Idea of Constitutionalism
The father of Politics Aristotle in his famous book on politics defined constitution in two ways: normative and descriptive. In descriptive he defined the constitution as “the arrangement and positions of the magistracies in a state”.
He said, the government is everywhere the sovereign in the state, and the constitution is in fact the government.
In the normative aspect of the constitution he described:
A constitution is the organization of offices in a state and determines what is to be the governing body, and what is the end of each community. But laws are not to be confounded with the principles of the constitution, they are the rules according to which the magistrates should administer the state, and proceed against offenders.
When the citizens at large administer the state for the common interest, the government is called by the generic name – a constitution. According to Aristotle, such a form of government is a constitutional government.
The original normative idea of constitution was to end the arbitrary powers of the ruler where there are no rights provided to the citizens of a state, that can be either in the form of monarch or an assembly.
The modern concept of the constitutionalism dictates that the government follows the constitution, that all its powers be derived from the constitution, and nothing else, and that beyond the powers sanctioned by the constitution there is no power. Aristotle says, every good government has to be constitutional that is, limited.
Historically, constitutionalism has been an instrument in fighting arbitrary powers not only native but also alien. In India it began with the demands for increased representations of Indians in the imperial legislative and executive bodies. Towards the end of 19th century the demand for a round table conference of Indian political parties and interests to frame a constitution for Indian National Congress, in fact, demanded the ‘dominion status’, as of Britain ‘s white colonies, for India.
The concept of democracy, representative institutions, limitations on the arbitrary powers of the rulers, and rule of law were not alien to the India in the past. The concept of the supremacy of Dharma was hardly different from the rule of law or limited government. The rulers in ancient India were bound by Dharma and no one was above Dharma.