This article is written by Oishika Banerji of Amity Law School, Kolkata. This article provides a detailed analysis of the making of the Indian Constitution, and the work involved in its formulation.
India being the largest democracy, living and breathing in the air of sovereignty has been gifted with the lengthiest Constitution in this world comprising 448 Articles in 25 Parts and 12 Schedules. The story that exists behind the formation of the Constitution of India receives a remarkable position in Indian history. In 1934 the seed of forming a Constituent Assembly was first sown by an Indian pioneer of the Communist movement, Mr. M.N. Roy. Followed by this, it was the Indian National Congress whose demand for forming a Constituent Assembly to give shape to the Constitution of India took the center stage in 1935. Though this demand was accepted by the British Government in 1940, the draft proposal that was sent over by the Government to India with Sir Stafford Cripps did not receive a warm welcome from the Muslim League. It was finally the Cabinet Mission that put forth the idea of the Constituent Assembly which marked the beginning of formulating the Indian Constitution thereby creating history. The supreme law of democratic India was drafted by the Assembly from 1946 to 1950 and was finally adopted on 26th November 1949 with effect from 26th January 1950 which has been celebrated as the Republic Day of India. The Constituent Assembly had precisely taken two years, eleven months, and seventeen days to complete the historic duty of drafting the Indian Constitution. During this period, the Assembly held eleven sessions spread over 165 days, among which 114 days were spent solely on consideration of the Draft Constitution. This article aims to throw light on all the significant events that led up to the framing of the Indian Constitution, considered as the mother of all laws in India.
Composition of the Constituent Assembly
It was the Cabinet Mission that had put forth the idea of a Constituent Assembly and, therefore the composition of the Assembly was made in line with the Cabinet Mission scheme. This came up with certain traits from which it could be inferred that the Constituent Assembly was supposed to be a body partly elected, and partly nominated members. The elections to the Assembly that took place in 1946 resulted in the Indian National Congress winning a total of 208 seats, and the Muslim League securing 73 seats leaving behind 15 seats that were occupied by independents. The decision of the Princely States to not be involved in the Constituent Assembly left 93 seats vacated. It is noteworthy that although members of the Constituent Assembly were not elected directly by the Indian people, it comprised of representatives of all sections of the society namely the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsi, Anglo-Indian, Indian Christians, SCs/ STS, Backward Classes, and women belonging to all of these sections.
The structure of the Constituent Assembly was:
- 292 members elected through the Provincial Legislative Assemblies;
- The Indian Princely States was represented by 93 members; and
- The Chief Commissioners’ Provinces were represented by 4 members.
Thus, the total membership of the Constituent Assembly was to be 389. But the Mountbatten Plan of 3rd June 1947 led to the partition of India thereby leading to a formation of a separate Constituent Assembly for the newly made Pakistan. This ceased some of the representatives of certain Provinces to be members of the Assembly, resulting in a reduction of the membership to 299 members.
Working of the Constituent Assembly
The date, 9 December 1946, holds immense importance as it was the day when the Constituent Assembly met for the first time in the Constitution Hall of the Indian Parliament, New Delhi. Though the first row of the Hall was embraced by notable personalities such as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Acharya J.B. Kripalani, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Smt. Sarojini Naidu, Shri Hare-Krushna Mahatab, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Shri Sarat Chandra Bose, Shri C. Rajagopalachari and Shri M. Asaf Ali, the auspicious occasion significantly noticed the absence of the Muslim League. The oldest member of the Constituent Assembly, Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha was appointed as the temporary chairman of the Assembly meeting that was attended by 211 members. Later, it was Dr. Rajendra Prasad who was elected for the position of the President of the Constituent Assembly followed by which both H.C. Mukherjee and V.T. Krishnamachari were elected for the position of the Vice-President of the Assembly thus providing the Assembly with two Vice Presidents.
The working of the Constituent Assembly proceeded on the basis of the Objectives Resolution that was laid before the Assembly on 13th December 1946 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 22 January 1947. The Objectives Resolution listed eight principles that were the guiding light for the framing of the constitutional structure of India with fundamental elements of independence, and sovereignty. The Resolution stated that the powers of the organs of the government will be derived from the people of the nation thereby ensuring socio-economic and political justice, equality before the law of the land, freedom to express, worship, belief, to the people in return. With the aim to eliminate caste discrimination that had been long prevailing in the Indian society, the Resolution aimed to provide adequate protection to individuals belonging from backward classes, tribal areas, and minority groups. With a vision to maintain worldwide peace and ensure welfare for mankind, the Objective Resolution proposed to keep intact the integrity, and sovereignty of the nation at any cost. A few notable changes were brought in the Constituent Assembly by the Independence Act, 1947 which needs to be mentioned to understand the working of the Assembly, namely;
- The Assembly became a fully functioning sovereign body, and by the means of the Act of 1947, any law made under the umbrella of the British Parliament with regards to India could be scrapped, altered, or modified.
- The Assembly was majorly vested with two functions;
- Make a Constitution for the free nation; and
- Enacting laws for the country and its people to be governed by.
3. The total strength of the Assembly was fixed at 299 which was inclusive of the strength of the
- Indian provinces (229), and
- Princely States (70).
The Assembly functioned in many other ways beyond enacting laws and framing the Indian Constitution such as;
- Adoption of the national flag, national song, and national anthem on 22nd July 1947, and 24th January 1950 respectively.
- In May 1949, the Assembly had ratified India’s membership of the Commonwealth.
- The Assembly on 24th January 1950, elected Dr. Rajendra Prasad as its first President.
Finally, it was on 29 August 1947, a Drafting Committee under the chairmanship of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was formulated by the Constituent Assembly to prepare a Draft Constitution for India. Repeated debates, discussions, arguments, scrapping of clauses, the addition of clauses took place whenever the Committee used to meet and all were worth it when the Constitution of India was adopted by the country on 26 November, 1949 with 284 members signing the same. After that, the Assembly ceased to exist from the 26th day of January, 1950 when the Constitution began to be applicable and a new Parliament was given way in 1952.
Committees of the Constituent Assembly
To avoid any kind of mismanagement, and taking into account the load of work to be dusted off, the Constituent Assembly had formulated different committees working in specific areas of constitution-making. There were eight major committees namely;
- The Union Powers Committee presided over Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
- The Union Constitution Committee presided over Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
- The Provincial Constitution Committee presided over Sardar Patel.
- Drafting Committee presided by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
- Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities and Tribal and Excluded Areas presided by Sardar Patel. This committee had the following five sub-committees:
- Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee with J.B. Kripalani as the Chairman.
- Minorities Sub-Committee with H.C. Mukherjee as the Chairman.
- North-East Frontier Tribal Areas and Assam Excluded & Partially Excluded Areas Sub-Committee with Gopinath Bardoloi as the Chairman.
- Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas (Other than those in Assam) Sub-Committee with A.V. Thakkar as the Chairman.
- North-West Frontier Tribal Areas Sub-Committee.
- Rules of Procedure Committee presided over by Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
- States Committee (Committee for Negotiating with States) presided over Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
- The Steering Committee was presided over by Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
The remaining 13 committees were considered minor committees.
The Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly
Among all the committees mentioned above, a special mention of the Drafting Committee headed by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is required. Set up on 29th August 1947, the Drafting Committee was vested with the main task of drafting the Constitution of India after taking into account proposals from different committees. This Committee comprised of seven members of the Assembly namely;
- Dr. B. R Ambedkar as the Chairman of the Committee;
- Dr. K M Munshi;
- Syed Mohammad Saadullah;
- N Madhava Rau;
- N Gopalaswamy Ayyangar;
- Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar;
- T T Krishnamachari.
The Committee took a period of not beyond six months to prepare its first draft which was subjected to changes by suggestions, public comments, and various criticism thereafter the second draft was released in October 1948.
Enactment and enforcement of the Constitution
The Constitution was adopted on November 26, 1949, containing a Preamble, 395 Articles, and 8 Schedules after three sets of reading of the Draft that was prepared by the Drafting Committee, and published in October 1948. The motion on Draft Constitution was declared to be passed on November 26, 1949, thereby receiving the signatures of the members along with the President. It is to be noted that the Preamble succeeded the Constitution in enactment. Among the 395 Articles, some of the Articles like Articles 5 to 9, Articles 379, 380, 388, 392, 393 came into force on 26th November, 1949 itself. The rest of the Articles were enforced on Republic Day, that is 26th January, 1950. As the Constitution of India commenced, the Indian Independence Act, 1947, and the Government of India Act, 1935 ceased to exist. At present, our Constitution is decorated with 448 Articles, 25 Parts, and 12 Schedules.
Women and the Constituent Assembly
A significant feature of the Constituent Assembly was that women played an important role in framing the Indian Constitution as well. There were 15 women members of the Constituent Assembly who contributed towards bringing in the Constitution of independent India in their own way. The notable contributions of each of these 15 personalities have been listed hereunder;
- Shrimati Ammu Swaminathan had put forth that the two stable pillars on which the Indian Constitution rests are the Fundamental Rights, and the Directive Principles of State Policy. With the view that the Constitution was lengthy and bulky, Ammu Swaminathan had contended that many minute details that have been incorporated in the Indian Constitution should have been left with the Government, and the Legislature.
- Shrimati Annie Mascarene’s view on the provincial election was a notable one along with which her tribute to Sardar Patel for unifying India received applause in the Assembly.
- Begum Aizaz Rasul opined that the Ministry being a stable body should not be subjected to the whims and fancies of any particular party or legislature to which the Ministry was responsible. Further, her appreciation for the commendable job done by Dr. B. R Ambedkar on protecting minority rights while drafting the Indian Constitution cannot be ignored.
- Shrimati Dakshayani Velayudan who belonged to the Madras Constituency showed her concern towards the Harijan community standing against the formation of a separate electorate for them, forced labor, the practice of untouchability in the Assembly in a majority of her speeches.
- Shrimati G. Durgabai had put forth her views on the appointment of Judges of the Provincial High Courts, pointing that the same should be the duty of the Governor and his set of Ministers solely. Her views on the prohibition of the Devadasi system, protection of children from exploitation, and limitations on the freedoms provided to individuals had been remarkable also.
- Shrimati Hansa Mehta majorly highlighted the need for social, economic, and political justice for women of India taking into account the prolonged suppression they have been subjected to in India.
- Shrimati Purnima Banerji put forth her views on the State’s Control over Religious Instruction in Schools. She also pointed out that secularism in a true sense could only be achieved if citizens of the nation are united among themselves.
- Shrimati Renuka Ray belonging to the West Bengal Constituency focused majorly on equality of Status and justice for women.
- Shrimati Sarojini Naidu had sought an inclusive Constituent Assembly of India.
- Shrimati Sucheta Kripalani had uplifted the environment of the Constituent Assembly by singing the verses of the national song, and the national anthem of India.
- Shrimati Vijayalakshmi Pandit aimed for the centrality of new Asia in the Post-Raj World Order.
- Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was the first woman of independent India to join the Cabinet in the position of Health Minister. She founded the Indian Council for Child Welfare followed by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Lady Irwin College in Delhi.
- Shrimati Malati Chowdhury laid emphasis on the role of education in the development of a nation.
- Shrimati Leela Ray had played a significant role in both pre and post-independent India. Founded the Jatiya Mahila Sanghati, Dacca Mahila Satyagraha Sangha that worked towards women empowerment, and anti-salt tax movement respectively.
- Shrimati Kamla Chaudhri significantly worked towards women’s education and empowerment.
Criticism surrounding the Constituent Assembly
There were several criticisms that the Constituent Assembly had to face during its existence which have been listed hereunder;
- The Constituent Assembly was a time-consuming effort: While drawing a comparison with the framers of the American Constitution, the critics stated that the makers of the Indian Constitution had taken a longer time period than what should have been taken by them.
- The Constituent Assembly was neither a representative body nor a sovereign one: The critics pointed out that the Assembly was not a representative body as the members were not elected by means of universal adult franchise and as the roots of the formation of the Assembly lies with the British Government, the body was not a sovereign one.
- The Constituent Assembly was dominated by members of the Congress Party: A British-Constitutional expert recognized by the name of Granville Austin had pointed out that the Constituent Assembly of India was a one-party body thereby charging the Assembly to be governed only by the members of the Congress.
- The Constituent Assembly was a Hindu-dominated body: Critics had majorly pointed out that the Constituent Assembly represented only the Hindus of the nation, leaving behind the rest of the religions.
As we come to the end of this article, it is worth mentioning that in spite of the pile of criticisms put forth on the functioning of the Constituent Assembly, one cannot ignore that today if India is living and breathing in the air of sovereignty, democracy, and freedom along with the rights and duties vested on both the citizens and the states of the nation, it is because of the relentless efforts by notable personalities who had come together to gift India its biggest asset, or as we call it the Constitution of India.
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