Demand for Constituent Assembly
For the first time in the year 1934, M. N. Roy, a strong leader of the leftist movement, put forward the idea of forming of Constituent Assembly in India. In 1935, the Indian National Congress for the first time officially demanded the formation of a Constituent Assembly to frame the Constitution of India. In 1938, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, on behalf of the Indian National Congress, announced that the constitution of independent India would be prepared by the Constituent Assembly elected on the basis of adult suffrage and there would be no outside interference.
Ultimately, the British government accepted this demand of Nehru in principle. This is known as the “August Offer” of 1940. In 1942, Sir Stafford Cripps, Cabinet Minister of the British Government and a member of the British Council of Ministers came to India with a bold proposal of the British Government for the formation of an independent constitution. This constitution was to be adopted after the Second World War but the Cripps proposal was rejected by the Muslim League. The demand of the Muslim League was that India should be divided into two autonomous parts, each with its own Constituent Assembly. Eventually, a cabinet mission was sent to India by the British government. This mission turned down the demand for two Constituent Assemblies but it put forward a plan for the creation of such a Constituent Assembly, which satisfied the Muslim League to a great extent.
Constitution of Constituent Assembly
The Constituent Assembly was formed in November 1946 under the proposals suggested by the Cabinet Mission Plan. Elections to the Constituent Assembly were held in July-August 1946. In this election, Indian National Congress got 208 seats, Muslim League got 73, and small groups and independent members got 15 seats. However, the 93 seats allotted to the princely states could not be filled because they themselves had decided to keep the constitution separate from the Constituent Assembly.
- The total strength of the Constituent Assembly was to be 389. Of these, 296 seats were to be allotted to British India and 93 seats to the princely states. Of the 296 seats allotted to British India, 292 members were to be selected from the provinces of 11 governors and four chief commissioners from the provinces.
- Seats were to be allotted to each province and princely state in proportion to their population. Broadly speaking, one seat was to be allotted for every one million people.
- The seats allotted to each British province were to be determined in proportion to their population among the three major communities (Muslims, Sikhs, and general).
- The representatives of each community were to be elected by the members of that community in the Provincial Assembly and voted in the manner of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.
- The representatives of the princely states were to be elected by the heads of the princely states.
Although the Constituent Assembly was not directly elected by the adult voters of India, representatives of each community got a place in it. Women were also included in this.
Functioning of the Constituent Assembly
The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly was held on 9 December 1946. The Muslim League boycotted the meeting and insisted on the demand for a separate Pakistan, so only 211 members attended the meeting. Like in France, Dr. Sachchidanand Sinha, the senior-most member in this assembly, was elected as the provisional president of the assembly.
Later, Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected the permanent President of the Constituent Assembly. Similarly, Dr. H.C.Mukherjee and B.T. Krishnamachari were elected vice presidents of the Constituent Assembly. In other words, the Constituent Assembly had two Vice Presidents.
On 13 December 1946, Pandit Nehru introduced the historic “Objectives Resolution” in the assembly. It had a glimpse of the structure and philosophy of the constitutional structure. It said that:
- This Constituent Assembly declares India as an independent, sovereign republic and declares the creation of a constitution to run its future administration.
- All territories in British India, all territories included in the Indian states, and all such territories outside India and other territories as they may wish to join, shall be part of the Indian Union.
- All the areas mentioned above and their boundaries will be determined by the Constituent Assembly. And for this, according to the later rules, if they wish, their residuary powers will be vested in them and for the conduct of administration, all those powers will be available to these states except those which will be vested in the Union.
- The source of all the powers and authority of sovereign independent India, its integral parts and parts of government, shall be the people of India.
- Justice, social, economic, and political freedom and security, equality of opportunity, equality before the law, freedom of thought and expression, belief, travel, freedom to form organizations, and establishment of public morality will be ensured for all the people of India.
- Adequate security will be provided to the minorities, backward classes, and people of tribal areas.
- The unity of the Union will be maintained intact and its land, sea, and air space will be protected according to the justice and law of all countries.
- And this ancient land will be given its right and proper place in the world and its contribution towards promoting world peace and human welfare will be ensured.
This proposal was unanimously accepted on 22 January 1947. This influenced the nature of the constitution to a great extent. Its changed form became the preamble of the constitution.
Change by Indian Independence Act
Representatives of the princely states, who kept themselves separate from the Constituent Assembly, gradually started joining it. On 28 April 1947, six states had become members of the House of Representatives. On 3 June 1947, most of the representatives of other princely states took their seats in the assembly after accepting the Mountbatten Plan for the Partition of India. Members of the Indian part of the Muslim League also joined the meeting.
- The assembly was made a fully sovereign body, which could make any constitution voluntarily. This act empowered the assembly to abolish or change any law made by the British Parliament in relation to India.
- The Constituent Assembly also became a legislature. This Constituent Assembly became the first Parliament of independent India.
- Members of the Muslim League broke away from the Constituent Assembly of India. Because of this, the total number of members fixed under the Mountbatten Plan in 1946 came down to 299 out of 389 seats. The number of Indian provinces increased from 296 to 229 and the number of princely states increased from 93 to 70. The State-wise membership as of 31st December 1947 is presented in Table No. 2.4.
- India’s membership in the Commonwealth was verified in May 1949.
- Adopted the national flag on 22 July 1947.
- Adopted the national anthem on 24 January 1950.
- On 24 January 1950, Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected as the first President of India.
A total of 11 sittings of the Constituent Assembly were held in 2 years 11 months and 18 days. Constitution makers observed the constitution of about 60 countries and its commencement was considered for 114 days. A total of 64 lakh rupees were spent on the making of the constitution. The last meeting of the Constituent Assembly took place on 24 January 1950. Thereafter, the Assembly served as the Provisional Parliament of India from 26 January 1950 until the formation of a new Parliament after the general elections held in 1951–52.
To make it easier to understand, an example with the help of a table
Table No.2.1 (Allocation of seats in the Constituent Assembly of India (1946))
|1||British Indian Territory||292|
|3||Chief Commissioner’s Province||4|
Table No.2.2 (Results of the elections to the Constituent Assembly)
|5||Unionist Scheduled Castes||1|
|6||Krishak Praja Party||1|
|7||Scheduled Caste Federation||1|
Table No. 2.3 (Community-based representation in the Constituent Assembly of India, 1946)
Table No. 2.4 (Rajya Sabha Membership in the Constituent Assembly of India on 31st December 1947)
|Sr No.||Name||Number of Members|
|A. Province (Indian Province) – 229|
|7||Central Provinces and Berar||17|
|B. Indian states (princely states) – 703|
|18||Sikkim and Berar Coorg Group||1|
|19||Tripura, Manipur and Khansi State Group||1|
|20||Uttar Pradesh State Group||1|
|21||Eastern State Group||3|
|22||Central India State Group||3|
|23||West India State Group||4|
|24||Gujarat State Group||2|
|25||Deccan and Madras State Group||2|
|26||Punjab State Group||3|
|27||Eastern States Group-1||4|
|28||Eastern States Group-2||3|
|29||Rest of the state group||4|
Table No. 2.5 (Constituent Assembly e Session)
|First||9-23 December 1946|
|Second||20-25 January 1947|
|Third||28 April – 2 May 1947|
|Fourth||14-31 July 1947|
|Fifth||14-30 August 1947|
|Sixth||27 January 1948|
|Seventh||4 November 1947 – 8 January 1949|
|Eighth||16 May – 16 June 1949|
|Ninth||30 July – 18 September 1949|
|Tenth||6-17 October 1949|
|Eleventh||16-26 November 1949|