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Sovereignty in Indian Constitution

Context: Ruling party of the country has alleged that one of the leaders of the opposition called for upholding ‘sovereignty’ of a state during election campaigning.

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  • The ruling party has alleged that the leader in question had called for protecting the sovereignty of the state, which amounted to demanding secession from India.
  • Even though the speech of the leader did not contain the word ‘sovereignty’, a social media post of the political party used the word ‘sovereignty’.
  • Since India is independent, it is called a sovereign country. States that are part of the country do not possess the right to declare sovereignty.

What does the term ‘Sovereignty’ mean?

  • The idea of having supreme authority over a defined territory is termed sovereignty. The term has been used by Western philosophers to describe the supremacy of the state over the people being governed.
    • The supremacy also extends to its institutions such as the government, the judiciary, and parliament.
  • The state has legitimate claim to sovereignty for its role in offering protection to its people, keeping the society cohesive and maintaining peace through its control over law and order.

Sovereignty in Indian Constitution

  • In India constitution, sovereignty term has been invoked to “declare the ultimate sovereignty of the people of India and that the Constitution rests on their authority”.
  • Preamble:
    • In Indian constitution, the term ‘sovereignty’ has been placed at the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of India, as the first attribute of the independent republic of India.
    • Its placement as the first among the core principles of the republic shows its importance in the Constitution.
    • Arguments behind its use in preamble:
      • During discussions in constituent assembly whether the word ‘sovereignty’ should be made part of the Preamble, Brajeshwar Prasad had argued that the term could lead to war and imperialism.
      • Acharya J B Kripalani however said that the use of the term was necessary to lay down clearly and distinctly, that sovereignty resides in and flows from the people.
      • Dr BR Ambedkar also had a similar view regarding the use of the term, to reaffirm the role that the people of India had played in the drafting of their Constitution.
  • Other parts of the Constitution:
    • Explicitly mentioned:
      • Fundamental Duties: The term can also be found under Fundamental Duties. Article 51A(c) says that it is the duty of all citizens “to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.”
      • Affirmations: Under the third schedule of the constitution, the term can be found in oaths for positions like the Chief Justices, Union Ministers and Members of Parliament.
      • “…I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India…”
    • Implicitly mentioned:
      • Directive Principles of State Policy: Under Article 51, the state shall endeavour to promote international peace and security, maintain just and honourable relations between nations, foster respect for international law and treaty obligations. This emphasizes sovereign nature of the country.
      • Law making powers: Only the Indian Parliament has powers to make laws for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country.

Preamble to the Indian Constitution and its Features

  • The origin of preamble can be traced back to the ‘objective resolution’ passed by Jawaharlal Nehru in the constituent assembly.
  • Preamble is a part of the constitution and can be amended; it derives its authority from people of India.
  • It is non-justiciable, making its provisions non-enforceable by the courts.
  • It is neither a source of power to legislature either a prohibition upon the powers of legislature.
  • The preamble has been amended only once in 1976 by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment act, which added the words ‘socialist’, ‘secular’ and ‘integrity’.
Preamble to the Indian Constitution
Preamble to the Indian Constitution

 Relationship between Indian states and the Sovereign Union

  • According to Article 1 (1), India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States. It means that:
    • the Indian federation is not a result of an agreement by the states, and
    • that the states have no freedom to secede or break away from it.
  • Superior position of Centre vis-à-vis states in the constitution:
    • Amendments: Except in a few specified matters affecting the federal structure, the centre need not consult the states in the matter of amendment to the bulk of the Constitution.
    • Appointment of Governors: The Governors of the state are appointed by the centre without consultation with the states. Their working period is “during the pleasure” of the President.
    • Altering state boundaries: Only the Parliament has the right to alter the boundaries of states and to create new states. This means that states do not have any territorial integrity.
    • Quasi-federal: Structurally, Indian political system is quasi-federal in nature. This means that central government has more powers than federal. It not perfectly federal in nature, unlike USA.

How has India used its Sovereign powers?

  • Foreign Policymaking:
    • India’s foreign policy reflects its sovereign powers. It has used it to conceive the principles of non-alignment, peaceful coexistence, mutual respect and cooperation, and respect for international law and norms.
  • Defence and security:
    • India has the powers to use its defence capabilities to protect its territorial integrity and national interests from any external or internal threats.
    • Its nuclear policy is based on the idea of “no first use”, allowing for its use only as deterrence.
  • Domestic policies
    • India’s domestic policies reflect its sovereign policymaking powers, allowing it to function without direct/indirect influence of foreign powers.
    • Making use of its powers, India has brought out policies ranging across agriculture, industry, science and technology, education, security, health, and infrastructure.

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