Notes of Ch 10 The Philosophy of the Constitution| Class 11th Political Science

What is meant by Philosophy of the Constitution?

We have three things in mind.

• First, we need to understand the conceptual structure of the constitution. What does this mean? It means that we must ask questions like what are the possible meanings of terms used in the constitution such as rights', citizenship, minority or democracy?

• Furthermore, we must attempt to work out a coherent vision of society and polity conditional
upon an interpretation of the key concepts of the constitution. We must have a better grasp of the set of ideals embedded in the constitution.

• Our final point is that the Indian Constitution must be read in conjunction with the Constituent Assembly Debates in order to refine and raise to a higher theoretical plane, the justification of values embedded in the Constitution. A philosophical treatment of a value is incomplete if a detailed justification for it is not provided. When the framers of the Constitution chose to guide Indian society and polity by a set of values, there must have been a corresponding set of reasons. Many of them, though, may not have been fully explained.

Why in Need?

• A political philosophy approach to the constitution is needed not only to find out the moral content expressed in it and to evaluate its claims but possibly to use it to arbitrate between varying interpretations of the many core values in our polity.

Constitution as Means of Democratic Transformation

• Provide peaceful, democratic means to bring about social transformation. Moreover, for a hitherto colonized people, constitutions announce and embody the first real exercise of political self-determination.

• The Indian Constitution was designed to break the shackles of traditional social hierarchies and
to usher in a new era of freedom, equality and justice.

• Constitutions exist not only to limit people in power but to empower those who traditionally
have been deprived of it. Constitutions can give vulnerable people the power to achieve collective good.

What is the Political Philosophy of our Constitution?

• It is hard to describe this philosophy in one word.

• It resists any single label because it is liberal, democratic, egalitarian, secular, and federal, open to community values, sensitive to the needs of religious and linguistic minorities as well as historically disadvantaged groups, and committed to building a common national identity.

• In short, it is committed to freedom, equality, social justice, and some form of national unity.

• But underneath all this, there is a clear emphasis on peaceful and democratic measures for putting this philosophy into practice.

Individual freedom
• The first point to note about the Constitution is its commitment to individual freedom.

• Remember Rammohan Roy protested against curtailment of the freedom of the press by the
British colonial state.

• It is not surprising therefore that freedom of expression is an integral part of the Indian Constitution. So is the freedom from arbitrary arrest.

• The infamous Rowlatt Act, which the national movement opposed so vehemently, sought to deny this basic freedom.

Social Justice

Classical liberalism always privileges rights of the individuals over demands of social justice and community values.

The liberalism of the Indian Constitution differs from this version in two ways.

• First, it was always linked to social justice. The best example of this is the provision for
reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Constitution. The makers of the Constitution believed that the mere granting of the right to equality was not enough to overcome age-old injustices suffered by these groups or to give real meaning to their right to vote.

• Special constitutional measures were required to advance their interests. Therefore the constitution makers provided a number of special measures to protect the interests of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes such as the reservation of seats in legislatures. The Constitution also made it possible for the government to reserve public sector jobs for these

Respect for diversity and minority rights

• The Indian Constitution encourages equal respect between communities.

• This was not easy in our country, first because communities do not always have a relationship of
equality; they tend to have hierarchical relationships with one another (as in the case of caste).

• Second, when these communities do see each other as equals, they also tend to become rivals (as
in the case of religious communities).

• It was important to ensure that no one community systematically dominates others. This made
it mandatory for our Constitution to recognize community based rights.

• One such right is the right of religious communities to establish and run their own educational institutions.

• Such institutions may receive money from the government. This provision shows that the Indian
Constitution does not see religion merely as a private matter concerning the individual.


• The term secular was not initially mentioned; the Indian Constitution has always been secular.

• The mainstream, western conception, of secularism means mutual exclusion of state and religion
in order to protect values such as individual freedom and citizenship rights of individuals.

• The term mutual exclusion means this: both religion and state must stay away from the internal affairs of one another. The state must not intervene in the domain of religion; religion likewise should not dictate state policy or influence the conduct of the state. In other words,
mutual exclusion means that religion and state must be strictly separated.

• To protect religious freedom of individuals, therefore, state must not help religious
organizations. But at the same time, state should not tell religious organisations how to manage their affairs.

Rights of Religious Groups
• The Indian Constitution grants rights to all religious communities such as the right to establish and maintain their educational institutions. Freedom of religion in India means the freedom of religion of both individuals and communities.

State's Power of Intervention
• The state simply had to interfere in the affairs of religion.

• The state could also help religious communities by giving aid to educational institutions run by them.

• The state may help or hinder religious communities depending on which mode of action promotes values such as freedom and equality.

Procedural Achievements

• First, the Indian Constitution reflects a faith in political deliberation. We know that many groups and interests were not adequately represented in the Constituent Assembly. But the debates in the Assembly amply show that the makers of the Constitution wanted to be as inclusive in their approach as possible. This open-ended approach indicates the willingness of people to modify their existing preferences, in short, to justify outcomes by reference not to self-interest but to reasons. It also shows a willingness to recognize creative value in difference and disagreement.

• Second, it reflects a spirit of compromise and accommodation. These words, compromise and accommodation, should not always be seen with disapproval. Not all compromises are bad.


• The Indian Constitution can be subjected to many criticisms of which three may be briefly mentioned:

• First, that it is unwieldy
• Second, that it is unrepresentative and
• Third, that it is alien to our conditions.

1st Criticism

• The criticism that it is unwieldy is based on the assumption that the entire constitution of a
country must be found in one compact document.

• The fact is that a country's constitution is to be identified with a compact document and with
other written documents with constitutional status.

• In the case of India, many such details, practices and statements are included in one
single document and this has made that document somewhat large in size.

• Many countries for instance, do not have provisions for election commission or the civil service commission in the document known as constitution.

• But in India, many such matters are attended to by the Constitutional document itself.

2nd Criticism

Here we must distinguish two components of representation, one that might be called voice and the other opinion.
• The voice component of representation is important. People must be recognised in their
own language or voice, not in the language of the masters. If we look at the Indian Constitution from this dimension, it is indeed unrepresentative because members of the Constituent Assembly were chosen by a restricted franchise, not by universal suffrage.

• However, if we examine the other dimension, we may not find it altogether lacking in representativeness. The claim that almost every shade of opinion was represented in the Constituent Assembly may be a trifle exaggerated but may have something to it. If we read the debates that took place in the Constituent Assembly, we find that a vast range of issues and opinions were mentioned, members raised matters not only based on their individual social concerns but based on the perceived interests and concerns of various social sections as well.

3rd criticism

• It alleges that the Indian Constitution is entirely an alien document, borrowed article by article from western constitutions and sits uneasily with the cultural ethos of the Indian people. This criticism is often voiced by many. Even in the Constituent Assembly itself, there were some voices that echo this concern.

The limitations of the Constitution

• First, the Indian Constitution has a centralised idea of national unity.

• Second, it appears to have glossed over some important issues of gender justice, particularly within the family.

• Third, it is not clear why in a poor developing country, certain basic socio-economic rights were relegated to the section on Directive Principles rather than made an integral feature of our fundamental rights.
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