Historical Underpinnings and Evolution of the Indian Constitution

Here, we shall look into the historical underpinning and evolution of the Constitution of India also known as the History of the Indian constitution through various acts that enabled the British to sustain their empire and how these acts laid a foundation for various provisions in our constitution.

Historical Underpinnings and Evolution of the Indian Constitution

The East India Company which came to India in 1600 managed to capture substantial administrative power in 1765 (in the aftermath of the Battle of Buxar when the British got revenue and civil justice rights for Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha). The trading company since then consolidated its power in such a way so as to reach the nooks and corners of our country.  The success of the British in India was primarily due to the administrative system they put in place through various statutes. Which also led to the profound impact on the present form of the Indian Constitution. 

Many regulations and legislation passed before India’s independence can be traced back to the Constitution. The Indian Constitution’s evolution can be divided into two categories:

  • The Company Rule (1773–1858) is a set of rules that governs how businesses are run.
  • The Crown Rule (1858–1947) was a period of British rule that lasted from 1858 until 1947.

Colonial rulers used and devised methods for handling Indian affairs, and part of the British administrative system’s legacy may be seen in India’s constitution. Because questions from key Indian statutes are frequently asked in exams, candidates can find a list of such statutes.

In the context of the Historical Underpinnings and Evolution of the Indian Constitution, there are several layers:

The Regulating Act 1773 – Historical Underpinnings & Evolution (Company Rule)

  • For the first time, the British Parliament intervened in the East India Company’s business.
  • The Governor of Bengal has been elevated to the position of Governor-General of Bengal (Warren Hastings).
  • The Governor-Executive General’s Council was established with four members.
  • The administration was centralized, with the Madras and Bombay Presidency becoming subordinate to the Bengal Presidency.
  • In 1774, the Supreme Court was created as the Apex Court in Calcutta.
  • Company executives were not allowed to engage in private trade or receive presents from Indians.

The Pitts India Act 1784 – Historical Underpinnings & Evolution (Company Rule)

  • It is considered a milestone in Indian constitutional history.
  • The company’s commercial and political functions are separated. The economic activities were governed by the Court of Directors, while the political concerns were handled by the Board of Control.
  • The British possessions in India were referred to as “British possessions in India.”
  • Governor’s Councils were also established in Madras and Bombay.

The Charter Act 1833 – Historical Underpinnings & Evolution (Company Rule)

  • The Governor-General of Bengal was appointed the Governor-General of India by the Charter Act of 1833. (Lord William Bentinck).
  • The Bombay and Madras Presidencies lost their legislative authority.
  • The company’s commercial activities were halted, and it was turned into an administrative entity as a result of this act.
  • In the linked article, you can learn more about the Charter Act of 1833.

The Charter Act 1853 – Historical Underpinnings & Evolution (Company Rule)

  • The Governor-legislative General’s Council and executive responsibilities were split.
  • Six members of the Central Legislative Council were appointed by the temporary governments of Madras, Bombay, Agra, and Bengal.
  • The Indian civil service was established as a mechanism of openly recruiting officers for administrative positions.

The Government of India Act 1858 – Historical Underpinnings & Evolution (Crown Rule)

  • The company’s rule came to an end after the 1857 uprising, and the British properties in India were returned to the British Crown.
  • The Indian Secretary of State’s office was established. He was aided by a 15-member Indian Council.
  • He was in charge of the Indian administration, and the Viceroy was his agent. The Governor-General was also given the title of Viceroy (Lord Canning).
  • The Board of Control and the Court of Directors were both disbanded.

The Indian Councils Act 1861 – Historical Underpinnings & Evolution (Crown Rule)

  • In the Viceroy’s Councils, Indians were represented. Three Native Americans were elected to the Legislative Council.
  • Indians were allowed to participate in the Viceroy’s Executive Council as non-official members.
  • The portfolio system was acknowledged.
  • Decentralization began with the restoration of legislative powers to the presidencies of Madras and Bombay.

The Indian Councils Act 1892 – Historical Underpinnings & Evolution (Crown Rule)

  • Nominations (indirect elections) were implemented.
  • The number of Legislative Councils has increased. Legislative councils were given new responsibilities, such as budget discussion and questioning the government.

The Indian Councils Act 1909 (Morley-Minto Reforms) – Historical Underpinning & Evolution (Crown Rule)

  • For the first time, direct elections to legislative councils were held.
  • The Imperial Legislative Council took the place of the Central Legislative Council.
  • The legislative council now has a total of 60 members, up from 16 previously.
  • The idea of a common electorate was widely welcomed.
  • An Indian was appointed to the Viceroy’s Executive Council for the first time. (Law Member Satyendra Prasad Sinha)

The Government of India Act 1919 (Montague-Chelmsford Reforms) – Historical Underpinning & Evolution (Crown Rule)

  • Subjects were divided into two categories: central and provincial.
  • In provincial administrations, diarchy was instituted, with executive councillors in charge of the reserved list and ministers in control of the transferred list of topics.
  • The ministers were chosen from among the legislative council’s elected members and were accountable to the legislature.
  • At the centre, a bicameral legislature was established for the first time. (Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha were afterwards renamed Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, respectively.)
  • It required three Indians to serve on the Viceroy’s executive council.
  • For the first time in India, this act provided for the establishment of a public service commission.
  • This act expanded the right to vote, allowing around 10% of the people to exercise their right to vote.

The Government of India Act 1935 – Historical Underpinning & Evolution (Crown Rule)

  • British India and the princely states were proposed to form an all-India federation. However, this never came to pass.
  • The subjects were split between the central government and the provinces. The Federal List was in charge of the Centre, the Provincial List was in charge of the Provinces, and there was a Concurrent List that catered to both.
  • Diarchy was abolished at the provincial level and replaced by monarchy at the national level.
  • Provinces were given more authority, and bicameral legislatures were established in six of the eleven provinces.
  • The Indian Council was abolished, and a federal court was constituted.
  • Burma and Aden were cut off from the rest of India.
  • The RBI was established as a result of this act.
  • This Act was in effect till the new Indian Constitution took its place.

The Indian Independence Act 1947 – Historical Underpinning & Evolution

  • India was declared sovereign and independent.
  • The Viceroy and Governors were given the title of constitutional (nominal) rulers.
  • Establish responsible governments at the national and provincial levels.
  • Both legislative and executive authorities have been delegated.