The Constituent Assembly consisting of eminent Indians made the Constitution of India between the years 1946 to 1950, and it became operative from 26 January, 1950 by borrowing freely and unabashedly from other constitutions.
In the year 1946, on 20 November a decision was taken to convene the first session of the Constituent Assembly on 9 December, 1946.
The number of members was decided to be 389. It was also decided that out of that strength, 296 were to be from the British provinces and 93 to be from the princely Indian states.
Elections to elect members from British India were held in July-August 1946. The Congress won 199 out of 210 general categories of seats.
The Congress also won three seats out of four Sikh seats from the Punjab, and three out of 78 seats reserved for Muslims and three seats from Coorg, Ajmer, Mewar and Delhi. The total tally of the Congress was 208 and the Muslim League won 73 out of 78 Muslim seats. For these elections to the Constituent Assembly, only the Sikhs and the Muslims were reorganized as minorities and elections for the Constituent Assembly was not held on the basis of universal adult franchise.
In order to make the Constituent Assembly, a wide representative body, the Congress Working Committee took special measures to include representatives of scheduled castes, Parsis, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, tribals and women in the Congress list for the general category. The Congress also took extra care to see that only the best intellectuals are chosen to be included in the list of the members of the Constituent Assembly.
The Indian Muslim League tried its best to put hurdles in the smooth functioning of the Constituent Assembly, despite the best efforts of Nehru’s conciliatory gestures. In this backdrop, the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly began on 9 December, 1946. Before the commencement of deliberations of the Constituent Assembly, Nehru announced, “the first task of this Assembly is to free India through a constitution, to feed the starving people, and to clothe the naked masses, and to give every Indian the fullest opportunity to develop himself according to his capacity”.
The oldest member, Dr Sachchidanand Sinha was made the Provisional President of the Assembly but, the invitations were dispatched by the secretary of the assembly and not by the Viceroy, though he desired to do so. The first session was attended by 207 members. The Muslim League stayed away from the deliberations and the Congress Muslims attended the session. On 11 December, Dr Rajendra Prasad was chosen by election as the first permanent Chairman of the Assembly.
Nehru moved the famous objectives resolution on 13 December and it was discussed for a week and they postponed the adoption of the objectives resolution as the members of the Muslim League were absent and the princely states were to join the Assembly.
In the session which took place between January 20 and 22, 1947, the objectives resolution was passed. The third session of the Assembly took place from 28 April to 2 May 1947, and on 3 June the Mountbatten Plan was announced despite the absence of the Muslim League. The Mountbatten Plan clearly made the partition of India as India and Pakistan certain. After the declaration of Independence on 15 August, 1947, the Constituent Assembly became a sovereign body and also doubled as the legislature for the new state. It served as a constitution-making body as well as law-making organ.
A number of committees were created and of such committees, one was headed by B.N. Rao and the other to draft the constitution was headed by Dr B.R. Ambedkar. In July 1946 itself a committee consisting of Nehru as the Chairman and Asaf Ali, K.T. Shah, D.R. Gadgil, K.M. Munshi, Humayun Kabir, R. Santhanam and N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar as members was constituted to prepare material and proposals for the constitution.
The Constituent Assembly as well as the Congress Working Committee thoroughly discussed all the points. This was made clear by Austin as follows: “The Congress Assembly Party was the unofficial, private forum that debated every provision of the constitution and in most cases decided the fate before it” reached the floor of the House. Every one elected to the Assembly on the Congress ticket could attend the meetings whether or not he was a member of the party or even close to it”.
In the constitution-making process, both Nehru and Sardar Patel played a very important role by their keen involvement. Bipan Chandra rightly observes that it was Nehru who spelt out the philosophy and basic features of the constitution and Sardar Patel played the decisive role in bringing in the representatives of the erstwhile princely states into the Constituent Assembly, in seeing to it that separate electorates were eliminated and in scotching any move for reservation of seats for religious minorities. Bipan Chandra further adds “Rajendra Prasad won acclaim for his impartiality and dignity as President of the Assembly. Maulana Azad brought his formidable scholarship and philosophical mind to bear on many issues of grave importance”.
The credit also should be given to the Congress for its non-sectarian approach. It is pointed out by Austin, the chronicler of the history of constitution making in India as follows: The Constituent Assembly was a one party body in an essentially one party country.
The Assembly was the Congress and the Congress was India. There was a third point that completed a tight triangle, the government (meaning the apparatus of elected government both provincial and national), for the Congress was the government too one might assume, aware of the character of the monolithic political systems in other countries, that a mass party in India would be rigid and narrow in outlook and that its powerful leadership would silence dissent and confine policy and decision making to the hands of the select few. In India reverse was the case.
The membership of the Congress in the Constituent Assembly and outside held social, economic and political views ranging from the reactionary to the revolutionary, and it did not hesitate to voice them. The leaders of the Assembly, who played the same role in the Congress and in the union government, were national heroes and had almost unlimited power, yet decision making in the Assembly was democratic. The Indian constitution expresses the will of the many rather than the needs of the few.
The Constituent Assembly consisting of eminent Indians made the Constitution of India between the years 1946 to 1950, and it became operative from 26 January, 1950 by borrowing freely and unabashedly from other constitutions. Bipan Chandra observes, “the wisdom of the US constitution and its Supreme Court, the innovations of the Irish constitution, the time tested conventions of the British Parliament, the administrative minutiae of the Government of India Act 1935, and much else, essence of their own people’s struggle for freedom – all went into the design and content of the Indian Constitution”.
The unambiguous commitment to a democratic, secular, egalitarian and civil libertarian society by the framers of the constitution is a clear indication of the foresight of the learned makers of the constitution and their commitment for the welfare of all but not of the few.