800 Years of the Magna Carta: The Magna Carta and the Making of the Indian Constitution
Journal of the National Human Rights Commission, Vol 14, 2015
17 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2015
Date Written: October 16, 2015
The fundamental rights provisions of a long list of constitutions are said to have been influenced, in one way or another, by the Magna Carta. The Indian Constitution is amongst them. A committee established to commemorate the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta has observed that ‘[t]he legacy of [the British] empire left behind the principles of Magna Carta enshrined within the constitution of the world’s largest democracy in 1947. With a population of over 1.2 billion people, India is a powerful guarantor of Magna Carta principles.’ In the same vein, a former British Prime Minister said that although it ‘was undeniably English by birth, its principles travelled the length and breadth of the English-speaking world – to India, Canada, New Zealand, Australia’.
These are ambitious claims that demand considerable justification. This paper seeks to test these claims by exploring the role played by the Magna Carta in India’s Constituent Assembly debates. Was the Magna Carta cited in the debates to begin with and if so, to what end? More interestingly, what role did it play in the debates – was its role merely symbolic or also substantive? This paper finds that the Magna Carta’s direct role in the making of the Indian Constitution was limited to discussions focusing on the right to life and personal liberty and the ‘due process’ clause. Nevertheless, several metaphorical references to the Magna Carta suggest that it also had a modest symbolic role in the framing of the Constitution.
Keywords: Magna Carta, Indian Constitution, due process
JEL Classification: K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation