights of the citizens are.
- Fourth, it expresses the aspirations of the people about creating a good society.
All countries that have constitutions are not necessarily democratic. But all countries that are democratic will have constitutions. After the War of Independence against Great Britain, the Americans gave themselves a constitution. After the Revolution, the French people approved a democratic constitution. Since then it has become a practice in all democracies to have a written constitution.
In a democracy, the rulers are not free to do what they like. There are certain basic rules that the citizens and the government have to follow. All such rules together are called constitutions. As the supreme law of the country, the constitution determines the rights of citizens, the powers of the government, and how the government should function.
In this topic we ask some basic questions about the constitutional design of a democracy.
- Why do we need a constitution?
- How are the constitutions drawn up?
- Who designs them and in what way?
- What are the values that shape the constitutions in democratic states?
Once a constitution is accepted, can we make changes later as required by the changing conditions?
One recent instance of designing constitution for a democratic state is that of the South Africa. We begin this chapter by looking at what happened there and how the South Africans went about this task of designing their constitution. Then we turn to how the Indian Constitution was made, what its foundational values are, and how it provides a good framework for the conduct of citizens’ life and that of the government.
Democratic Constitution in South Africa
“I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
“This was Nelson Mandela, being tried for treason by the white South African government. He and seven other leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 for daring to oppose the apartheid regime in his country. He spent the next 28 years in South Africa’s most dreaded prison, Robben Island.
Struggle against apartheid
Apartheid was the name of a system of racial discrimination unique to South Africa. The white Europeans imposed this system on South Africa. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the trading companies from Europe occupied it with arms and force, in the way they occupied India. But unlike India, a large number of whites’ had settled in South Africa and became the local rulers.
The system of apartheid divided the people and labeled them on the basis of their skin colour. The native people of South Africa are black in colour. They made up about three – fourth of the population and were called ‘blacks’. Besides these two groups, there were people of mixed races who were called “colored” and people who migrated from India. The white rulers treated all non-whites as inferiors. The non – whites did not have voting rights.
The apartheid system was particularly oppressive for the blacks. They were forbidden from living in white areas. They could work in white areas only if they had a permit. Trains, buses, taxis, hotels, hospitals, schools and colleges, libraries, cinema halls, theaters, beaches, swimming pools, public toilets, were all separate for the whites and blacks. This was called segregation. They could not even visit the churches where the whites worshipped. Blacks could not form associations or protest against the terrible treatment.
Since 1950, the blacks, colored and Indians fought against the apartheid system. They launched protest marches and strikes. The African National Congress (ANC) was the umbrella organisation that led the struggle against the policies of segregation. This included many workers’ unions and the Communist Party. Many sensitive whites also joined the ANC to oppose apartheid and played a leading role in this struggle. Several countries denounced apartheid as unjust and racist. But the white racist government continued to rule by detaining, torturing and killing thousands of black and coloured people.