Demand for Constituent Assembly:
- It was in 1934 that the idea of a Constituent Assembly for India was put forward for the first time by M.N. Roy, a pioneer of the communist movement in India.
- In 1935, the Indian National Congress (INC), for the first time, officially demanded a Constituent Assembly to frame the Constitution of India.
- The demand was finally accepted in principle by the British Government in what is known as the ‘August Offer’ of 1940.
- In 1942, Sir Stafford Cripps, a Member of the Cabinet, came to India with a draft proposal of the British Government on the framing of an independent Constitution to be adopted after World War II.
- The Cripps Proposals were rejected by the Muslim League, which wanted India to be divided into two autonomous states with two separate Constituent Assemblies.
- Finally, a Cabinet Mission was sent to India. While it rejected the idea of two Constituent Assemblies, it put forth a scheme for the Constituent Assembly which more or less satisfied the Muslim League.
- The Constituent Assembly was constituted in November 1946 under the scheme formulated by the Cabinet Mission Plan.
The features of the scheme were
- The total strength of the Constituent Assembly was to be 389. Of these, 296 seats were to be allotted to British India and 93 seats to the princely states. Out of 296 seats allotted to the British India, 292 members were to be drawn from the eleven governors’ provinces and four from the four Chief Commissioners’ provinces, one from each.
- Each province and princely state (or group of states in case of small states) were to be allotted seats in proportion to their respective population. Roughly, one seat was to be allotted for every million population.
- Seats allocated to each British province were to be divided among the three principal communities–Muslims, Sikhs and General (all except Muslims and Sikhs), in proportion to their population.
- The representatives of each community were to be elected by members of that community in the provincial legislative assembly and voting was to be by the method of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote.
- The representatives of the princely states were to be nominated by the heads of the princely states.
It is, thus, clear that the Constituent Assembly was to be a partly elected and partly nominated body.
Working of Constituent Assembly
- The Constituent Assembly held its first meeting on December 9, 1946.
- The Muslim League boycotted the meeting and insisted on a separate state of Pakistan.
- Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha, the oldest member, was elected as the temporary President of the Assembly, following the French practice.
- Later, Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected as the President of the Assembly.
- H.C. Mukherjee and V.T. Krishnamachari were elected as the Vice-Presidents of the Assembly.
- Objective Resolution: On December 13, 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru moved the historic ‘Objectives Resolution’ in the Assembly. It laid down the fundamentals and philosophy of the constitutional structure.
Changes made by the Independence Act
- The Indian Independence Act of 1947 made the following three changes in the position of the Assembly:
- The Assembly was made a fully sovereign body, which could frame any Constitution it pleased. The act empowered the Assembly to abrogate or alter any law made by the British Parliament in relation to India.
- The Assembly also became a legislative body. In other words, two separate functions were assigned to the Assembly, that is, making of the Constitution for free India and enacting of ordinary laws for the country.
- Whenever the Assembly met as the Constituent body it was chaired by Dr. Rajendra Prasad and when it met as the legislative body, it was chaired by G.V. Mavlankar.
- The Muslim League members (hailing from the areas included in Pakistan) withdrew from the Constituent Assembly for India.
Other Functions Performed
In addition to the making of the Constitution and enacting of ordinary laws, the Constituent Assembly also performed the following functions:
- It ratified India’s membership of the Commonwealth in May 1949.
- It adopted the national flag on July 22, 1947.
- It adopted the national anthem on January 24, 1950.
- It adopted the national song on January 24, 1950.
- It elected Dr. Rajendra Prasad as the first President of India on January 24, 1950.
Committees of Constituent Assembly- Major Committees
- Union Powers Committee – Jawaharlal Nehru
- Union Constitution Committee -Jawaharlal Nehru
- Provincial Constitution Committee -Sardar Patel
- Drafting Committee – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
- Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities and Tribal and Excluded Areas – Sardar Patel.
- Rules of Procedure Committee – Dr. Rajendra Prasad
- States Committee (Committee for Negotiating with States) – Jawaharlal Nehru
- Steering Committee – Dr. Rajendra Prasad
- Finance and Staff Committee – Dr. Rajendra Prasad
- Credentials Committee – Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar
- House Committee – B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya
- Order of Business Committee – Dr. K.M. Munshi
- Ad-hoc Committee on the National Flag – Dr. Rajendra Prasad
- Committee on the Functions of the Constituent Assembly – G.V. Mavalankar
- Ad-hoc Committee on the Supreme Court – S. Varadachari (Not an Assembly Member)
- Committee on Chief Commissioners’ Provinces – B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya
- Expert Committee on the Financial Provisions of the Union Constitution -Nalini Ranjan Sarkar (Not an Assembly Member)
- Linguistic Provinces Commission – S.K. Dar (Not an Assembly Member)
- Special Committee to Examine the Draft Constitution – Jawaharlal Nehru
- Press Gallery Committee – Usha Nath Sen
- Ad-hoc Committee on Citizenship – S. Varadachari (Not an Assembly Member)
The Important committee was the Drafting Committee set up on August 29, 1947. It was this committee that was entrusted with the task of preparing a draft of the new Constitution. It consisted of seven members. They were:
- Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (Chairman)
- N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar
- Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar
- Dr. K.M. Munshi
- Syed Mohammad Saadullah
- N. Madhava Rau (He replaced B.L. Mitter who resigned due to ill-health)
- T.T. Krishnamachari (He replaced D.P. Khaitan who died in 1948)
Enactment of Constitution
- Dr. B.R. Ambedkar introduced the final draft of the Constitution in the Assembly on November 4, 1948 (first reading).
- The Assembly had a general discussion on it for five days (till November 9, 1948).
- The second reading (clause by clause consideration) started on November 15, 1948, and ended on October 17, 1949.
- The third reading of the draft started on November 14, 1949.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar moved a motion–‘the Constitution as settled by the Assembly be passed’. The motion on the Draft Constitution was declared as passed on November 26, 1949.
- The Constitution as adopted on November 26, 1949, contained a Preamble, 395 Articles, and 8 Schedules. The Preamble was enacted after the entire Constitution was already enacted.
ALLOCATION OF SEATS IN CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY
1. British Indian Provinces (11) – 292
2. Princely States (Indian States) – 93
3. Chief Commissioners’ Provinces (4) – 4
Total – 389
393 – Short title
394 – Commencement
394A – Authoritative text in the hindi language
395 – Repeals