Ever wondered why our Republic day is celebrated on 26th January despite the fact that it was adopted on 26th November 1949 ? What is the historical significance of this date ? What were the events that led to the formation of the world’s lengthiest constitution ? Read this article by our ex student Siddharth Dwivedi, ME 2016 Batch.
The Constitution of India was not prepared in just one or two days but the process of the formation of the constitution began many decades before India became independent. The process continued since the time it originated in the freedom struggle until a new constitution was drafted after long debates and discussions in the Constituent Assembly.
January 26th 1950 was chosen as the date on which the constitution was enacted and given to the citizens of India. Since 1930, 26th January was celebrated as the day of complete independence (Purna Swaraj) by the Congress throughout India after the Lahore Session held in 1929. It was in the same Lahore Session of 1929 that Jawahar Lal Nehru unfurled the Flag of India’s Independence on the bank of River Ravi. The Constitution of India was the lengthiest written constitution having the best elements of Parliamentary Democracy, Republicanism, civil liberties, social and economic justice, Equality, and Universal Adult Suffrage which are the most basic tenets of any constitution.
The formation of the Constituent Assembly and eventually the Constitution were merely the culmination of the series of constitutional initiatives made by Britishers in different act of parliament, viz. in 1773, 1784, 1793, 1813, 1833, 1858, 1861, 1892, 1909, 1919 and 1935.
“ Swaraj will not be a free gift of the British Parliament. It will be a declaration of India’s full self-expression. That it will be expressed through an act of Parliament is true. Swaraj can never be a free gift by one nation to another. It is a treasure to be purchased with a nation’s best blood. It will cease to be a gift when we have paid clearly for it”. This statement of Gandhi clearly proves why the saying about the British introducing constitutional reforms by their voluntary initiative is without doubt a myth.
There was a continuous battle between the demands of the national movement and the concessions granted through the Acts of 1909, 1919 and 1935. The leaders of the national movement started demanding for grant of self governance in India from 1890 onwards. And by 1916 they began to “espouse the doctrine of self determination or the right of the Indians to frame their own constitution”, very famously known as the Home Rule League led by Tilak and Anne Besant. Thus, the desire to have a constitution based on self-determination was as old as 1916.
In response to the continuous demand of the national movement, the British government appointed Simon Commission in November 1927 to recommend constitutional changes. Since there was no Indian in the Simon commission there was a wide spread protest against the commission. In response a committee was formed with Motilal Nehru as the Chairman in 1928 “to determine the principles of the constitution for India ”. The Nehru report was submitted on 10 August, 1928. It was an outline of a draft constitution for India. Most of its features were later included in the Constitution of India. It outlined a parliamentary system with full responsible government and joint electorates with time bound reservation of seats for minorities. The Nehru’s report laid special emphasis on securing fundamental human rights for the people of India. Of the nineteen rights listed in the Nehru report, ten were incorporated into the constitution.
This was followed by the declaration of complete independence as their objective and with the launching of the Mass Civil Disobedience Movement in April 1930 after the Lahore Session. In 1934, the Congress Working Committee rejected the white paper presented by the British government on further constitutional reforms and resolved that the “ only satisfactory alternative to the white paper is a constitution drawn by a Constituent Assembly elected on the basis of adult suffrage or as near it is possible ”. In the 3rd Round Table Conference in which the Congress didn’t participate, the other participating delegates agreed on all issues. This then later became the Government of India Act 1935, most part of which was incorporated into our final constitution.
After 1934, the demand for the Constituent Assembly became very frequent and they included it in the Congress manifesto for the 1936-37 elections. The Congress won majority of states in 1937 elections and in its Faizpur session demanded the newly elected members of the assemblies to articulate the demand for a Constituent Assembly as soon as possible in the new legislatures.
The demand for the Constituent Assembly became more active and in the meanwhile the Second World War broke out in 1939. In order to secure the cooperation of the Indians in the Second World War, the British for the first time announced in August 1940 that the framing of the new constitution should be primarily the responsibility of the Indians themselves. It promised to give dominion status to India after the war is over. It also offered to set up “ a body representative of the principal elements in India’s national life, in order to devise the framework of the new constitution . ”
This offer, unfortunately, did not work out. It did not describe how the body was going to be constituted, and also which method was to be followed in deciding the members. This vague aspect proves that the British reluctantly agreed to this idea of Constituent Assembly and were not serious about its implementation.
Consequently, this offer of 1940 was rejected by all shades of Nationalists and the Congress Party started the Individual Civil Disobedience or Delhi Chalo movement to register their protest. In 1942, the British government appointed Cripps Mission. The Cripps Proposals categorically stated that the constitution would be the sole responsibility of the Indians alone.
The idea of the Constituent Assembly was also accepted and they spelt out its modalities. But, once again there was confrontation between the Congress and the British, which resulted in the Quit India movement of 9 August, 1942. For the first time the nationalists openely demanded the British to ‘Quit India’ and exhorted the Indians to ‘do or die’ in this struggle. In between this, there were initiatives taken by individuals for the formation of the constituent assembly and to resolve the deadlock between the Congress and the Muslim League which includes C Rajagopalachari Formula and Desai Liaqat Pact. The Government of India took all measures to suppress this Quit India struggle and at the end of the war in 1945, they issued a white paper, which was followed by the abortive Simla Conference.
After the war there was change in government in England and Labour government emerged victorious. It promised to make a constitution-making body as soon as possible. The Cabinet Mission was appointed to carry out this purpose and it visited India in 1946, on 24 March. After a lot of deliberation between the Congress, the Muslim League and the British, finally the Constituent Assembly came into existence.
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. 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 Constituent Assembly set up 13 committees for framing the constitution. On the basis of the reports of these committees, a draft of the Constitution was prepared by a seven-member Drafting Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr B R Ambedkar.
The draf of the Constitution was published in January, 1948 and people were given eight months. After the draft was discussed by the people, the press, the provincial assemblies and the Constituent Assembly, the same was finally adopted on November, 26, 1949 in the light of the suggestions received. The Constitution was signed by the President of the Assembly. Thus, it took the Constituent Assembly 2 years, 11 months and 18 days to complete the task.
The Constitution of India was not an original document. The framers of the Constitution freely borrowed the good features of other constitutions. However, while adopting those features, they made necessary modifications for its suitability to the Indian conditions and avoided their defects. The constitutions which exercised profound influence on the Indian Constitution were that of UK, USA, Ireland, Canada etc.
The parliamentary system of government, rule of law, law-making procedure and single citizenship were borrowed from the British Constitution. Independence of Judiciary, Judicial Review, Fundamental Rights and guidelines for the removal of judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts were adopted from the US Constitution. The federal system with a strong central authority was adopted from Canada.
Directive Principles of State Policy were borrowed from the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland. The idea of Concurrent List was borrowed from the Australian Constitution. The provisions relating to emergency were influenced by the Weimer Constitution.
Finally on 26th January 1950 India declared itself a sovereign states and the very first article in Indian constitution states that ” India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States. “