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