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How the Constituent Assembly proved critics wrong to emerge as voice of all Indians

Saquib Salim

A free and sovereign India means that the country should have its constitution framed by its people was a specific demand of the leaders of the Indian Freedom Struggle. The British and other Europeans believed that Indians were not capable of framing laws to govern themselves. In 1946, when the framing of a constitution of India began, the colonizers and their stooges started criticizing the process.

Winston Churchill claimed that the constituent assembly was a Hindu body as the Muslim League boycotted it. The constituent assembly was not a completely sovereign and democratically elected body. It was formed through Provincial Legislative Assemblies with no Universal Adult Suffrage. Seats for Muslims, Sikhs, Anglo-Indians, etc. were fixed with representatives of princely states as well. In July 1946 when the elections for the members of the assembly were completed Congress won 205 seats out of 296 in British India and Muslim League returned with 73 seats. But, the problem was that the League secured 73 out of 78 Muslim-reserved seats while Congress begged all the non-Muslim seats except 9.

Riding over the comments made by the British government in their support Muslim League decided to boycott the proceedings of the assembly. The British government declared in December 1946, “Should a constitution come to be framed by a Constituent Assembly in which a large section of the Indian population had not been represented, the British Government could not, of course, contemplate…..forcing such a constitution upon any unwilling parts of the country.”

Stafford Cripps also told the House of Commons on 12 December 1946, “If the Muslim League could not be persuaded to come into the Constituent Assembly, then parts of the country where they were in a majority could not be held to be bound by the results. “

The allegations were made that the constituent assembly represented only Upper Caste Hindus as a community and the Indian National Congress as a Party. The facts were not in support of these allegations.

P. Misra writes, “But as a matter of fact, out of a total of 296 members who were to take part in the meeting, 210 Members attended. These 210 Members consisted of 155 Hindus out of a total of 160, 30 Scheduled Caste representatives out of a total of 33, all the 5 Sikhs, 6 Indian Christians out of a total of 7, all the 5 representatives of Backward Tribes, all 3 Anglo-Indians, all 3 Parsis and 4 Muslims out of 80. Therefore it is clear from the figures quoted that, with the exception of the representatives of the Muslim League, every community in India was represented in the Assembly. Therefore, to describe the Assembly as representing “only one major community in India “or as “a body of Hindus” or “a meeting of Caste Hindus” is a complete travesty of facts.”

Though 69% of the members belonged to Congress, which rose to a staggering 82% after the partition when most of the Muslim League members chose to leave India, several critics of Congress were welcomed in the constituent assembly. K.T Shah, M. R. Jayakar, and B. R. Ambedkar were a few such Congress critics who received its support to enter the assembly.

Muslim League was not alone in boycotting the assembly. Representatives of the princely states, all 93 of the designated people, did not join the assembly till 14 July 1947. On this day after the partition was confirmed representatives of the states and Muslim League members who had opted to remain in India joined the assembly. Congress leaders accommodate these members who once campaigned for the creation of Pakistan. The idea was to make the assembly a true representative of the Indian people.

Justice H. R. Khanna also pointed out this intent of the makers of our constitution in one of his addresses. He said, “Although the objective of the Congress as expressed in its various resolutions had been that the Constituent Assembly should be elected by adult franchise, only 28.5% of the adult population of the province could vote in the Provincial Assembly elections of early 1946. It was these Assemblies which in turn elected the members of the Constituent Assembly.”

Justice Khanna further pointed out, “Apart from its sheer talent, the membership of the Constituent Assembly wielded tremendous influence and enjoyed immense popular confidence. Amongst them were Pt. Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad and Dr. Rajendra Prasad. The Congress members constituted 69% of the total membership. After the partition of the country which resulted in a diminution of the strength of Muslim members, the Congress membership constituted 82% of the total membership. Among the Congress members, there were six past or present Presidents and fourteen out of 18 members of the Working Committee. The non-Congress members who were elected under the direction of High Command by Congress members of the Provincial Assemblies included Dr. Ambedkar, Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar, Hirday Nath Kunzru, K. Santhanam, M.R. Jayakar, Bakshi Tek Chand and Gopalaswami Ayyangar.”

Misra further points out, “At the top of all was the Drafting Committee consisting of seven members. There was only one Congressman out of seven members and B. R. Ambedkar, who had so long been in opposition to the Congress, was appointed Chairman. A representative of the Muslim League was also included in the Drafting Committee. The Drafting Committee was elected unanimously.”

This must be kept in mind that the different committees and subcommittees like – the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights – consisted members from SC, ST, Muslim, Sikh, and Christian communities. Members represented each geographic region of the country and several non-Congress members were included in these committees. The only concern was the merit and larger public good of the Indian people.

Justice Khanna pointed this out by saying, “Discerning observers have expressed the view that 20 persons played the most significant part in the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly. Apart from Nehru, Patel, Prasad, and Azad, they were Ambedkar, Pant, Sitaramayya, Ayyar, Gopalaswami Ayyangar, and Munshi. Satyanarayan Sinha, M.A. Ayyangar, Jairamdas Daulatram, Shankarrao Deo, Mrs. Durgabai. Acharya Kripalani, TT. Krishnamachari, H.C. Mookerjee, N.M. Rau and Mohammed Saadulla. These twenty persons were the product of diverse backgrounds. All were University graduates. Four had their education outside the country, 12 were lawyers or had taken law degrees, one was a medical doctor, and two had been. teachers, three had been high-ranking officials in Civil Government and one was a businessman. Two were Muslims, one a Christian, and the others were Hindus. The Hindus included a Harijan, nine Brahmins and seven non-Brahmins.”

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When the Constitution of India was finally completed on 26 November 1949 it represented the views of all diversities of the country. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Tribals, Scheduled Castes, OBCs, Women, and all other identities had their say in the making of this constitution. The final draft proved all the critics wrong as the drafting committee was neither Congress nor Upper Caste Hindu dominated body.

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