The Indian Constitution, the lengthiest constitution of the world, as regulating the world’s biggest democracy requires the lengthiest constitution. But how did this constitution came into being? What were the basic principles? And most importantly, who framed the constitution? Well, framing the constitution of India during the bloody partition was probably the most difficult task. But our leaders did not disappoint us, they framed the most influential constitution under immense pressure, which gave each and every person in the country a reason to go along with it and respect it. So, we’ll be going through the constituent assembly, analyzing its promulgation and the criticisms.
Constituent Assembly of India
India was under the control of the British Empire for almost 200 years, and one thing that the people of India demanded was their sovereignty. And our leaders ultimately fulfilled our aspirations. The demand for a sovereign constituent assembly and a sovereign constitution was put forward, for the first time, by M.N Roy in 1934. The Indian National Congress, in 1935, officially demanded a constituent assembly for framing the constitution of India.
The Initial Composition (before partition)
The Constituent Assembly was constituted in November 1946 and held its first sitting on 9th December 1946. The Assembly was constituted along the lines suggested by the Cabinet Mission Plan.
The major points of the scheme proposed were-
- The British Indian Provinces and the Princely States were allotted seats in proportion to their population, roughly in the ratio of 1:1 million (1 seat was allotted for every million population).
- The total strength of the Constituent Assembly was 389. Out of the 389 seats, the British Indian Provinces were allotted 292 seats, The Princely States were allotted 93 seats, and 4 seats were allotted to the 4 Chief Commissioners provinces.
- In order to ensure the representation of all communities in the constituent assembly, the seats allotted to the British Indian provinces were divided among the three major communities, in proportion to their population- Sikhs, Muslims, and Generals (all except Sikhs and Muslims).
- The Members of each community in the Provincial Legislative Assembly elected their own representative (to the constituent assembly) by the method of proportional representation with single transferrable votes.
- The representatives of the Princely States were nominated by the heads of the Princely States. However, the representatives of the Princely States (initially) did not join the Constituent Assembly.
Click here to know more about the Cabinet Mission Plan 1946
- The Indian National Congress won 208 seats
- The Muslim League won 73 seats
- The Unionist Party, Unionist Muslims, Unionist Scheduled Castes, Krishak- Praja Party, Scheduled Castes Federation, Sikhs (Non-Congress), Communist Party won 1-1 seats each.
- The Independent candidates won 8 seats.
The members of the Muslim League asserted their demand for the partition of India and the formation of separate Constituent Assemblies of India and Pakistan. So, the members of the Muslim League boycotted the meeting.
It’s evident that the Constituent Assembly was not directly elected by the people of India, as the representatives of the British India Provinces were elected by their legislative assemblies, whose members were elected on a limited franchise.
However, the Indian Constitution drew massive legitimacy from the people because it was framed by the leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, Dr. B.R Ambedkar, and many others who were immensely popular among the people of India. And the Constitution they framed reflected the consensus of the country and provided for the formation of the Government that would fulfill the aspirations of the people of India.
The Independence Act 1947
The Independence Act of 1947, passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom led to the partition of India and the formation of the two independent dominions of India and Pakistan.
With its enactment, the Constituent Assembly was given all the powers to frame the constitution for the country. And also allowed the Assembly to abrogate or alter any legislation of the British Parliament made in respect to India.
After the Partition
And with the enactment of the Independence Act of 1947 and the formation of independent dominions of India and Pakistan, the representatives of the Muslim League from the areas included in Pakistan resigned and the total strength of the Constituent Assembly was reduced to 299 from 389.
The representatives of the Princely States who initially decided to stay away from the Assembly ultimately joined the assembly.
There was also a question about which body would act as the Parliament of India till the Constitution is framed and the proper elections of the Parliamentary body are held in India, which were held from 25th October 1951 to 21st February 1952.
So, the Constituent Assembly of India played the role of a legislative body too, whose role was the enactment and implementation of ordinary laws in the country to maintain peace and order. Hence, the Constituent Assembly of India was also the first Parliament of Independent India. And both of these tasks were performed on separate days. And both (Constituent Assembly and the Parliament) were chaired by different leaders. The Legislative body was chaired by G.V Mavalankar and the Constituent body was chaired by Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
Members of the Constituent Assembly and major committees
Click here to get the full list of the members of the Constituent Assembly, as we’ll just be discussing about the important committees and members of the Constituent Assembly.
For drafting the different provisions of the Constitution, different committees were appointed. After the committees drafted their provisions for the constitution, they were subject to debate by the members of the assembly. Among the committees formed, there were 8 major committees and 15 minor committees.
Major Committees and their heads-
- Union Powers Committee, Jawaharlal Nehru
- Union Constitution Committee, Jawaharlal Nehru
- States Committee (for negotiating with states), Jawaharlal Nehru
- Drafting Committee, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
- Provincial Constitution Committee, Sardar Patel
- Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities and Tribal and Excluded Areas, Sardar Patel. Subcommittees under this committee-
1) Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee – J.B Kripalani
2) Minorities Sub-Committee – H.C. Mukherjee
3) North-East Frontier Tribal Areas and Assam Excluded and & Partially Excluded Areas sub-committee- Gopinath Bardoloi
4) Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas (Other than Assam) Sub-Committee- A.V. Thakkar
- Rules of Procedure Committee, Dr. Rajendra Prasad
- Steering Committee, Dr. Rajendra Prasad
Minor Committees and their heads-
- Finance and Staff Committee, Dr. Rajendra Prasad
- House Committee, B. Pattabhi Sitarammayya
- Order of Business Committee, Dr. K.M. Munshi
- Credentials Committee, Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar
- Committee on the Functions of the Constituent Assembly, G.V. Mavalankar
- Ad-hoc Committee on the National Flag, Dr. Rajendra Prasad
- Ad-hoc Committee on the Supreme Court, S. Varadachari
- Ad-hoc Committee on Citizenship, S. Varadachari
- Committee on Chief Commissioner Provinces, B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya
- Linguistic Provinces Commission, S.K. Dar
- Special Committee to Examine the Draft Constitution, Jawaharlal Nehru
- Press Gallery Committee, Usha Nath Sen
- Expert Committee on the Financial Provisions of the Union Constitution, Nalini Rajan Sarkar.
Of these heads of the respective committees, S. Varadacharai, S.K Dar and Nalini Rajan Shankar were not a member of the Constituent Assembly.
The Drafting Committee
Out of all the committees, the Drafting Committee headed by Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar was the most important committee, which was given the task of preparing the draft of the Indian Constitution. The Drafting Committee was set up on 29th August 1947.
The Drafting Committee consisted of 7 members-
- Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
- N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar
- Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar
- N. Madhava Rau
- T.T. Krishnamachari
- Dr. K.M. Munshi
- Sayed Mohammad Saadullah
The first draft of the constitution was published in February 1948. After the first draft was published, it was made public and the people of India were given eight months to discuss the draft and propose amendments. After taking into consideration the public comments and suggestions, the committee prepared the second draft in October 1948.
The Drafting Committee sat for 141 days to prepare the draft.
Draft in the Constituent Assembly
On November 4, 1948, the final draft of the Indian Constituent Assembly was presented in Constituent Assembly. There was a General Discussion in the Assembly of the draft till 9th December 1948. After the first reading, the serious discussion started, there was a clause-by-clause consideration of the draft, which started on November 15, 1948, and ended on 17th October 1949. And during the period, 7653 amendments were proposed and almost 2500 were seriously deliberated in the Constituent Assembly.
After the third reading of the draft, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar moved the motion- ‘Constitution as settled by the Assembly be passed.’ The motion was passed on 26th November 1949. The President and the 284 members present that day signed the Constitution. Hence, the people of India in the Constituent Assembly adopted, enacted, and gave to themselves this constitution on 26th November 1949.
“The Constitution as adopted on November 26, 1949, contained a Preamble, 395 Articles and 8 Schedules.”
Provisions of the Constitution related to citizenship, temporary and transitional provisions, elections, provisional parliament, and the short title contained in Articles 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 60, 324, 366, 367, 379, 380, 388, 391, 392 and 393 came into force on 26th November 1949.
And the remaining part of the Constitution came into force on 26th January 1950. This is celebrated as Republic Day. 26th January was chosen as Republic Day because 26th January 1930 was celebrated as Purna Swaraj Day.
The fundamental and directive principles of the Constitution were discussed among the leaders much before the setting up of the Constituent Assembly. During the Nationalist Movement, there was a consensus among the leaders and the people about the main principles of the constitution.
So, the major principles of the Indian Constitution were inherited from the Nationalist Movement. And the debate about the main principles started during the Nationalist Movement such as the shape and form of government India should have? Values the Constitution should uphold and inequalities it should overcome.
The Objectives Resolution can be seen as the summary of the Principles that the Constitution inherited from the Nationalist Movement. It laid down the fundamentals and philosophy of the constitutional structure. The Objectives Resolution defined the aims of the Constituent Assembly. It was introduced by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1946.
Through the Objectives Resolution, The Indian Constitution gave institutional expression to these fundamental commitments-
- Cosmopolitan Identity
The Objectives Resolution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 22nd January 1947. The Objectives resolution greatly influenced the Constitution and the Preamble of the Constitution is considered the modern form of Objectives Resolution.
Get a detailed understanding of the Objectives Resolution-
The Experts Committee
The Indian National Congress (INC) formed an Experts Committee during the Elections to the Constituent Assembly. The Committee was formed on 8th July 1946. The Experts Committee met twice, from 20th to 22nd July 1946, and from 15th to 17th August 1946. The objective of the committee was to prepare material for the Constituent Assembly.
Members of the Committee were-
- Jawaharlal Nehru (Chairman)
- K.M. Munshi
- K.T. Shah
- Humayun Kabir
- K. Santhanam
- M. Asaf Ali
- N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar
The Experts Committee discussed various provisions of the Constitution, like the formation of various committees of the Constituent Assembly and the powers of the Centre and the Provincial Governments. It also discussed issues such as the Princely States and amending powers. It also discussed the resolution on the Objectives of the Constitution and also drafted a resolution similar to the Objectives Resolution of the Constitution.
American Constitutional expert, Granville Austin stated, ” It was the Congress Experts Committee that set India on the road to her present Constitution.”
Bag of Borrowing?
The critics of the constitution claimed that the Indian Constitution had nothing new and all the major provisions of the Constitution were borrowed from other countries.
However, each of the borrowed provisions was scrutinized and deliberated in the context of India, and whether it suits Indian problems and aspirations or not. Hence, the members of the Constituent Assembly took the best available everywhere in the world and made it their own.
Responding to these critics, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar quoted, “One likes to ask whether there can be anything new in a Constitution framed at this hour in the history of the world… The only new things, if there can be any, in a Constitution framed so late in the day are the variations made to remove the faults and to accommodate it to the needs of the country.”
- Parliamentary Form of Government
- Rule of Law
- Law-Making procedure
- First Past the Post
- Institution of the Speaker and his/her role.
- Quasi-Federal form of government (a federal system with a strong central government)
- The idea of Residual Powers
The United States Constitution
- Charter of Fundamental Rights
- Power of Judicial Review and independence of the judiciary
- Directive Principles of State Policy
- Principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.
Critics claimed that the Constituent Assembly took a very long time to frame the Constitution. They gave the example of the American Constitution, which was formed by the American leaders in only four months. In order to show his contempt, Naziruddin Ahmed, who himself was a member of the assembly, called it a ‘drifting committee.‘
The critics also claimed that the Constituent Assembly was not a sovereign body as it was formed by the proposals of the British Government. They also stated that the Assembly held its sessions with the permission of the British Government.
The assembly was also criticized because it was dominated by Lawyers and Politicians and the other sections of the society like the farmers, businessmen, etc weren’t represented. They also stated that this was the reason for the complicated language and bulkiness of the constitution.
Critics stated that the Assembly was also dominated by Hindus. Winton Churchill, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom stated that the Constituent Assembly represented only one major community.
Critics stated that the Constituent Assembly was not directly elected by the people of India through the universal adult franchise, hence it was not a representative body.