CHAPTER 1 – HISTORICAL BACKGROUND (FREE)

 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

 

 

DEMAND FOR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY (1934) – It was in 1934, that the idea of having own Constitution for India was first mooted by MN Roy, the pioneer of communist movement in India. In 1935, the Indian National Congress, for the first time, officially demanded a Constituent Assembly, to frame the Constitution of India. In 1938, the Congress declared that Constitution of India will be framed by elected members of the Constituent Assembly, elected on the basis of universal adult franchise (right to vote of all adult citizens, regardless of wealth, income, gender, social status, race, or ethnicity).

AUGUST OFFER (1940) –  The August Offer was a offer made by Viceroy Linlithgow in 1940 promising the expansion of the Executive Council of the Viceroy of India to include more Indians, the establishment of an advisory war council, giving full weight to minority opinion, and the recognition of Indians’ right to frame their own constitution (after the end of the war). In return, it was hoped that all parties and communities in India would cooperate in Britain’s efforts in World War II. Thus, the demand of Indians to draft their own constitution was accepted by the British Government through August Offer of 1940. However this proposal was rejected by the Congress as the minorities, especially the Muslim League, were assured that no constitutional scheme was acceptable to the government without their agreement. The Muslim League accepted the offer as it gave a clear assurance that a separate Pakistan would be established.

CRIPPS MISSION (1942) – In this regard, Sir Stafford Cripps, a member of the British Cabinet, came to India in 1942 with a draft proposal of the British Government in regard to the constitutional advancement. The Cripps Mission proposed that the constitution would give India a dominion status i.e. independent status with queen as the sovereign monarch, and membership of the Common Wealth Nations.  However, it also proposed that the British Government would enter into separate constitutional arrangements with such provinces or states which were not willing to join the Union of India. Muslim league rejected these proposals since it wanted India to be divided into two autonomous states but on communal lines. The Congress rejected the proposal since it was against the option given to provinces and states of opting out of the Union of India.

WAVELL OR SHIMLA PLAN (1945) – After the failure of Cripps Mission, Quit India was launched in 1942 on a massive scale. Various attempts were made by British Government to reconcile the two opposing national parties, the famous one being Shimla Conference of 1945 also known as the Wavell Plan. It provided separate representation for Muslims and reduced majority powers for both communities in their majority regions. However, all these attempts failed since the All-India Muslim League, which considered itself to be the sole representative of Indian Muslims, refused to back any plan in which the Indian National Congress, the dominant party in the talks, appointed the Muslim representatives.

CABINET MISSION PLAN (1946) – British Government led by Prime Minister Clement Attlee sent three members (AV Alexander, Sir Stafford Cripps and Pethick Lawrence) of its Cabinet, which is popularly known as Cabinet Mission of 1946. It is to be noted that Lord Wavell, who was the Viceroy of India during this time, was not a member of the mission. The mission made its own proposals, after inconclusive dialogue with the Indian leadership. While it rejected the demand for a separate muslim majority state, it proposed a complex polity that involved virtual acceptance of the demands for a muslim majority state. It proposed three tier polity for India, which would consist of Centre, the Provinces, and the Provincial Groupings. The centre’s power was to be confined to foreign affairs, defence, currency and communications. The provinces would keep all the other powers and were allowed to establish three groups. The plan’s main characteristic was the grouping of provinces. Two groups would be constituted by muslim majority western and eastern provinces, while the third group would comprise Hindu majority areas in the south and the centre. Thus Group A would constitute Central Province, UP, Bihar, Orissa, Madras and Bombay, Group B would constitute Punjab, Sind, North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan, and Group C would constitute Assam and Bengal. A Constituent Assembly would be formed of the representatives of the Provincial Assemblies and the Princely states. Each province had to be allotted a total number of seats in proportion to the its population. An interim government would be established until a new government was formed on the basis of the constitution written by the constituent assembly. The interim government would have equal representation from the Hindus as well as the Muslims, among others. Therefore, Cabinet Mission Plan provided the last hope to keep India united. Although, the Congress accepted the proposals related to the Constituent assembly, it rejected the idea of the Interim Government since the Muslim league had been given disproportionate representation. The Congress also opposed the grouping of provinces on the basis of religion. The Muslim League was not open to changing any part of the Plan and so any consensus between the Congress and the Muslim League broke down. The Muslim league first approved the plan but when the Congress declared that it could change the scheme through its majority in the Constituent Assembly, they rejected the plan.

DIRECT ACTION DAY (1946) – Despite given equal representation, the Muslim League did not participate in the interim government led by Congress. Also, against the expectations of the Muslim League, the Congress formed the government in most of the provinces. This led to direct call by Jinnah for the creation of Pakistan, through ‘Direct Action Day’ on 16th August 1946, which led to communal riots across the country leading to inevitability of partition, which change the entire polity of the sub-continent.

MOUNTBATTEN PLAN (1947) – In March 1947, Lord Mountbatten was sent to India to replace Wavell as the Viceroy of India. Among the major Indian leaders, Gandhi alone refused to reconcile himself to partition and urged Mountbatten to offer Jinnah the premiership of a united India rather than a separate Muslim nation. Nehru, however, would not agree to that, nor would his most powerful Congress deputy, Vallabhbhai Patel, as both had become tired of arguing with Jinnah and were eager to get on with the job of running an independent government of India. As such, in July 1947, the British Government passed the Indian Independence Act of 1947, in accordance with the Mountbatten Plan of June 1947, that provided for independence of India, and its partition into two parts.

 

 

CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY

 

The Constituent Assembly met for the first time in New Delhi in December, 1946, according to the scheme recommended by the Cabinet Mission. Muslim League abstained from its meetings, and as such the Constituent Assembly was led by the Congress since its inception.

Its members were chosen by indirect election according to the scheme recommended by the Cabinet Mission.

  1. 292 members were elected through the Provincial Legislative Assemblies.
  2. 93 members represented the Indian Princely States.
  3. 4 members represented the Chief Commissioners’ Provinces.

The total membership of the Assembly thus was to be 389. However, as a result of the partition under the Mountbatten Plan of June, 1947, a separate Constituent Assembly was set up for Pakistan and representatives of some Provinces ceased to be members of the Assembly. As a result, the membership of the Assembly was reduced to 299. 

Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha was the first temporary President of the Constituent Assembly. However, Dr. Rajendra Prasad was the first elected President of the Constituent Assembly. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee, has been credited as the Father of the Indian Constitution. Besides, him some of the other important office bearers in Constituent Assembly were as under.

Name of the Committee Chairman
Steering Committee Rajendra Prasad
Union Constitution Committee Jawaharlal Nehru
Provincial Constitution Committee Vallabh Bhai Patel
Committee for Negotiating with States Jawaharlal Nehru
Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities and Tribal and Excluded Areas Vallabh bhai Patel
Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights J.B. Kripalani
Sub-Committee on Minorities H.C. Mookherjee
Sub-Committee on Tribal and Excluded Areas Gopinath Bordoloi and A.V. Thakkar
Ad hoc Committee on the National Flag Rajendra Prasad

Benegal Narsing Rau, a civil servant who became the first Indian judge to serve in the International Court of Justice and was president of the United Nations Security Council, was appointed as the assembly’s constitutional adviser in 1946. Responsible for the constitution’s general structure, B.N. Rau prepared the initial draft of the Indian Constitution in 1948. The Constituent Assembly finally adopted the Constitution of India on 26th November 1949, after a series of amendments during eleven sessions over a 165 day period. The day is celebrated as National Law Day, or Constitution Day. The Constitution of India however came into force on 26th January 1950, the day we celebrate as our Republic Day.