DEMAND FOR A 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 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.
In 1938, Jawaharlal Nehru, on behalf the INC declared that the Constitution of free India must be framed, without outside interference, by a Constituent Assembly elected on the basis of adult franchise 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 the World War II .
The Cripps Proposals were rejected by the Muslim League which wanted India to be di vided 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, put forth a scheme for the Constituent Assembly which more or less satisfied the Muslim League.
COMPOSITION OF THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY:
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 Assem bly 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 al lotted seats in proportion to their respective population. Roughly, one seat was to be allot ted for every million population.
- Seats allocated to each British province were to be divided among the three principal com munities – 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 vot ing was to be by the method of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote.
- The representatives of 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. Moreover , the members were to be indirectly elected by the members of the provincial assemblies, who themselves were elected on a limited franchise.
The elections to the Constituent Assembly (for 296 seats allotted to the British Indian Provinces) were held in July – August 1946. The Indian National Congress won 208 seats, the Muslim League 73 seats, and the small groups and independents got the remaining 15 seats.
However , the 93 seats allotted to the princely states were not filled as they decided to stay away from the Constituent Assembly.
Although the Constituent Assembly was not directly elected by the people of India on the basis of adult franchise, the Assembly comprised representatives of all sections of Indian Society – Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis, Anglo – Indians, Indian Christians, SCs, STs including women of all these sections.
The Assembly included all important personalities of India at that time, with the exception of Mahatma Gandhi.
WORKING OF THE 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.
The meeting was thus attended by only 211 members. 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. Similarly, both H.C. Mukherjee and V.T. Krishnamachari were elected as the Vice – Presidents of the Assembly. In other words, the Assembly had two Vice – Presidents.
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. It read :
- ” This Constituent Assembly declares its firm and solemn resolve to proclaim India as an Independent Sovereign Republic and to draw up for her future governance a Constitution :
- Wherein the territories that now comprise British India, the territories that now form the Indian States, and such other parts of India as are outside India and the States as well as other territories as are willing to be constituted into the independent sovereign India , shall be a Union of them all; and
- wherein the said territories, whether with their present boundaries or with such others as may be determined by the Constituent Assembly and thereafter according to the law of the Constitustion, shall possess and retain the status of autonomous units together with residuary powers and and administration save and except such power exercise all powers and functions of Government and functions as are vested in or assigned to the Union or as are inherent or implied in the Union or resulting therefrom; and
- wherein all power and authority of the Sovereign Independent India, its constituent parts and organs of Government are derived from the people; and
- wherein shall be guaranteed and secured to all the people of India justice, social, economic and political; equality of status of opportu nity, and before the law; freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, vocation, as sociation and action, subject to law and public morality, and
- wherein adequate safeguards shall be provided for minorities, backward and tribal areas, and depressed and other backward classes, and
- whereby shall be maintained the integrity of the territory of the Republic and its sovereign rights on land, sea and air according to justice and the law of civilized nations; and
- This ancient land attains its rightful and honoured place in the world and makes its full and willing contribution to the promotion world peace and the welfare of mankind. “
This Resolution was unanimously adopted by the Assembly on January 22, 1947. It influenced the eventual shaping of the constitution through all its subsequent stages. Its modified version forms the Preamble of the present Constitution.
Changes by the Independence Act:
The representatives of the princely states, who had stayed away from the Constituent Assembly, gradually joined it. On April 28, 1947, representatives of the six states were part of the Assembly.
After the acceptance of the Mountbatten Plan of June 3, 1947 for a partition of the country, the representatives of most of the other princely states took their seats in the Assembly. The members of the Muslim League from the Indian Dominion also entered the Assembly.
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 a constitution for free India and enacting of ordinary laws for the country. These two tasks were to be performed on separate days. Thus, the Assembly became the first Parliament of free India (Dominion Legislature).
- 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. These two functions continued till November 26, 1949, when the task of making the Constitution was over.
- The Muslim League members (hailing from the areas included in the Pakistan) withdrew from the Constituent Assembly for India. Consequently, the total strength of the Assembly came down to 299 as against 389 originally fixed in 1946 under the Cabinet Mission Plan. The strength of the Indian provinces (formerly British Provinces) was reduced from 296 to 229 and those of the princely states from 93 to 70.
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 the India’s membership of the Com monwealth in May 1949.
- It adopted the national flag on July 22, 1947. 3. 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 Presi dent of India on January 24, 1950.
In all , the Constituent Assembly had 11 sessions over two years, 11 months and 18 days. The Constitution – makers had gone through the constitutions of about 60 countries, and the Draft Constitution was considered for 114 days. The total expenditure incurred on making the Constitution amounted to INR 64 lakh.
On January 24, 1950, the Constituent Assembly held its final session. It, however, did not end, and continued as the provisional parliament of India from January 26, 1950 till the formation of new Parliament after the first general elections in 1951-52.