India

India's constitution is 30 times longer than America's - and still growing

Employees of Sahara Group wave miniature national flags before singing India's national anthem in the northern Indian city of Lucknow May 6, 2013. More than 100,000 employees of the company attempted to create a new world record by singing the country's national anthem together at the same place in identical uniforms, said organisers.   REUTERS/Pawan Kumar (INDIA - Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY) - GM1E9561PKB01

'The Constitution of India has been amended 103 times.' Image: REUTERS/Pawan Kumar (INDIA - Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY) - GM1E9561PKB01

Ananya Bhattacharya
Contributor, Quartz
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India

This article is part of: India Economic Summit

Everyone knows India is the world’s largest democracy. But did you know it also has the world’s largest constitution?

At 145,000 words, it is the longest written constitution of any sovereign state in the world. The US constitution, by contrast, has only 4,400 words.

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Composed between 1947 and 1950, the Indian constitution has only grown over the years, the ministry of external affairs explains:

The original text of the Constitution contained 395 articles in 22 parts and eight schedules. It came into effect on January 26, 1950, the day that India celebrates each year as the Republic Day. The number of articles has since increased to 448 due to 100 amendments.

Two copies of the Indian constitution were handwritten, one in English and one in Hindi. They are currently kept in helium-filled cases in the library of the Parliament House. In December 2012, a copy of the first edition of the Indian Constitution, which was signed by the country’s first president Rajendra Prasad, was auctioned by Sotheby’s in London. It sold for nearly £40,000 (Rs35.6 lakh) to a private collector.

Critics wonder if its length is perhaps a weakness of the Indian constitution.

“The Constitution of India remains like the proverbial elephant being touched in different parts by many blind men, coming up with their own interpretation of the nature of the creature,” wrote Jhelum Chowdhury of Crystal Research and Consulting.

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“This is the unwieldy and incomprehensible Rule Book that is supposed to guide the daily lives of the people of India and their municipalities, state and federal governments and the relations between them,” Chowdhury added. “No wonder no one really knows what is going on in India, except those who claim special knowledge or forbearance, of which unfortunately there is quite a few. And no wonder the country’s progress is being held back because there is no unanimity of understanding on the set of rules.”

Plus, dissenters are sceptical about the number of times it has been toyed with. In less than eight decades of the country’s existence, the Constitution of India has been amended 103 times. The American one, written in 1787 and ratified in 1788, has been amended just 27 times.

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