[oped of the day] India’s enduring document of governance


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Constitution of India - 70 years


At 69 and stepping into 70, India’s Constitution is one of the world’s oldest and most enduring. At the time of its birth, constitutional experts the world over did not expect our Constitution to survive very long. Sir Ivor Jennings was the greatest critic of our constitution.

Analysis – Ivor Jennings

    • Jennings summed up India’s Constitution in one cynical sentence: “Too long, too rigid, too prolix.” 
    • His criticism focused on certain key aspects:
      • Constitution’s rigidity and its superfluous provisions
      • fundamental rights and directive principles of state policy
      • key aspects of India’s federalism
    • He declared India’s Constitution as “far too large and far too rigid”.
    • He said that it is caged by its history, and unwieldy to be molded into something useful through judicious interpretations.
    • He concluded that the constitution would not endure.

Findings of a key study

    • A work of the University of Chicago titled “The Lifespan of Written Constitutions” proves the endurance, lasting appeal and effectiveness of our Constitution. 
    • The study identified a “Universe of 792 new constitutional systems”, of which 518 have been replaced, 192 still in force, 82 have been formally suspended ultimately to be replaced.
    • The study discloses that constitutions do not last very long.

Findings in numbers

    • The mean lifespan across the world since 1789 is 17 years.
    • One-half of constitutions are likely to be dead by age 18, and by age 50 only 19% will remain.
    • The mean lifespan in Latin America and Africa is 12.4 and 10.2 years. 15% of constitutions from these regions perish in their first year of existence. 
    • Constitutions in western Europe and Asia endure 32 and 19 years. 
    • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries have constitutions lasting 32 years on average.
    • The life expectancy of constitutions does not seem to be increasing over the last 200 years. 

Qualitative findings

    • Their most important function is to ring-fence and limits the power of the authorities created under the constitution.
    • Constitutions also define a nation and its goals. 
    • Another function is to define patterns of authority and to set up government institutions.

Mechanisms of change

    • There are primary mechanisms by which constitutional changes occur: formal amendments to the text and informal amendments from interpretive changes.
    • Constitutional lifespan will depend on: occurrence of shock and crisis such as war, civil war or the threat of imminent breakup; structural attributes of the constitution, enforceability and its adaptability.
    • The specificity of the document, the inclusiveness of the constitution’s origins, and the constitution’s ability to adapt to changing conditions are important predictors of longevity. 
    • Constitution whose provisions are known and accepted will be self-enforcing. 
    • Constitutions that are ratified by public reference enjoy higher levels of legitimacy.
    • Constitutional durability should increase with the level of public inclusion both at the drafting stage and the approval stage.
    • The constitution is also interpreted through a court empowered with powers of constitutional judicial review.

India’s stability

    • India exemplifies that fractionalized environments produce constitutional stability because no single group can dominate others. 
    • Public ratification produces a more enduring constitution in democracies. 
    • Longer constitutions are more durable than shorter ones. This suggests that specificity matters.
    • It concludes that constitutions work best when they are most like ordinary statutes: relatively detailed and easy to modify.
    • The drafting committee applied almost all yardsticks that are essential to impart durability to a constitution.


    • The founding fathers and mothers were guided by a strong commitment to the welfare of our nation and their own experiences during the long years of the freedom struggle.
    • Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes rightly observed that “The life of the law has not been logic. It has been the experience.”
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Ranjita Laishram
Ranjita Laishram
2 years ago

Great on a hot topic…..