Happy Republic Day! Republic Day honors the date that the Constitution of India was ratified, replacing the Government of India Act (1935) as India’s governing document.
To celebrate Republic Day in true SocialCops style, we combed through data sources and the Constitution itself to investigate what the data shows about the Indian constitution. Here’s what we found.
India’s Constitution Was Ahead of the Curve
Countries have been ratifying constitutions since 1215, when King John of England signed the Magna Charter. The next country to ratify a constitution was the United States in 1789, and the creation of constitutions has accelerated since then.
Excluding the United Kingdom, the data set on the constitutions created per year has a mean of 1980 and a median of 1991. This means that the data set is skewed toward later years — more constitutions have been ratified in recent years than in past years. Constitutions have even been ratified as late as 2014 (Tunisia, Thailand, and Egypt).
The Indian constitution was ratified on 26 November 1949. At the time, it was only the 23rd constitution to be ratified in the world. Another 168 countries would follow in the next 67 years.
India’s Constitution Has a Lot to Say
India possesses the longest constitution in the world — nearly 150,000 words in 450 articles.
For the data set we used on constitutional word length (from the Comparative Constitutions Project), the length of each country’s constitution was measured by copying the text from publicly available PDFs of the constitution into Microsoft Word and using Word’s word count feature.
For India, this possibly resulted in an overestimate. Many of the PDFs of India’s constitution include organizational and structural notes in the sidebar. These notes are not part of the main body of the Constitution, yet they are automatically included in the Constitution’s total word count when these PDFs are copied into Word.
Sample page taken from india.gov.in’s PDF files of the Indian constitution
Regardless, India’s constitution is still long. Stripping out these notes only brings the constitution down to around 120,000 words. The next longest constitutions — Nigeria with 66,263 words, Brazil with 64,448 words, and Malaysia with 64,080 words — do not come close to this word count. The average constitution in the world is 22,249 words long, between one-fifth and one-seventh the length of India’s constitution.
Edit: Thanks to Hemant for clarifying the notes in the sidebar of the Constitution. They are called “marginal notes”. Since they have been used in the past to help interpret the Constitution, it is fine to include marginal notes in the Constitution’s word count.
The Evolution of India’s Constitution
Instead of staying static since 1949, India’s constitution has undergone constant change. From 1950 to August 2015, there have been 100 amendments to the Indian constitution. The Indian constitution is one of the most amended constitutions in the world.
Compared to other countries, India’s amendment process is distinctive. According to Dr. R.C. Bhardwaj of the Lok Sabha Secretariat in 1995, India’s constitution “may be described as partly flexible and partly rigid”. Many constitutions have a single process for constitution amendments, but India’s constitution has a variety of possible processes to amend the constitution. (To amend certain parts of the constitution, the procedure is more complex, but the general procedure is simple and flexible.)
The procedure for passing most amendments is outlined in Article 368 of the Constitution. An amendment is initiated by the introduction of a bill in either House of Parliament. The bill must be passed in each House by a majority of total members and a two-thirds majority of present voting members. Once the bill is passed, it goes to the president for approval.
The Indian National Congress was responsible for most of these amendments. This makes sense, since the INC has been in power the most since 1950. However, the BJP and Janata Dal were more efficient than the Congress Party. The BJP and Janata Dal passed over 2 amendments per year in power, compared to the INC’s 1.437 amendments per year in power.
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