Constituent Assembly of India

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First day (9 December 1946) of the Constituent Assembly. From right: B. G. Kher and Sardar Vallabhai Patel; K. M. Munshi is seated behind Patel

The idea of a Constituent Assembly for India was put forward for the first time 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; one that was accepted by the British in August 1940. On August 8, 1940, a statement was made by the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, on the expansion of the Governor-General's Executive Council and the establishment of a War Advisory Council. This offer, also known as the "August Offer of 1940", included giving full weight to minority opinions and allowing the Indians to form 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 set up under the Cabinet Mission Plan on May 16, 1946. The members of the Constituent Assembly were elected by the Provincial assemblies by means of a single transferable vote system of proportional representation. The total membership of the Constituent Assembly was 389, of which 292 were representatives of the states, 93 were representatives of princely states, and 4 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 July–August 1946. Congress won 208 seats and the Muslim League won 73 seats. After this election, the Muslim League refused to cooperate with the Congress[citation needed] and the political situation deteriorated and Hindu-Muslim riots started. The Muslim League demanded a separate constituent assembly for Muslims in India. On June 3, 1947, Lord Mountbatten, the last British Governor-General of India, announced his intention of scrapping the Cabinet Mission Plan; this later culminated in the Indian Independence Act and the separate nations of India and Pakistan. The Indian Independence Act was passed on July 18, 1947. It had earlier been declared that India would get its independence in June 1948, but this event led to early independence on August 15, 1947. The Constituent Assembly which was elected for an undivided India met for the first time on June 9, 1946. It reassembled on August 14, 1947 as a sovereign body and successor to the British parliament's plenary authority and power in India. As a result of the partition, under the Mountbatten plan a separate constituent assembly was set up for Pakistan on June 3, 1947. The representatives of the areas incorporated in Pakistan ceased to be members of the Constituent Assembly of India. Fresh elections were held for West Punjab and East Bengal, which were now in Pakistan. The membership of the Constituent Assembly became 299 after this reorganization, and it met on December 31, 1947.

Nature of the Assembly[edit]

The Constituent Assembly, consisting of indirectly elected representatives, was set up for the purpose of drafting a constitution for India (including what are now the separate countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh). In the event, it remained in being for almost three years, acting as the first parliament of India after independence in 1947. The Assembly was not elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage; also Muslims and Sikhs were given special representation as "minorities". The influential Muslim League initially boycotted the Assembly after having failed to prevent its creation. While a large proportion of the Constituent Assembly was drawn from the Congress Party in a one-party political environment, it is also important to note that at that point in history, 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 December 9, 1946. The last session of the Assembly was held on January 24, 1950.[1] Over the course of this period (two years, eleven months and eighteen days), the Assembly held eleven sessions, sitting on a total of 166 days.[2] The hope behind the Assembly was expressed by Jawaharlal Nehru thus:

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[edit]

The Constituent Assembly was set up while India was still under British rule, following negotiations between Indian leaders and members of the 1946 Cabinet Mission to India from the United Kingdom. The provincial assembly elections had been conducted early in 1946. The Constituent Assembly members were elected indirectly by the members of these newly elected provincial assemblies, and initially included representatives for those provinces which came to form part of Pakistan, some of which are now within Bangladesh. The Constituent Assembly had 299 representatives, including nine women.

The Interim Government of India was formed on September 2, 1946 from the newly elected Constituent Assembly.

The Congress held a large majority in the Assembly, with 69 percent of all of the seats, while the Muslim League held almost all of the seats reserved in the Assembly for Muslims. There were also some members from smaller parties, such as the Scheduled Caste Federation, the Communist Party of India, and the Unionist Party.

In June 1947, the delegations from the provinces of Sindh, East Bengal, Baluchistan, West Punjab, and the North West Frontier Province withdrew, to form the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, meeting in Karachi.

On August 15, 1947, the Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan became independent nations, and the members of the Constituent Assembly who had not withdrawn to Karachi became India's Parliament. Only 28 members of the Muslim League finally joined the Indian Assembly. Later, 93 members were nominated from the princely states. The Congress thus secured a majority of 82%.

Constitution and elections[edit]

See Also: Constitution of India

At 11 AM on December 9, 1946, the Assembly began its first session, with 208 members attending. By early 1947, representatives of the Muslim League and princely states joined. The Assembly formally approved the draft Constitution on November 26, 1949. On January 26, 1950, the Constitution took effect, a day now commemorated in India as Republic Day. At this point, the Constituent Assembly became the Provisional Parliament of India, which continued in existence until after the first elections under the new Constitution took place in 1952.

Organization[edit]

Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha was the first president (temporary chairman) of the Constituent Assembly when it met on December 9, 1946. Dr. Rajendra Prasad then became the President of the Constituent Assembly, and would later become the first President of India. The Vice-President of the Constituent Assembly was Professor Harendra Coomar Mookerjee, a former Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University and a prominent Christian from Bengal, who also served as the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly's Minorities Committee; he was appointed Governor of West Bengal after India became a republic. The eminent bureaucrat and jurist Sir Benegal Narsing Rau was appointed as the Constitutional Adviser to the Constituent Assembly. He prepared the original draft of the constitution and was later appointed a judge in the Permanent Court of International Justice, The Hague.

The Assembly's work was organized into five stages: (1) committees were asked to present reports on basic issues; (2) the constitutional adviser, B.N. Rau, prepared an initial draft on the basis of these committees and his own research into the constitutions of other countries; (3) the drafting committee, chaired by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, presented a detailed draft constitution that was published for public discussion and comments; (4) the draft constitution was discussed and amendments were proposed and enacted; (5) the constitution was adopted. A committee of experts led by the Congress Party, called the Congress Assembly Party, played a critical role.[3]

December 9, 1946 : The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly was held in the constitution hall (now 'Central Hall of Parliament House'). Demanding a separate state, the Muslim League boycotted the meeting. Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha was elected as temporary President of the Assembly following the French practice.

December 11, 1946 : Dr. Rajendra Prasad and H.C.Mukherjee elected as the President and Vice-President of the Assembly respectively. Sir B. N. Rau appointed as Constitutional advisor to the Assembly.

December 13, 1946 : 'Objective Resolution' was introduced by Jawaharlal Nehru. Underlying principles of the Constitution were laid down by Objective Resolution.

January 22, 1947: Objective Resolution unanimously adopted.

May 1949: India's membership of the Commonwealth ratified.

July 22, 1947: National flag adopted.

January 24, 1950: Jana Gana Mana adopted as the national anthem and Vande Mataram as the national song. Dr. Rajendra Prasad elected as the first president of India.

The Assembly was chaired by Dr. Rajendra Prasad whenever it met as a Constituent body and by G. V. Mavlankar when it met as a legislative body. The Constituent Assembly completed the task of drafting a Constitution in 2 years, 11 months and 18 days. The total expenditure incurred was Rs. 6.4 million.

Sessions[edit]

The Constituent Assembly of India met for 12 sessions on the following dates.[3]

Session Dates
I December 9–23, 1946
II January 20–25, 1947
III April 28-May 2, 1947
IV July 14–31, 1947
V August 14–30, 1947
VI January 27, 1948
VII November 4, 1948 – January 8, 1949
VIII May 16-June 16, 1949
IX July 30-September 18, 1949
X October 6–17, 1949
XI November 14–26, 1949

Important Committees and their Chairman[edit]

Committee on the Rules of Procedure Dr. Rajendra Prasad
Steering Committee Dr. Rajendra Prasad
Finance and Staff Committee Dr. 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 Dr. 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
Drafting Committee Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

Members of the Indian Constituent Assembly[edit]

Indian National Congress

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, 1st Prime Minister

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.

References[edit]

  1. ^ M. Lakshmikanth, Indian Polity for Civil Services Examinations, 3rd ed., (New Delhi: Tata McGraw Hill Education Private Limited, 2011), p. 2.3
  2. ^ Parliament, Indian. "Some facts about the Constitutive Assembly". Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  3. ^ a b http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/facts.htm
  4. ^ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/714184/C-Subramaniam