The making of the constitution

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Home | Salient Features of the Constitution

The Constitution of India came into force on 26 January 1950. Since then, the day is celebrated as Republic Day. However, before 1950, 26 January was called Independence Day. Since 26 January 1930, it was the day on which thousands of people, in villages, in mohallas, in towns, in small and big groups would take the independence pledge, committing themselves to the complete independence of India from British rule. It was only fitting that the new republic should come into being on that day, marking from its very inception the continuity between the struggle for independence and the adoption of the Constitution that made India a Republic.

The process of the evolution of the Constitution began many decades before 26 January 1950 and has continued unabated since. Its origins lie deeply embedded in the struggle for independence from Britain and in the movements for responsible and constitutional government in the princely states.

On 19 February 1946, the British government declared that they were sending a Cabinet Mission to India to resolve the whole issue of freedom and constitution making. The Cabinet Mission, which arrived in India on 24 March 1946, held prolonged discussions with Indian leaders. On 16 May 1946, having failed to secure an agreement, it announced a scheme of its own. It recognized that the best way of setting up a constitution-making machinery would 'be by election based on adult franchise; but any attempt to introduce such a step now would lead to a wholly unacceptable delay in the formulation of the new constitution. Therefore, it was decided that the newly-elected legislative assemblies of the provinces were to elect the members of the Constituent Assembly on the basis of one representative for roughly one million of the population. The Sikh and Muslim legislators were to elect their quota based on their population.

It was only after this process had been completed that the representatives of all the provinces and those of the princely states were to meet again to settle the Constitution of the Union. The Congress responded to the Cabinet Mission scheme by pointing out that in its view the Constituent Assembly, once it came into being, would be sovereign. It would have the right to accept or reject the Cabinet Mission's proposals on specifics.

The Constituent Assembly was to have 389 members. Of these, 296 were to be from British India and 93 from the princely Indian states. Initially, however, the Constituent Assembly comprised only of members from British India. Elections of these were held in July-August 1946. Of the 210 seats in the general category. Congress won 199. It also won 3 out of the 4 Sikh seats from Punjab. The Congress also won 3 of the 78 Muslim seats and the 3 seats from Coorg, Ajmer-Merwara, and Delhi. The total Congress tally was 208. The Muslim League won 73 out of the 78 Muslim seats.

At 11 a.m., on 9 December 1946, the Constituent Assembly of India began its first session. For all practical purposes, the chronicle of independent India began on that historic day. Independence was now a matter of dates. The real responsibility of deciding the constitutional framework within which the government and people of India were to function had been transferred and assumed by the Indian people with the convening of the Constituent Assembly. Only a coup d'etat could now reverse this constitutional logic.

207 members attended the first session. The Muslim League, having failed to prevent the convening of the Assembly, now refused to join its deliberations. Consequently, the seventy-six Muslim members of the League stayed away and the four Congress Muslim members attended the session. On 11 December, Dr Rajendra Prasad was elected the permanent Chairman; an office later designated as President of the Assembly.

The third session was held from 28 April to 2 May 1947 and the League still did not join. On 3 June, the Mountbatten Plan was announced which made it clear that India was to be partitioned. With India becoming independent on 15 August 1947, the Constituent Assembly became a sovereign body, and also doubled as the legislature for the new state. It was responsible for framing the Constitution as well as making ordinary laws. The work was organized into five stages: first, committees were asked to present reports on basic issues; second, B.N. Rau, the constitutional adviser, prepared an initial draft on the basis of the reports of the reports of these committees and his own research into the constitutions of other countries; third, the drafting committee, chaired by Dr Ambedkar presented a detailed draft constitution which was published for public discussion and comments; fourth, the draft constitution was discussed and amendments proposed; fifth, and lastly the constitution was adopted.

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