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Framing The Constitution | Class 12 History Notes

The chapter introduces the students to the time when the constitution of India was being framed, it talks about the constituent assembly and its members. The chapter states what type of constitution was needed and what were the visions that were supposed to be present in an ideal constitution. We also highlight the major role players like BR Ambedkar and Raghunath Vinayak Dhulekar etc.


Framing The Indian Constitution

An Introduction

The Constituent Assembly produced the constitution, which was signed on January 26, 1950.

Between December 1946 and December 1949, India's Constitution was drafted. The assembly met for 11 sessions over the course of 165 days.

India became independent on August 15, 1947, yet it was also split. In addition, there were major protests by workers and labourers in many sections of the country. The degree of Hindu-Muslim solidarity displayed by this mass movement was one of its most striking elements.

The Congress and the Muslim League, India's two most powerful political parties, had repeatedly failed to reach an agreement that would bring religious and social harmony to the country.

The August 1946 'Great Calcutta Killings' kicked off a year of near-constant rioting in northern and eastern India.

When India's partition was announced, the violence culminated in the killings that preceded the population transfer.

On the one hand, there was a fear of unexpected death or the squeezing of opportunities, and on the other hand, there was a forcible breaking away from their age-old roots among Hindus and Muslims on both sides.

Millions of refugees fled to East and West Pakistan, while Hindus and Sikhs fled to West Bengal and Punjab's eastern part.

Another important issue was the integration of princely states, which controlled around one-third of the subcontinent's land area. These states were autonomous, and following the partition, some of them desired to maintain their independence.

The Making of The Constituent Assembly

The members were chosen on the basis of the provincial election of 1946. It comprised the members of the provinces of British India & also the members from the princely states. There were 300 members in the assembly.

The Muslim League boycotted the early sittings of the meetings. Hence, 82 per cent of the members of the assembly were members of the Congress party.

The Congress was itself a broad front; these members held a wide range of views. Some were atheists and secularists; others (in the words of an Anglo-Indian member, Frank Anthony) were “technically members of the Congress but spiritually members of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha”.

Some were socialists in their economic philosophy, others defenders of the rights of landlords.

Congress also nominated independent members of different castes and religious groups and tried to ensure the representation of women.

The discussions within the Constituent Assembly were also influenced by the opinions expressed by the public.

As the deliberations continued, the arguments were reported in newspapers, and the proposals were publicly debated. Criticisms and counter-criticism in the press in turn shaped the nature of the consensus that was ultimately reached on specific issues.

In order to create a sense of collective participation, the public was also asked for submissions.

The All India Varnashrama Swarajya Sangh (based in Calcutta) asked that the Constitution “be based on the principles laid down in ancient Hindu works”.

The ban on abattoirs was particularly recommended. Low-caste groups demanded an end to “ill-treatment by upper-caste people” and “reservation of separate seats on the basis of their population, in legislatures, government departments, and local bodies, etc.

Also, the linguistic minorities asked for “freedom of speech and the “redistribution of provinces on a linguistic basis.

Religious minorities demanded more protection. And organisations as diverse as the 'Vizianagaram District Teachers' Guild and the Central Jewish Board of Bombay demanded "appropriate representation on all public bodies, including legislatures and other bodies."

List some of the dominant voices of the assembly?

The Constituent Assembly had 300 members in total. Six of them had highly important responsibilities to play. The Congress party included Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabh Bhai Patel, and Rajendra Prasad.

Nehru was the one who proposed a "horizontal tricolour of saffron, white, and dark green in equal proportions" with a navy blue wheel in the centre, as well as the critical "Objectives Resolution."

V. B. Patel, on the other hand, mostly worked behind the scenes, assisting in the preparation of numerous reports and striving to reconcile opposing opinions.

As President of the Assembly, Rajendra Prasad's job was to steer the debate in a good direction while ensuring that all members had a chance to speak.

A key member of the Assembly was B.R. Ambedkar, a lawyer and economist.

During the British government, Ambedkar was a political opponent of the Congress, but after Independence, on Mahatma Gandhi's recommendation, he was asked to join the Union Cabinet as a law minister.

He was the Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Drafting. K.M. Munshi of Gujarat and Alladi Krishnaswamy Aiyar of Madras accompanied him and made substantial contributions to the Constitution's formation.

Two civil servants were instrumental in assisting these six individuals. India's Constitutional Advisor, B. N. Rau wrote a series of background papers based on a comprehensive assessment of other countries' political systems.

The other was Chief Draughtsman, S. N Mukherjee.

Although the process required eleven large volumes, it was both time-consuming and fascinating.

The Constituent Assembly's members were articulate in expressing their frequently radically opposing ideas.

In their presentations, they discuss a variety of contrasting viewpoints on India, including what language Indians should use, what political and economic systems the country should adopt, and what moral standards its citizens should maintain or relinquish.

The Vision of the Constitution

Jawahar Lal Nehru presented “The Objective Resolution” to the constituent assembly on December 13, 1946.

It was a historic resolution that described the Constitution of Independent India's defining ideas and established the framework within which the constitution-making process would take place.

It declared India an "Independent Sovereign Republic," promising justice, equality, and freedom to its population, as well as "sufficient safeguards" for minorities, backward and tribal territories, and Depressed and Other Backward Classes.

In returning to the past and referring to the American and French Revolutions, Nehru was locating the history of constitution-making in India within a longer history of struggle for liberty and freedom.

The momentous nature of the Indian project was emphasised by linking it to revolutionary moments in the past. Nehru was not suggesting that those events were to provide any blueprint for the present; or that the ideas of those revolutions could be mechanically borrowed and applied in India.

He did not define the specific form of democracy and suggested that this had to be decided through deliberations.

He stressed that the ideals and provisions of the constitution introduced in India could not be just derived from elsewhere “We are not going just to copy”, he said.

It was necessary to learn from the people of the West, from their achievements and failures, but the Western nations too had to learn from experiments elsewhere, they too had to change their own notions of democracy.

The objective of the Indian Constitution would be to fuse the liberal ideas of democracy with the socialist idea of economic justice and re-adapt and re-work all these ideas within the Indian context.

The Will of The People

Somnath Lahiri, a Communist in the Constituent Assembly, sensed the shadow of British imperialism over their work. As a result, he exhorted the group's members, as well as Indians in general, to break free of imperial authority.

The British were still in India during the Assembly's deliberations in the winter of 1946-47. Even though Jawaharlal Nehru was in charge of an interim government, it could only work with the Viceroy and the British government in London as guidance.

According to Lahiri, the Constituent Assembly was crafted by the British and was "working the British designs as the British should like it to be worked out.

Nationalist leaders, Nehru conceded, desired a different form of Constituent Assembly than the one he had proposed.

Furthermore, it was true that the British Government had played a role in the Assembly's creation by attaching restrictions to its operation.

The desires of people who had taken part in the independence movement were supposed to be expressed through the Constituent Assembly.

Since the nineteenth century, democratic, equitable, and just societies in India have been closely identified with these values.

It was out of a desire for social fairness that nineteenth-century social reformers fought against child marriage and urged that widows be permitted to remarry. Swami Vivekananda pushed for Hinduism's reform because he wanted it to be a more equitable religion.

Workers and peasants in Maharashtra, such as Jyotiba Phule, demanded economic and social justice by drawing attention to the plight of depressed castes.

It was inevitable that the national movement against a tyrannical and illegitimate regime would be one for democracy and justice, for people's rights and equality. Due to an increase in demand for representation, the British government was obliged to make a number of constitutional changes.

Indian participation in provincial administrations gradually expanded as a result of a number of Acts (1909, 1919, and 1935).

In 1919, the executive was made partially accountable to the provincial legislature; by 1935, this was nearly totally the case. In 1937, following elections mandated by the 1935 Act, Congress took control of eight of the country's 11 provinces.

Indians did not personally discuss or develop any of the earlier constitutional experiments, which were in reaction to the growing demand for a representative government.

The colonial authority put them in place. Even though the electorate that chose provincial organisations had grown over time, the adult franchise remained a privilege only available to 10 to 15 percent of the adult population in 1935.

In the context of colonial authority, the legislatures elected under the 1935 Act were accountable to the British-appointed Governor.

On December 13, 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru attempted to sketch forth a vision of an independent, sovereign India through the formulation of the Indian Constitution.

Defining Rights

The constituent assembly's main concern was defining what it meant to be right.

Nehru had evoked the "will of the people" in his inaugural speech, declaring that the framers of the Constitution had to fulfil "the desires that lurk in the hearts of the masses."

This wasn't a simple task. In the run-up to independence, various groups expressed their desire in a variety of ways and made a variety of demands. Before an agreement could be reached, these would have to be contested and contradictory perspectives resolved.

What were problems with the separate electorates?

B. Pocker Bahadur of Madras made a convincing case for the continuation of distinct electorates on August 27, 1947.

Minorities exist in all countries, he continued, and they can't be wished away or "erased out of existence."

It was necessary to establish a political framework in which minorities could live in peace with others and community differences could be minimised. Separate electorates are the only way to ensure that Muslims have a genuine say in the country's government.

Bahadur believed that non-Muslims could not fully comprehend the requirements of Muslims, and that a legitimate representative of Muslims could not be chosen by those who did not belong to that community.

Most nationalists were outraged and disappointed by this demand for separate electorates. Separate electorates were viewed by most nationalists as a deliberate effort by the British to divide the people.

In the opinion of Govind Ballabh Pant, it was harmful to the nation as well as to minorities.

He agreed with Bahadur that the level of trust that a democracy instils in different groups of people can be used to measure its success.

As long as we're living in a free state where everyone is treated with respect, the majority community has an obligation to understand and sympathise with minorities' problems and aspirations. This includes "not only his material wants, but also his spiritual sense of self-respect".

Separate electorates, on the other hand, were opposed by Pant.

Isolating minorities and making them vulnerable was a suicidal demand that would deny them a meaningful role in government.

However, citizens will be granted certain freedoms under the Constitution if they agree to serve the state.

Cultural rights can be guaranteed to communities that are recognised as cultural entities. However, in order to avoid splintered loyalties, all citizens of the State were required to act as equals within the State.

"Not all Muslims backed the call for separate electorates. Begum Aizaas Rasul argues that segregated electorates are destructive because they separate minorities from the majority.

By 1949, the vast majority of Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly had come to the conclusion that separate electorates were harmful to the interests of minorities. When it came to ensuring they had a strong political voice, Muslims took an active role in the democratic process.

More Than A Resolution

N.G. Ranga, a socialist and former leader of the peasant movement, argued that the term "minorities" should be construed economically.

He saw the poor and oppressed as the true minorities in society. He praised the Constitution for the newfound legal protections it provided, but he also emphasised the limitations of those protections.

According to him, it made no difference to the poor people in the villages if they knew they now had the fundamental right to live and full employment, or if they could hold their meetings, conferences, associations, and other forms of civil liberties.

To whom the Assembly was supposed to represent?

The people who make up the bulk of our population. The majority of the people in the assembly, on the other hand, were not a part of the masses.

The members in the assembly were the trustees and advocates of the people.

How were the rights of the Depressed Castes to be defined by the Constitution?

During the national movement, Ambedkar called for separate electorates for the Depressed Castes, which Mahatma Gandhi opposed, claiming that doing so would permanently separate them from the rest of society.

Some Depressed Castes members emphasised that protection and safeguards alone could not solve the “Untouchables” problem.

Caste society's social norms and moral values caused their disabilities. Society used their labour but kept them at a social distance, refusing to mix, dine, or let them into temples.

“We have suffered, but we are ready to stop,” said Madras resident J. Nagappa. Our responsibilities are clear. We can assert ourselves.” Nagappa noted that the Depressed Castes were not a minority, constituting 20-25% of the total population.

This was not due to their numerical insignificance. They had no access to education or power.

This is the job. He too abandoned separate electorates after the Partition violence.

The Constituent Assembly finally recommended abolishing untouchability, opening Hindu temples to all castes, and reserving legislative seats and government jobs for the lowest castes.

Many recognised that this could not solve all issues: social discrimination had to be eradicated through social change. But the democratic public praised the measures.

The Powers Of The State

The rights of the Central Government and the States were hotly debated in the Constituent Assembly. Jawaharlal Nehru argued for a strong Centre. The provision of a weak central authority incapable of ensuring peace, coordinating vital matters of common concern, and effectively speaking for the entire country in international forums would be detrimental to the country's interests.

The Union, State, and Concurrent lists of subjects. The first list was reserved for the Centre, while the second was for the States. Third list: Centre and state responsibility shared.

Some items were placed under Union control exclusively, while others were placed on the Concurrent list, contrary to province wishes. The Union ruled minerals and key industries, too. Article 356 also empowered the Centre to take over a state administration on the Governor's recommendation.

The Constitution required a complex fiscal federalism system. In some cases (like customs duties and company taxes), the Centre kept all the revenue; in others (like income tax and excise duties), it split it with the states; and in still others (like estate duties), it gave it all to the states.

Taxes levied by the states included land and property taxes, sales taxes, and the highly profitable tax on bottled liquor.

Redistribution Of Power

K. Santhanam from Madras eloquently defended state rights. He believed that redistributing power would strengthen both the states and the Centre.

“It's almost an obsession to strengthen the Centre by giving it more powers.” This was a mistake, Santhanam said.

The Centre could not function properly if it was overburdened. The Centre could be strengthened by transferring some of its functions to the states.

Santhanam felt the proposed power sharing would cripple the states.

Fiscal provisions would impoverish provinces as most taxes, except land revenue, would be centralised.

The argument for more provincial power drew a strong reaction in the Assembly. Since the Constituent Assembly's inception, the need for a strong centre has been emphasised.

“A strong and united Centre (hear, hear) much stronger than the Centre we created under the Government of India Act of 1935,” Ambedkar declared. Reminding the members of the nation's riots and violence, many members stated that the Centre's powers needed to be greatly strengthened to stop the communal frenzy.

In response to provincial demands for power, Gopalaswami Ayyangar declared that “the Centre should be strengthened”.

Balakrishna Sharma, from the United Provinces, argued that only a strong central government could plan for the country's future, mobilise economic resources, establish a proper administration, and defend it against foreign aggression.

Before Partition, Congress agreed to give the provinces considerable autonomy. This was done to reassure the Muslim League that the Centre would not interfere in their provinces.

After Partition, most nationalists changed their minds because they felt the political pressures for decentralisation had gone.

The colonial government imposed a unitary system. The era's violence pushed centralisation, seen as necessary to avoid chaos and plan for the country's economic development.

The Constitution thus favoured the rights of the Union of India over those of its states.

The Language Of The Nation

The Congress had accepted Hindustani as the national language by the 1930s. Mahatma Gandhi believed that everyone should speak in plain English. Hindustani, a composite language enriched by the interaction of diverse cultures, was widely spoken in India.

As it had evolved over time, it was understood by people from all over the world. This multicultural language, Mahatma Gandhi believed, could unite Hindus and Muslims, as well as people from the north and south.

Hindustani as a language had been changing since the late nineteenth century.

As communal strife grew, Hindi and Urdu grew apart.

On one hand, there was a push to Sanskritized Hindi, removing all Persian and Arabic words.

Conversely, Urdu was becoming more Persian. As a result, language became linked to religious identity politics. But Mahatma Gandhi believed in Hindustani's composite character.

A Plea for Hindi

R. V. Dhulekar, a Congressman from the United Provinces, argued forcefully for the use of Hindi as the language of the constitution-making process.

On 12 September 1947, almost three years later, Dhulekar's speech on national language sparked another huge storm.

The Constituent Assembly's Language Committee had already reported and proposed a compromise solution to end the debate over Hindi as the national language.

  • Hindi in Devanagari script would be the official language, but that the transition would be gradual. For the first fifteen years, English would be the official language. Each province would be able to use one of the regional languages for official purposes.

  • The Language Committee of the Constituent Assembly hoped to soothe ruffled emotions by referring to Hindi as the official rather than the national language.

  • Dhulekar disliked such a reconciliatory attitude. He wanted Hindi to be a National Language, not an Official Language. He mocked those who said, in the name of Mahatma Gandhi, that Hindustani rather than Hindi should be the national language.

The Fear of Domination

Shrimati G. Durgabai from Madras expressed her concerns about the discussion a day after Dhulekar spoke: Mr President, the question of national language for India has recently become a highly contentious issue.

Non-Hindi speakers have been made to believe that this fight is a fight to prevent the natural influence of other powerful Indian languages on the nation's composite culture.

He told the House that opposition to Hindi in the south was fierce: “The opponents feel perhaps rightly that this Hindi propaganda cuts at the very root of provincial languages...”

But she, like many others, had heeded Mahatma Gandhi's call and spread Hindi propaganda in the south, overcoming opposition, opening schools and teaching Hindi.

T. A. Ramalingam Chettiar of Madras emphasised that anything done had to be done with caution; pushing Hindi too hard would harm its cause.


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