Formation of Constitution of India

The Indian Constitution was crafted through the establishment of a constituent assembly, which prepared, argued, deliberated, revised, and ultimately fashioned the final Constitution of India. It derived numerous administrative functions and divisions of power and duties from the Regulating Acts and Government of India Acts passed by the British in India.

It was eventually drafted under the leadership of Dr. BR Ambedkar, who, along with other members of the drafting committee, incorporated practices and methods from other democratic constitutions. The Constitution was finally adopted in November 1949 with the seal of the Constituent Assembly of India.

Major Events in the formation of the Indian Constitution 

MN Roy’s demanded and call for the creation of a constituent assembly in 1934. Jawaharlal Nehru’s 1938 call for the establishment of an independent constituent assembly. Cripps’ effort to build an Indian constituent assembly in  1942 was rejected by the Muslim League, which demanded two nations and a separate constituent assembly.

Cabinet Mission sent to India to form constituent assembly 1946 has proposed the establishment of a constituent assembly in India and structured the assembly’s membership into British Provinces (consisting of communal seats for general, Muslims, and Sikhs to be elected through a vote in these provinces) and Princely States (members nominated by the head of the respective states).

Composition of the Constituent Assembly

The Constituent Assembly convened for the first time on 9 December 1946 in New Delhi’s Constitution Hall, which is now known as the Central Hall of Parliament House. Members were elected indirectly by members of the Provincial Legislative Assemblies, following the Cabinet Mission’s recommendation:

  • The Constituent Assembly consisted of 389 members, 292 of whom were chosen by provincial Legislative Assembly members and 93 of whom were appointed by the Princely States. To these, a representative from each of the four chief Commissioners provinces of Delhi, Ajmer-Marwar, Coorg, and British Baluchistan was to be added.
  • Each province and Indian state or group of states were allotted a total number of seats proportional to their respective populations, roughly one for every million.
  • The seats allotted to each British Province were to be decided in proportion to the population of the three major communities—Muslims, Sikhs, and others.

The Constituent Assembly Elections (for 296 seats allocated to the British Indian Provinces were held in July-August 1946). The Indian National Congress won 208 seats, the Muslim League won 73 seats, and the Small Groups and Independents won 15 seats. In the Princely States, elections for 93 seats were scheduled, but the seats remained vacant due to their decision to abstain from the Constituent Assembly.

The Assembly included all of India’s prominent personalities at the time, with the exception of Mahatma Gandhi and M.A. Jinnah. The Muslim League joined the Interim Government but did not send representatives to the Constituent Assembly, a requirement of the Cabinet Plan.

Working of the Constituent Assembly

Nehru’s 1946 Constituent Assembly Resolution established India as a sovereign republic and drafted a constitution for its governance was adopted unanimously. Representatives of princely states who had been absent eventually began to join the constituent assembly. In June 1947, the Muslim League endorsed the Mountbatten Plan for the partition of India and Pakistan.

Indian Constituent Assembly
First day of Constituent Assembly of India | Image Credit: Internet 

The 1947 India Independence Act also empowered the constituent assembly to create the constitution. Rajendra Prasad was elected President of the Constituent Body (charged with the task of creating the constitution), while GV Mavlankar was elected Chair of the Legislative Body (for enacting laws). The Constituent Assembly’s Drafting Committee was established to draught the preamble, essential features, and a framework for the newly formed India and its states’ governance.

The drafting committee analyzed numerous facets of pre and post-independence India’s political, social, and economic society. The Constitution’s major features included a preamble that defined the constitution’s major driving themes and derivation of power, the establishment of bicameral legislatures at the Centre and in the States, the Federal structure of the Government of India, the protection of Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy, and the executive at the federal and state levels (office of the President, Prime Minister, Governor, etc.).

Salient Features of Constituent Assembly of India

The Constituent Assembly of India was established pursuant to the provisions of the May 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan. The Assembly intended to include proportional participation from existing provincial legislatures and numerous princely realms. The majority of these elections were completed by the end of July 1946, under the supervision of the Governor General’s Reforms Office (Viceroy).

The Assembly was to be divided into three sections: Punjab and the North-West Frontier Provinces, Bengal and Assam, and the rest of India. Constitutions were to be drafted for the Indian Union, each Section, and each Province within it. The Muslim League, which had won the majority of the 80 Muslim seats and controlled two smaller Sections, elected to abstain, ensuring that the Assembly never convened in sections.

The Assembly met in twelve sessions, or rounds of sittings: 1. December 9–23, 1946; 2. January 20–25, 1947; 3. April 28–May 2, 1947; 4. July 14–31, 1947; 5. August 14–30, 1947; 6. January 27, 1948; 7. November 4, 1948–January 8, 1949; 8. May 16–June 16, 1949; 9. July 30-September 18, 1949; 10. October 6–17, 1949; 11. November 4-26, 1949; and 12. January 24, 1950. The Assembly’s membership continued to fluctuate for a variety of causes other than resignation and death.

While some public figures expressed an interest in joining the Assembly, its membership was also condemned by certain parties such as the Muslim League, Communists, and Socialists. Following the British Parliament’s passage of the Indian Independence Act, it was determined that members wishing to retain their positions in provincial legislatures would leave their Assembly seats. However, numerous members of provincial legislatures continued to attend and participate in the Assembly until a provision prohibiting this practice was incorporated into the Constitution.

The greatest change in membership occurred as a result of India’s proclamation of Partition. Certain members, including Dr. Ambedkar, who were elected from the Dominion of Pakistan regions, lost their seats. Following an initial lack of interest, the princely states began negotiating their representation with an Assembly committee. Hundreds of princely states were gradually merged into bigger organizations, and procedures were developed for their members to the Assembly to be elected.

The Assembly drafted the Constitution with the assistance of various non-members. Outside the Assembly, prominent public personalities were invited to serve on committees constituted by the Assembly to conduct specialized deliberations on specific aspects or segments. These committees were responsible for a large portion of the constitution’s development, both procedurally and substantively.
Significant Committees:

  1. Jawaharlal Nehru’s Union Power Committee
  2. Jawaharlal Nehru was a member of the Union Constitution Committee.
  3. Sardar Patel is the Chairman of the Provincial Constitution Committee.
  4. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar chaired the drafting committee.
  5. Sardar Patel, Chairman, Advisory Committee on FRs, Minorities, Tribal and Excluded Areas
  6. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Chairman, Rules of Procedure Committee
  7. Jawaharlal Nehru is the chairman of the States Committee (which negotiates with states).
  8. Dr. Rajendra Prasad is the Chairman of the Steering Committee.

Drafting Committee: 

  1. B. R. Ambedkar (Chairman)
  2. N Gopalswamy Ayyangar
  3. K. Ayyar
  4. KM Munshi
  5. S M Saadullah
  6. N Madhava Rau – replaced by BL Mitter
  7. Krishnamachari replaced by DP Khaitan

Preparation of Memorandum

For a long period of time, the constitution’s composition has been a source of contention. This debate wastes a great deal of public energy that could be better spent strengthening our collective understanding of the Constitution.

Dissemination of Constitutional Advisor’s Brief (pamphlets) & Questionnaire (September 1946-November 1947)

BN Rau was appointed Constitutional Advisor to the then-Viceroy Lord Wavell in late July 1946 to lead the Constituent Assembly Secretariat. He resigned from the civil service in January 1944 but maintained an active schedule. He volunteered his honorary services to the Viceroy, which was accepted most likely as a result of his tenure in the Reforms Office shortly after the Government of India Act, 1935 was enacted.

Rau compiled a series of brochures on various topics of the impending constitution and also collected the text of several significant international constitutions in order to encourage informed discussion among Assembly members. On September 16, 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru, as vice-president of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, approved the distribution of these briefings. Rau later circulated a targeted questionnaire on certain areas of the federal constitution in March 1947, as well as occasional focused notes to relevant committees.

Preparation of Memorandum by the Advisor based on responses; Submission of notes by certain members (February-November 1947)

Rau drafted his Memorandum based on responses to his briefs and questionnaires, which provided blueprints for possible provisions of the impending constitution. Certain members elected to send their own personal notes to be read before Assembly committees.

Deliberations in Principal Committees, including joint and sub-committees, and their Reports (February-August 1947)

The Assembly’s Chairman established four major committees during its second session: the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities, Tribal Areas, and Excluded Areas, the Provincial Constitution Committee, the Union Constitution Committee, and the Union Powers Committee. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel chaired the first two committees, while Nehru chaired the latter two. These committees completed the majority of their work by August 1947, however, the first committee’s work continued for an extended period due to minority concerns.

While the partition is frequently given as a justification for delay, the critical statement was made on June 3, 1947, and these key committees were charged with completing their work by April-May 1947.

Discussion on Reports in Constituent Assembly and adoption of principles (April-Aug. 1947)

The Assembly deliberated extensively on the recommendations of the key committees and endorsed their ideas. These debates encompassed more than two-thirds of the final constitution bill.

Preparation of First Draft by Constitutional Advisor (July-October 1947)

The Constitutional Advisor began assembling the first draft of the constitution by coordinating the previously debated and adopted reports. He also supplemented it by filling evident holes himself through suggestions or by indicating certain places that would be filled only when sectoral committee reports were received. This was the first significant delay in completing the job, as the first draught missed the August-September deadline and came on October 27, 1947.

Final Voting

1. Discussions and voting in meetings of Congress Assembly Party, held in Constitution House (October 1948-November 1949)

Due to the Assembly’s predominance of Congress representatives, the party whip had a significant influence. Individual members, on the other hand, expressed their views in the Assembly, even at the risk of challenging the party whip. Assembly Party gatherings were open to all interested non-congressmen. The Party took cautious not to impose rigid discipline on emotive topics and encouraged open discussion in the Assembly, but practically every component of the constitution was ultimately decided here. Due to the size of the Constitution Bill, the party whip distributed mimeographed lists of the Articles and the choices made on them to all members.

2. Discussion and voting on Draft Constitution and amendments, in the Assembly (November 4, 1948 –October 17, 1949)

The most prominent aspect of the constitution-making process was the year-long debates in the Assembly. This was referred to as the first reading in official documents. The discussion was not always held in the sequential sequence in which the draught constitution’s articles were arranged, but was determined by the Steering Committee. At the voting, the Assembly adopted a very small number of unauthorized modifications.

Even if they are not withdrawn, they are frequently ruled invalid. Several of the unofficial amendments were approved during the debate by the Drafting Committee and hence were not voted on. KM Munshi was instrumental in maintaining a consistent relationship between the Drafting Committee and the Congress Assembly Party.

3. Preparation of so-called Final Draft, by Drafting Committee (November 3, 1949)

The Assembly’s deliberations were fairly ad hoc, not following the Draft Constitution’s sequential order. Numerous issues that had been resolved following discussion and vote were revisited for deliberation, and frequently, drafting revisions were left to the Drafting Committee.

It was self-evident that a clean draught was required, and the Drafting Committee thus presented one. As a result, the committee introduced several unauthorized revisions that required Assembly consideration and approval. Individual members got it on or about November 6, 1949, and were invited to propose adjustments to these new alterations.

4. Discussion for three days and final voting for amendment of certain clauses (November 14-16, 1949)

Officially referred to as the second reading of the constitution bill, this period saw the introduction of 170 modifications. Only 88 applications were approved, 30 were withdrawn, and 52 were rejected. With this, the actual work of drafting the Constitution was completed.

5. Discussion on ‘settled-by-Assembly’ version of Constitution Bill (November 17-26 1949)

This marked the start of a largely ceremonial period dubbed third-reading. The discussion that occurred saw the majority of the speakers (more than 100) express their views on the Constitution’s virtues and weaknesses. Finally, Dr. Ambedkar and the Assembly’s President expressed their views.

6. Final adoption, enactment through signing by Chairman of Assembly; and partial commencement (November 26, 1949)

The Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution following the most recent vote on it. The President of the Assembly signed a copy of the Constitution, bringing it into force officially, however only 16 of the 395 Articles did so at the time.

7. Signing of calligraphed version of the Constitution by all members of Assembly (January 24, 1950)

The day’s proceedings began with the President of the Assembly announcing his election as President of India. The Constitution was then signed by all members in three versions: the English print version and the calligraphed English and Hindi versions. Nehru was the first to sign these copies, and Prasad was the last.

8. Formal Commencement (January 26, 1950)

According to the Constitution’s provisions, it officially began in January 1950, bringing it into full force. This date was very certainly chosen to commemorate Nehru’s 1929 declaration of ‘Poorna Swaraj’ (Total Independence) at a Congress annual session in Lahore. For many years, Congress observed this day as Independence Day, but circumstances (including the abrupt decision of British authorities to give independence) changed that to Republic Day.

Criticism of the Constituent Assembly

  • Not a Representative Body – Members were not chosen directly by the Indian people under the universal adult franchise.
  • Not a Sovereign Body — Established on the British Government’s initiative, and the assembly met with the approval of the British Government.
  • Time Consuming – The Constituent Assembly took a long time to draught the Constitution, but the writers of the American Constitution completed their job in only four months.
  • Dominated by Congress – Congress dominated the Constituent Assembly because it was the largest party and governed the majority of provinces. ‘The Constituent Assembly was a one-party assembly in an essentially one-party republic,’ noted British constitutional analyst Granville Austin. The Assembly functioned as the Congress, and the Congress functioned as India.’
  • Hindu Dominance – The Constituent Assembly was predominately composed of Hindus. Lord Viscount Simon referred to it as ‘a a Hindu body’. Winston Churchill, likewise, stated that the Constituent Assembly represented ‘just one large community in India’.
  • Lawyer–Politician Dominations–The Constituent Assembly was dominated by lawyers and politicians, with other segments of society being underrepresented. This was the primary cause for the Constitution’s length and complexity of wording.