The Constitution of India was not prepared in haste but the process of the evolution of the constitution began many decades before India became independent in 1947.
The process continued unabated since it originated in the freedom struggle till a new constitution was drafted after prolonged debates and discussions in the Constituent Assembly.
The day 26th of January, 1950 was a red-letter day in the history of India. On that day the written constitution of India came into operation.
January 26th was purposefully chosen (as the date on which the constitution became operative) because since 1930, the day has been celebrated as the day of complete independence throughout India by millions of people. It is very befitting to declare such a historic day as the day of operation of the Constitution of Republic of India. The Constitution of India was the longest written constitution having the best elements of all the existing constitutions up to that date.
The Constitution of India is the modern sacred text of the contemporary India. It reflects the new aspirations and values of the people of India and testifies how the people of India are the supreme masters in all matters concerning the welfare of Indians.
A galaxy of learned wise men interested in the longevity of the emerging nation of India framed the constitution in its present form after a thorough debate and discussion of each proposal. The nationalists consciously, popularized the concepts of parliamentary democracy, republicanism, civil liberties, social and economic justice which happen to be the most basic tenets of the constitution.
Bipan Chandra rightly remarks, “When the constitution in 1950 adopted a parliamentary form of government, with a cabinet led by a prime minister it was not, as is commonly supposed, the British parliament that it was emulating. It was formalizing nationalist practices, which the people were already familiar with”. Even the spirit of democracy was familiarized by the national movement. Bipan Chandra correctly points out, “this found expression in widespread mass participation. It ensured a place for adult franchise after independence”.
A view is in circulation that the British initiated a modern responsible constitutional government in India and the constitution was merely the culmination of the series of constitutional initiatives made by them in 1861, 1892, 1909, 1919 and 1935. This view is not totally correct as the British government conceded reluctantly and belatedly only partially the demands of the leaders of the national movement and tried to reduce the intensity of the movement as a last resort from time to time.
Gandhi’s statement made in 1922 proves “Swaraj will not be a free gift of the British Parliament. It will be a declaration of India’s full self-expression. That it will be expressed through an act of Parliament is true. Swaraj can never be a free gift by one nation to another. It is a treasure to be purchased with a nation’s best blood. It will cease to be a gift when we have paid clearly for it”.
This statement of Gandhi clearly proves beyond doubt that the British did introduce constitutional reforms by their voluntary initiative is a myth. No doubt, the British introduced the principle of election in the 1892 Indian Council Act in partial response to a sustained struggle by the press and the Indian nationalists for more than two decades and while the nationalists demanded elections to the councils and elected majorities and greater powers to the non-official members, the British by the Act of 1892 provided for election principle but limited it to minority only.
There was a see-saw battle between the demands of the national movement and the concessions granted through the Acts of 1909, 1919 and 1935. The leaders of the national movement started demanding for grant of responsible government in India from 1890 onwards and by 1916 they began to “espouse the doctrine of self-determination or the right of the Indians to frame their own constitution”. Thus, the desire to have a constitution based on self-determination was as old as 1916.
In response to the continuous demand of the national movement, the British government appointed all-white Simon Commission in November 1927 to recommend constitutional changes. The Secretary of State, Lord Borkenhead, challenged the Indians “Let them produce a constitution which carries behind it a fair measure of general agreement among the great peoples of India” in 1925 and reiterated the challenge again in 1927, moving a bill for the appointment of the Simon Commission.
In response the national movement as one man boycotted the Simon Commission in all parts of India and appointed a committee with Motilal Nehru as the Chairman in 1928 “to determine the principles of the constitution for India”. The Nehru report was submitted on 10 August, 1928. It was an outline of a draft constitution for India. Most of its features were later included in the Constitution of India. It visualized a parliamentary system with full responsible government and joint electorates with time bound reservation of seats for minorities. The Nehru’s report laid special emphasis on securing fundamental human rights for the people of India. Of the nineteen rights listed in the Nehru report, ten were incorporated into the constitution. The Nehru report has recommended that “the redistribution of provinces should take place on a linguistic basis”.
This was followed by the declaration of complete independence as their objective and followed with the launching of mass civil disobedience movement in April 1930. In 1934, the Congress Working Committee rejected the white paper presented by the British government on further constitutional reforms and resolved that the “only satisfactory alternative to the white paper is a constitution drawn by a Constituent Assembly elected on the basis of adult suffrage or as near it as possible”.
After 1934 the demand for the Constituent Assembly became very frequent and they included it in the Congress manifesto for the year 1936-37 elections. The Congress won majority of states in 1937 elections and in its Faizpur session demanded the newly elected members of the assemblies to articulate the demand for a Constituent Assembly as soon as possible in the new legislatures.
The demand for the Constituent Assembly become vociferous and in the meanwhile the Second World War broke out in 1939 and in order to secure the cooperation of the Indians in the Second World War, the British for the first time announced in 1940 by August offer that the framing of the new constitution should be primarily the responsibility of the Indians themselves. It also offered to set up, after the end of the war, “a body representative of the principal elements in India’s national life, in order to devise the framework of the new constitution”.
This offer, unfortunately, did not spell out, how the body is going to be constituted, and also the method to be followed in deciding the membership of the body to be constituted. This vague aspect proves that the British reluctantly agreed to this idea of Constituent Assembly and were not serious about its implementation.
Consequently, this offer of 1940 was rejected by all the shades of nationalists and the Congress Party started the Individual Civil Disobedience movement to register their protest. In 1942, the British government appointed Cripps Mission. The Cripps proposals categorically stated that the constitution would be the sole responsibility of the Indians alone.
The idea of the Constituent Assembly was also accepted and they spelt out its modalities and in other respeas, it failed. Once again there was confrontation between the Congress and the British, which resulted in the Quit India movement of 9 August, 1942. For the first time openly and vehemently, the nationalists demanded the British to ‘Quit India’ and exhorted the Indians ‘do or die’ in this struggle. The Government of India took all measures to suppress this Quit India struggle and at the end of the war in 1945, they issued a white paper, which was followed by the abortive Simla Conference.
The victory of the Labour Party in England and change in the guard enabled the British government to declare and promise to convene a constitution-making body as soon as possible. The Cabinet Mission was appointed to carry out this purpose and it visited India in 1946, on 24 March. After a lot of deliberation between the Congress and the Muslim League and the British, finally the Constituent Assembly came into existence.