The ‘Basic Structure’ Doctrine: Defence against Parliamentary Hegemony

According to the ‘basic structure’ doctrine of the Supreme Court put forward in 1973, there are features of the Constitution that are unamendable by Parliament under any circumstances. The doctrine is the only legal defence against parliamentary hegemony and a rewriting of the Constitution.


The Constitution of India is the seminal document in India’s history. At the end of colonial rule, India’s leaders needed to decide the path that India would take and came together to draft the world’s most lengthy Constitution after nearly three years of discussion and deliberation. Much has been said and written about the Constitution, deifying it as the Supreme Law, the grundnorm, the protector of citizens’ rights, and so on, but what must be remembered is that the Constitution is fundamentally a political and social-philosophical document for two reasons.

First, it reflects the vision that the members of the Constituent Assembly had for the political future of the country. This vision was grounded in political philosophies such as democracy, secularism, and federalism. Second, it creates and establishes all our institutions – the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary – and defines their powers, limits, roles, responsibilities, and their relationship with each other and with the citizens of the state.

Taking such a view of the Constitution necessarily raises a few pertinent questions. How does the Constitution place limits on the state’s powers? What are those limits? Most important, why should future generations of Indian citizens be bound by the political decisions that a few individuals took over 70 years ago? Should future generations not have the freedom to decide their political future and destiny? Is binding them strictly to the political vision of their forefathers inherently anti-democratic?…

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