Tag Archives | Constituent Assembly

The Importance of the Constituent Assembly in Framing the Indian Constitution

By Madhav Chandavarkar ( @MadChaP88)

The Constitution of India is the rule-book for democratic governance in India. It came into force on 26 January 1950 and to date remains one of the biggest milestones in the history of our country. Framing a constitution is never a simple task but it was especially hard for India given the extremely tumultuous situation at the time. A newly independent country with a highly unequal social order was a daunting challenge to deal with, especially when it was still reeling under the effects of partition.

The Constitution was framed by the Constituent Assembly established under the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946. The 299 individuals who comprised the Constituent Assembly can therefore rightfully be termed as the founding fathers and mothers of the Republic of India. Certain members of the Constituent Assembly played a key role, the foremost of whom was Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, whose role as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Assembly has earned him the popular moniker of ‘Father of the Indian Constitution’. Other Congress stalwarts like Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, and Maulana Azad were also dominant voices in Assembly proceedings. A special mention must go to Constitutional Advisor, Dr. B.N. Rau who compiled the initial draft that the assembly debated after taking inputs from constitutional experts at home and abroad.

Challenges in framing the Constitution

The Constitution took a significant amount of time to be framed and though it continues relying on many institutions established by the British it borrows different aspects from various constitutions. However, widespread demands for an indigenous Constitution meant that a lot of the initial debates were about whether it would be wise to follow the model created by the British. Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge facing the assembly was to create a political framework that would keep the various communities and princely states happy in India and prevent Balkanisation. The members were acutely aware of this as Delhi was facing enough violence that they often needed curfew passes to attend Assembly sessions. The fact that the Assembly also functioned as an interim Parliament would have also informed the members about the scale of administrative work needed to ensure unity.

Other major challenges faced by the assembly were:

  • To frame a constitution which would uplift downtrodden sections of society. This meant providing an assurance to minorities regarding the protection of their rights as well as creating a welfare State that could improve their social and economic status.
  • To ensure democratic processes for citizens in perpetuity – the fathers wanted their vision of the country to remain after their death.
  • To frame a constitution capable of effectively handling communal violence. This was largely motivated by the violence occurring due to the partition.
  • To frame a constitution which could integrate princely states and their various demands.

At the time, the Congress party was the dominant political force in the country and was so in the Assembly as well. Yet the Congress actively sought out non-Congress luminaries such as Ambedkar to make sure that the best minds would be involved and that as many communities would be represented. There was even considerable divergence of opinions among leaders of the Congress itself. It is therefore a testament to the dedication of the constituent assembly that despite such odds, a consensus was reached.

This was perhaps the outcome of a recognition of the role unanimity in conceptualising the constitution would play in its durability and continuity. Issues were therefore debated until decisions as unanimous as possible could be made and proceedings were open to members of the public and the press. Many discussions also took place outside the halls of the Assembly in and between the various committees. These debates and committee proceedings have now been transcribed and published.

The completion and adoption of the Constitution was an historic event that was being avidly observed by the entire world. The decision to grant universal adult franchise was a tremendous gamble for the Indian State but was also one of the most transparent displays of democratic fervour.

The drafting of the Constitution is now considered a monumental feat of democracy for which the members deserve immense respect. These individuals, despite being a multicultural set of people from various communities, were collectively committed to achieving the historic task of establishing a democratic republic in India. Today, as we have entered the 70th year of our independence, our Constitution still stands as a shining beacon of democratic governance. It is because of the members of the constituent assembly that our flag flutters proudly over the Parliament in Delhi.

Madhav Chandavarkar is a Research Analyst at the Takshashila Institution. His Twitter handle is @MadChaP88

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India’s independent judiciary

A summary of the debate in the Constituent Assembly about the need for a separation of the judiciary.

In December 1948, the Constituent Assembly gathered to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of having a separate executive, legislature and judiciary. The advantages of a Parliamentary democracy were advocated the most strongly, thereby resulting in an interdependent executive and legislature (wherein the executive, or Prime Minister, is decided by the majority in the legislature). However, it was agreed upon to make the complete independence of the judiciary a Directive Principle of State Policy.

There were several reservations towards this amendment also, though –the primary one being the dangers of giving too much power to the judiciary. As T. T. Krishnamachari said, “In trying to give the judiciary an enormous amount of power, a judiciary which may not be controlled by any legislature in any manner except perhaps by the means of ultimate removal, we may perhaps be creating a Frankenstein which would nullify the intentions of the framers of this Constitution.” He also felt that it was too early to appoint such a responsibility on a judiciary whose members had not yet even been fully decided and had not yet shown themselves to be the best people for the job. This, in addition to the high costs of paying salaries of separate lawyers, judges, and executive officers, was why Krishnamachari and B. Das suggested that India make the decision for independent bodies in a year, when it had experience as a nation-state.

However, it was more fervently agreed upon that despite its shortcomings, an independent judiciary was essential for a democratic and accountable government. It was what the Congress had been demanding of the British on principle for years and had never got. An example was related by Dr. Bakshi Tek Chand, of an incident of the Ministry trying to get a Magistrate to stay the proceedings of a criminal court case against an official. This incident brings out how politicians interfered and would continue to interfere with the judiciary if this motion was not passed. In this instance, the High Court expressed its disgust with this attempt by the executive to influence the way they functioned, and today’s judiciary often shares the same sentiment, as we have seen by Chief Justice R. M. Lodha’s reaction to the government refusing to clear Gopal Subramaniam as a Supreme Court judge.

This incident, however, shows clearly that the anxieties of the Assembly Members were not unfounded. The appointment of Supreme Court judges is not the responsibility of the Prime Minister or anyone representing a particular party. However, Gopal Subramaniam’s critical remarks of the Modi government in its early weeks led to his segregation from a list of four Supreme Court Judge candidates, without the knowledge of the rest of the Chief Justices, resulting in his withdrawal from the candidacy. This type of interference of the executive with the judiciary’s functioning is exactly what the Constituent Assembly Members wanted to avoid.

As in most of their debates, the Constituent Assembly showed sharp awareness of both the daunting nature of their task in shaping laws, as well as the nature of the people they were trying to both represent and reform at the same time.The kind of segregation being practiced by the current Centre in appointing judges for the Supreme Court is clearly something the Assembly had the foresight to be wary of. This was the objective of making an independent judiciary a Directive Principle. And, as Shri Loknath Mishra went the extra mile in pointing out, good administration of justice is not just about an independent judiciary – it is about just laws, and laws which are intelligible to the masses, both of which he said India lacked. These conflicts are inherent in this group of people that were too far ahead of their time, and they mirror the conflict embedded in the Constitution, the conflict between representation and reformation.

Apoorva Tadepalli is an intern at the Takshashila Institution.

This article is part of a series of posts on the constituent assembly debates, meant to highlight the various points of views and negotiations that went into the creation of the Indian Constitution. Each post analyses the debates on a particular issue.

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Constituent assembly debate on reservation

By Apoorva Tadepalli

The concept of reservation, which was discussed in great detail during the Constituent Assembly debates, is much older than the drafting of the Constitution. The Members of the Assembly, along with many of the minority groups that they represented, were wary of the implications of reserving seats in the Legislative Assembly, claiming that it would serve to exacerbate differences that people felt with one another and increase separatist tendencies. They also identified that promoting reservations, ironically, came with a certain degree of exclusion.

There was exclusion of religion. The motion originally did not apply to many Christian, Sikh or other non-Hindu groups. Lower or backward castes of different religions had to institutionalise themselves into the group “Scheduled Castes” just to be able to express that they had been oppressed and needed representation. There was exclusion of lower caste communities that were less populated than others and had less probability of representation. And finally, there was exclusion of poor people of upper castes.

With this, most Members of the Assembly expressed worry that reservation was not the ideal way of achieving true representation. Even Muslim and Sikh Members knew that it would create a series of sub-castes that would further worsen the relations between and within the existing communities, making it difficult to achieve adequate representation. Further, many believed that trusting the elected representatives, even if they were part of majority communities, was a part of democracy.

The Members of the Assembly also believed that a fundamental part of democracy was the changing nature of the public. This comes through in Vallabhai Patel’s certainty that social justice would be seen in democracy’s natural course, without the need for political intervention, which is apparent when he says, “What brought about the abolition of slavery? Was it safeguards granted to them by anyone? No, it was the awakened conscience of the various countries.” As with other social evils worldwide, he believed that caste discrimination would eventually become unacceptable in Indian society.

The Members talked about uplifting the backward classes. But the fact that identifying these people was a point of contention shows the ambiguity of the term. Mahavir Tyagi said, “The term Scheduled Castes is a fiction…there are some castes who are depressed, some castes who are poor, some who are untouchables…How is Dr Ambedkar a member of the Scheduled Castes? Is he illiterate? Is he an untouchable? Is he lacking in anything?…I do not believe in the minorities on community basis, but minorities must exist on economic basis.”

This identified the final goal of reservations, which was and is to provide equal opportunities and representation to everyone, irrespective of social status. As Brajeshwar Prasad said, the Scheduled Castes’ “downtrodden nature is not political, it is cultural and economic and educational.” Clearly this is an economic problem in our country, as shown by Tyagi’s further assertion: that it was not the scheduled castes that needed special provisions “but “cobblers, washermen, and similar classes,” along with farmers, who did not enjoy this very urban provision. Many identified it as an economic problem in our country, including Dr P S Deshmukh, who said, “there are millions of people in our country whose obstacles are in no way different from those of the Scheduled Castes; and I wish to leave room for such people.”

Reservations were finally agreed upon even by those who were uncomfortable with it, because it was initially only supposed to be in place for ten years, and because the reasons expressed for the need for them could not be disputed – it could not be denied that lower castes and minorities had faced appalling atrocities from other communities in their history, and needed justice. However, no distinction was made between social and economic backwardness in the drafting of the articles. It may have just been easier to distinguish the latter from the former because of the significant overlap. It is also important to note that the Poona Pact had already taken place by this point and that reservations in the Assembly had been acknowledged as preferable to separate electorates, which would have been even more dangerous for the notion of equality.

Interestingly, it was also brought up during the debates that the sense of justice with which Indians were judging caste discrimination, was a product of British rule, and that the myriad of communities and their relations had been reduced to the British-introduced majority-minority binary. This binary made the extent of discrimination all the more apparent.

The fact that reserving seats in the Legislature has not eradicated the social evil that is the caste system supports the contention that social evils and economic inequality cannot be solved with political changes. What the Members of the Assembly fundamentally wanted was to provide some form of equality. There are more appropriate ways to achieve the same goals as political representation without the use of political representation. This is particularly desirable in the current context, wherein placements in government enterprises are less valuable than they were fifty years ago. Identifying people on the basis of income level or standard of living, and providing them with education, land, employment or subsidies, as many contemporary programs do, offers more empowerment to individuals than does political representation. Providing backward castes with “functional capabilities”, as Amartya Sen defines them, brings about a more sustainable approach to real progress and equality.

Apoorva Tadepalli is an intern at the Takshashila Institution. 

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