Making of the Indian Constitution - a road to Republic Day

Sunday, January 25, 2009

There was a time when people expected nothing but oppression from public authorities. Later they expected chiefly to be let alone. Our leaders during the freedom struggle instilled the thoughts of freedom and democracy. As a result, people realized that freedom is a prerequisite for India's political destiny and the destiny must be determined by Indians themselves. It was then the idea of Swaraj (Self Governance) was born and known that "Swaraj" will not be a free gift of the British Parliament.

Until 1857, British rule was characterized by "Centralization, Supremacy of Governor General, British politicians interest in the governance of India and tremendous trade and business opportunities". But, after the "First war of Independence in 1857" and subsequent legislations, British parliamentarians lost interest in Indian affairs and they felt that administration in India is safe in the hands of civil servants and military officers. "The developments after 1857 rebellion were
  • towards gradual decentralization,
  • dual control over Indian affairs by Secretary of State for India sitting in London and the Governor General in India.
  • 'form of concessions' and reactions to political developments in India"
The Indian Councils Acts of 18611892, the three round table conferences (1930-32), the Government of India acts 190919191935 etc... were all aimed at serving Britain's economic interests (and political interests during World War I and II), however socio-economic development of India received little or no attention. Pandit Nehru described '1935 act' as "a machine with strong brakes but no engine!", and "a charter of slavery which deserved to be rejected in it's entirety". Muhammad Ali Jinha called it as "thoroughly rotten, fundamentally bad and totally unacceptable".

Britain did not take too much time to realize that it would be difficult for Allied powers to win the world war II without India's active support in the east. They made series of political efforts due to growing International (allied powers') pressure. Those efforts brought 'concessions and political developments' to mitigate Indian resistance and freedom struggle, they in turn had significant impact on formulation of our constitution.

1. August offer, 1940: Lord Linglithgow, the then Governor General (GG) of India, made some important offers in order to secure India's cooperation in the war efforts. They were,
  • Expansion of GG's executive council so that Indians could join the council (Executive council was a body of advisers to GG so that he could perform day to day administration effectively, GG was the final authority on any matters and council had no real powers).
  • Setting up of representative body after the war which will draft a constitution for the country.
Congress rejected the offer on two grounds. (i) there was no mention about British withdrawal (ii) It's demand for defence portfolio be given to Indians was not accepted.

2. Cripps Mission, March 1942: Under the growing pressure of allied powers, British govt. dispatched Sir Stafford Cripps to India with a package of proposals. He was a member of British war cabinet and leader of opposition in the house of commons. After meeting with various Indian leaders he made following proposals.
  • Elected government in (British) provinces and Indian union comprising British provinces and princely states.
  • Indian States (princely states) free to decide whether to join the Indian union and to accept the constitution.
  • Impracticability of Idea of Pakistan.
Congress rejected the proposals because right of princely states to not to accept the constitution and 'not to join' the union will jeopardize integrity of the union. Muslim League rejected the proposal because there was no acceptance of their demand for Pakistan.

Jinnah would not be satisfied with anything less than the partition of the country on the basis of two nation (India-Pakistan) theory.

3. Wavell Plan, June 1945: Lord Wavell, the then governor general, summoned both Congress and Muslim League for the negotiations. The Simla Conference was held in June 1945. "It was agreed that Congress and Muslim League should have parity of numbers in the national government (to be formed later). But Jinnah insisted that the Muslim League was the only representative organization of the muslims, and as such, the quota of Muslim members would be nominated by the League alone. Congress did not agree to League's demand and hence Shimla Conference broke up."

4. The Cabinet Mission Plan, 1946: In March 1946, a British Cabinet mission headed by Pathick Lawrence and consisting of Sir Stafford Cripps and A V Alexander arrived in India to resolve the deadlock for future developments. The cabinet mission announced it's plans in May 1946. Main provisions were,
  • Impracticability of Pakistan and two nation theory
  • Union of India (British India + Princely states).
  • Residuary powers (i.e. powers other than those explicitly mentioned in the acts/constitution) to be with provinces and provinces were free to form groups among themselves and they were given the right to revise their continuance in the union.
  • Muslims and Sikhs legislators to be elected on quota basis and resolution of communal issues to be decided by majority of the concerned community legislators.
  • Formation of Interim government which would take the reigns of future governance of India.
Congress rejected the idea of grouping of the provinces and their right of opting out of the federation and agreed to form the interim government, but league refused to join interim government. Muslim league obviously rejected the plan because it's demand for separate state of Pakistan was not honored. In order to press for their demand for Pakistan, Muslim league launched "Direct Action Day" in august 1946 which set off a chain of communal violences. Later Muslim league agreed to join the interim government to safeguard the interests of Muslims.

5. Attlee's Announcement, February 1947: On 20th February, the British Prime Minister announced that the British would hand over the power to responsible Indian hands by June 1948. Attle clearly stated that in case muslim league were to continue its boycott of the constituent assembly, the British govt would be forced to think of handing over the power to more than one entity (country). Thus it was clear that British envisaged the partition of India along with Independence.

6. Mountbatten Plan, June 1947: In March 1947 Lord Mountbatten assumed office of the viceroy. He was explicitly sent to India on the mission of expediting British withdrawal and convincing congress about inevitability of partition. He was given extraordinary powers to take decision on the spot to accomplish his mission. His plan, code named Plan Balkan, was a blue print of partition of India into two independent states, India and Pakistan. Muslim League agreed to Mountbatten Plan and Congress held a working committee meeting to decide and it was accepted by overwhelming majority. It must be noted here that, in the meeting, Mahatma Gandhi voted for the partition, though he tried his best to prevent the partition and went on to the extent of suggesting to Mountbatten that a government should be formed under the leadership of Jinnah!

7. India Independence Act, July 1947: British parliament passed the law authorizing the partition and British withdrawal from India. As per the plan, Eastern Bengal, Sylhet district of Assam, Western Punjab, Sind, North Western Frontier Province went to Pakistan and a separate constituent assembly was setup for Pakistan (which was headed by Jinnah).

8. Constituent Assembly of India: The constituent Assembly set up the drafting committee headed by Dr. Ambedkar to come up with the draft constitution. There were other committees facilitated the drafting process.
Union Power CommitteeJawaharlal Nehru
Fundamental Rights CommitteeSardar Patel
Steering CommitteeDr. KM Munshi (Chairman),
Gopalswamy Iyengar,
Bishwanath Das.
Provintial Constitution Committee     Sardar Patel
Committee on Union Constitution Jawaharlal Nehru
Examining draft ConstitutionAlladi Krishnaswamy Iyer

Draft Constitution of India' was ready by February 1948 and the constituent assembly discussed the draft clause by clause and modified wherever necessary. The second reading of the draft constitution was completed by 17th October 1949. On November 14th, Constituent assembly sat again for the third reading. It was completed on 26th November 1949 and received the signature of the President of the assembly and was declared passed. The provisions relating to citizenship, elections, provisional parliament, temporary and transitional provisions, were given immediate effect, i.e. from November 26, 1949. The rest of the constitution came into force on 26th January, 1950 and this date is referred to in the constitution as the Date of Commencement. It's interesting to note that Nehru was particular about the date i.e. 26th and he insisted on that. Some historians say that he it as a lucky day! Draft Constitution got it's presidential assent on 26th November, and it came into force on 26th Jan 1950 (Nehru's date, 26th!).

The history of making our constitution suggests that Swaraj was not a free gift, it was earned. It was earned from the struggle and sacrifice of our forefathers. Many Pundits around the world doubted the long term functioning of our Constitution. But contrary to that, our constitution stood the test of time. We are the largest democracy in the world and highly respected one too. On the other hand Pakistan has proved over the time that, It's harder for them to run a constitution than to frame one! January 26th is a day the festival of democracy is celebrated. It's a remarkable landmark achieved by our forefathers. The best way to salute them is to exercise our democratic right by casting our votes, by making our vote count!

Wishing you all a wonderful R-Day...


Anonymous said...

Good Informative at the right time. I have seen many people do not know the meaning of Republic Day itself. For them it is just another holiday to enjoy!! These kind of blogs is required to understand the meaning of the day and to celebrate it by heart. Thank you Manju!!

Nija Guna said...

As always, Singe is awesome! very informative post. I agree with you on voting issue. Increased participation in elections especially by the educated class shows the real power of democracy. I go little further by saying, if elites of this class enter our governance, it will be amazing.

In a step to influence, voting reforms, we are campaigning for absentee voting system. Please sign the petition :

Shalini said...

Please join us at to stand by the country as an Indian.

Unknown said...

The information provided is such a usefull to tell about republic day to our new hope.

Anonymous said...

Helpful information .. thnx 4 ur help .. keep postin .. :)

Anonymous said...

thanks a lot for the info. its a perfect mix of history and legal inputs on the Constituent Assembly. Keep up the good work

Yours truly,
the LegalEaglette

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.