The doctrine may be derived from the abstract. But it exists within the Constitution itself It has now been more than 45 years since the Supreme Court ruled in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala that Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution was not unlimited, that the Constitution’s basic structure was infrangible. But as entrenched as this doctrine might now be, it remains, to some, a source of endless antipathy. There have already been grumblings over the rule’s legitimacy in certain quarters in response to challenges made to the recently introduced 103rd Constitutional Amendment, which provides for reservations based on economic criteria in government jobs and education. Unwarranted censure The common criticism is that the doctrine has no basis in the Constitution’s language. The phrase “basic structure”, it’s argued, finds no mention anywhere in the Constitution. What’s more, beyond its textual illegitimacy, its detractors also believe the doctrine accords the judiciary a power to impose its philosophy over a democratically formed government, resulting in something akin to what Union Minister Arun Jaitley once termed as a “tyranny of the unelected”. Unquestionably, some of this censure is a result of the Supreme Court’s occasionally muddled interpretation of what the Constitution’s basic structure might be. But to reject the doctrine altogether because the judiciary sometimes botches its use is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. For not only is the basic structure canon legally legitimate, in that it is deeply rooted in the Constitution’s text and history, but it also possesses substantial moral value, in that it strengthens democracy by limiting the power of a majoritarian government to undermine the Constitution’s central ideals. Ever since the Constitution was first amended in 1951, the true extent of Parliament’s power to amend the document has been acutely contested. But the dangers inherent in granting untrammelled power to the legislature were perhaps best brought out in a lecture delivered by a German professor, Dietrich Conrad. His talk “Implied Limitations of the Amending Power”, delivered in February 1965 to the law department of the Banaras Hindu University, came at an especially fraught time. Only months earlier Parliament had introduced the contentious 17th Constitutional Amendment. Through this, among other things, a number of land reform legislations had been placed into the Constitution’s Ninth Schedule. This meant that those laws, even when discriminatory, were immunised from challenge. But it wasn’t the merit of the amendment that troubled Conrad. He was concerned with the suggestion that Parliament’s power to alter the Constitution was plenary. Influenced by the theoretical scholarship of the jurist Carl Schmitt, Conrad believed that even if a legislature were bestowed with the widest of powers to amend the Constitution, its authority was always subject to a set of inherent constraints. Parliament, he contended, was, after all, a creature of the Constitution. It could not, therefore, make changes that had the effect of overthrowing or obliterating the Constitution itself.