Constituent Assembly of India
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An idea for a Constituent Assembly of India was proposed in 1934 by M. N. Roy, a pioneer of the Communist movement in India and an advocate of radical democracy. It became an official demand of the Indian National Congress in 1935, and was accepted by the British in August 1940. On 8 August 1940, a statement was made by Viceroy Lord Linlithgow about the expansion of the Governor-General's Executive Council and the establishment of a War Advisory Council. This offer, known as the August Offer, included giving full weight to minority opinions and allowing Indians to draft their own constitution. Under the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946, elections were held for the first time for the Constituent Assembly. The Constitution of India was drafted by the Constituent Assembly, and it was implemented under the Cabinet Mission Plan on 16 May 1946. The members of the Constituent Assembly were elected by the provincial assemblies by a single, transferable-vote system of proportional representation. The total membership of the Constituent Assembly was 389: 292 were representatives of the states, 93 represented the princely states and four were from the chief commissioner provinces of Delhi, Ajmer-Mewar, Coorg and British Baluchistan.
The elections for the 296 seats assigned to the British Indian provinces were completed by August 1946. Congress won 208 seats, and the Muslim League 73. After this election, the Muslim League refused to cooperate with the Congress, and the political situation deteriorated. Hindu-Muslim riots began, and the Muslim League demanded a separate constituent assembly for Muslims in India. On 3 June 1947 Lord Mountbatten, the last British Governor-General of India, announced his intention to scrap the Cabinet Mission Plan; this culminated in the Indian Independence Act and the separate nations of India and Pakistan. The Indian Independence Act was passed on 18 July 1947 and, although it was earlier declared that India would become independent in June 1948, this event led to independence on 15 August 1947. The Constituent Assembly (elected for an undivided India) met for the first time on 9 June 1946, reassembling on 14 August 1947 as a sovereign body and successor to the British parliament's authority in India. As a result of the partition, under the Mountbatten plan a separate constituent assembly was established in Pakistan on 3 June 1947. The representatives of the areas incorporated into Pakistan ceased to be members of the Constituent Assembly of India. New elections were held for West Punjab and East Bengal (now in Pakistan); the membership of the Constituent Assembly was 299 after the reorganization, and it met on 31 December 1947.
The Constituent Assembly, consisting of indirectly elected representatives, was established to draft a constitution for India (including the now-separate countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh). It existed for almost three years, the first parliament of India after independence in 1947. The Assembly was not elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage, and Muslims and Sikhs received special representation as minorities. The Muslim League boycotted the Assembly after failing to prevent its creation. Although a large part of the Constituent Assembly was drawn from the Congress Party in a one-party environment, the Congress Party included a wide diversity of opinions—from conservative industrialists and radical Marxists to Hindu revivalists—all of whom participated in the process.
The Assembly met for the first time in New Delhi on 9 December 1946, and its last session was held on 24 January 1950. During this period (two years, eleven months and eighteen days) the Assembly held eleven sessions, sitting for a total of 166 days. The hope of the Assembly was expressed by Jawaharlal Nehru:
The first task of this Assembly is to free India through a new 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. This is certainly a great task Look at India today. We, are sitting here and there in despair in many places, and unrest in many cities. The atmosphere is surcharged with these quarrels and feuds which are called communal disturbances, and unfortunately we sometimes cannot avoid them. But at present the greatest and most important question in India is how to solve the problem of the poor and the starving. Wherever we turn, we are confronted with this problem. If we cannot solve this problem soon, all our paper constitutions will become useless and purposeless. Keeping this aspect in view, who could suggest to us to postpone and wait?
Background and election
The Constituent Assembly was established while India was under British rule, following negotiations between Indian leaders and members of the 1946 Cabinet Mission to India from the United Kingdom. Provincial assembly elections were held early in 1946. Constituent Assembly members were elected indirectly by members of the newly elected provincial assemblies, and initially included representatives for those provinces which formed part of Pakistan (some of which are now in Bangladesh). The Constituent Assembly had 299 representatives, including nine women.
The Interim Government of India was formed on 2 September 1946 from the newly elected Constituent Assembly. The Congress held a large majority in the Assembly (69 percent of the seats), and the Muslim League held nearly all the seats reserved in the Assembly for Muslims. There were also members of smaller parties, such as the Scheduled Caste Federation, the Communist Party of India and the Unionist Party.
In June 1947 delegations from Sindh, East Bengal, Baluchistan, West Punjab and the North West Frontier Province withdrew to form the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, meeting in Karachi. On 15 August 1947 the Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan became independent nations, and members of the Constituent Assembly who had not withdrawn to Karachi became India's Parliament. Twenty-eight members of the Muslim League joined the Indian Assembly, and 93 members were later nominated from the princely states; the Congress Party secured a majority of 82 percent.
Constitution and elections
At 11 am on 9 December 1946 the Assembly began its first session, with 208 members attending. By early 1947, representatives of the Muslim League and princely states joined, and the Assembly approved the draft constitution on 26 November 1949. On 26 January 1950 the constitution took effect (commemorated as Republic Day), and the Constituent Assembly became the Provisional Parliament of India (continuing until after the first elections under the new constitution in 1952).
Sachchidananda Sinha was the first president (temporary chairman) of the Constituent Assembly when it met on 9 December 1946, followed by Rajendra Prasad (who would become the first President of India). Its vice-president was Harendra Coomar Mookerjee, a Christian from Bengal and former vice-chancellor of Calcutta University. Also chairing the assembly's Minorities Committee, Mookerjee was appointed governor of West Bengal after India became a republic. Jurist Benegal Narsing Rau was appointed constitutional adviser to the assembly; Rau prepared the original draft of the constitution, and was later appointed a judge in the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague.
The assembly's work had five stages:
- Committees presented reports on issues.
- Benegal Narsing Rau prepared an initial draft based on the reports and his research into the constitutions of other nations.
- The drafting committee, chaired by B. R. Ambedkar, presented a detailed draft constitution which was published for public discussion.
- The draft constitution was discussed, and amendments proposed and enacted.
- The constitution was adopted, with a committee of experts led by the Congress Party (known as the Congress Assembly Party) played a pivotal role.
- 9 December 1946: The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly was held in the constitution hall (now the Central Hall of Parliament House). Demanding a separate state, the Muslim League boycotted the meeting. Sachchidananda Sinha was elected temporary president of the assembly, in accordance with French practice.
- 11 December 1946: Rajendra Prasad and H. C. Mukherjee were elected as assembly president and vice-president, respectively. B. N. Rau appointed its constitutional adviser.
- 13 December 1946: An "objective resolution" was introduced by Jawaharlal Nehru, laying down the underlying principles of the constitution.
- 22 January 1947: Objective resolution unanimously adopted.
- 22 July 1947: National flag adopted.
- 24 January 1950: "Jana Gana Mana" adopted as the national anthem, with the first two verses of "Vande Mataram" the national song. Rajendra Prasad elected the first president of India.
The assembly was chaired by Prasad when it met as a constituent body, and by G. V. Mavlankar when it met as a legislative body. It completed the task of drafting a constitution in two years, eleven months and eighteen days, at a total expenditure of ₹6.4 million.
The assembly met for 11 sessions:
- 9–23 December 1946
- 20–25 January 1947
- 28 April – 2 May 1947
- 14–31 July 1947
- 14–30 August 1947
- 27 January 1948
- 4 November 1948 – 8 January 1949
- 16 May – 16 June 1949
- 30 July – 18 September 1949
- 6–17 October 1949
- 14–26 November 1949
Principal committees and chairs
- Committee on the Rules of Procedure: Rajendra Prasad
- Drafting Committee: B.R. Ambedkar
- Steering Committee: Rajendra Prasad
- Finance and Staff Committee: Rajendra Prasad
- Credential Committee: Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyyar
- House Committee: B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya
- Order of Business Committee: K. M. Munshi
- Ad Hoc Committee on National Flag: Rajendra Prasad
- Committee on Functions of Constituent Assembly: G.V. Mavlankar
- States Committee: Jawaharlal Nehru
- Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities and Tribal and Excluded Areas: Vallabhbhai Patel
- Minorities Sub-Committee: H. C. Mookherjee
- Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee: J. B. Kriplani
- North-East Frontier Tribal Areas and Assam Excluded & Partially Excluded Areas Sub-Committee: Gopinath Bardoloi
- Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas (Other than Those in Assam) Sub-Committee: A. V. Thakkar
- Union Powers Committee: Jawaharlal Nehru
- Union Constitution Committee: Jawaharlal Nehru
- Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister
- Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister
- B. R. Ambedkar, Minister for Law; Chairman of Drafting Committee
- Maulana Azad, Minister for Education
- Rajendra Prasad, Chair
- C. Rajagopalachari, Governor-General of India
- Sarat Chandra Bose, Governor-General
- Krishna Sinha, Chief Minister, Bihar
- Binodanand Jha, Chief Minister, Bihar
- Shyam Nandan Prasad Mishra
- Anugrah Narayan Sinha, Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister, Bihar
- Rafi Ahmed Kidwai
- Asaf Ali
- Galib Sahib
- Syama Prasad Mookerjee, President, Hindu Mahasabha
- Moturi Satyanarayana, Freedom Fighter
- Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Minister for Health
- Hansa Mehta, President, All India Women's Conference
- N. G. Ranga
- Deep Narayan Singh
- P. Subbarayan
- Kailashnath Katju
- N. G. Ayyangar
- T. T. Krishnamachari
- Rameshwar Prasad Sinha
- Durgabai Deshmukh
- K. M. Munshi
- Krishana Ballabh Sahay
- Frank Anthony, Anglo-Indian representative
- Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
- John Mathai
- Pratap Singh Kairon
- Bharat Ratna Chidambaram Subramaniam
- Austin, Granville. The Indian Constitution, Cornerstone of a Nation. New Delhi: OUP India, 1999. ISBN 0-19-564959-1.
- Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee and Aditya Mukherjee. India Since Independence: Revised Edition. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2008.
- M. Lakshmikanth, Indian Polity for Civil Services Examinations, 3rd ed., (New Delhi: Tata McGraw Hill Education Private Limited, 2011), p. 2.3
- Parliament, Indian. "Some facts about the Constitutive Assembly". Retrieved 15 June 2011.