It was a demand from the Indian National Congress, voiced formally in 1934, that the Indian people shall draft their constitution rather than the British Parliament. The Congress thus rejected the White Paper circulated by the colonial government. The founding principle that Indians shall make their own constitution was laid down by Gandhi as early as in 1922. Gandhi had held that rather than a gift of the British Parliament, swaraj must spring from ‘the wishes of the people of India as expressed through their freely chosen representatives’. Elections were held, based on the 1935 Act, to the Provincial Assemblies in August 1946. These elected assemblies in turn were to elect the Central Assembly, which would also become the Constituent Assembly.
The voters in the July 1946 elections to the provinces were Making of the Constitution It was a demand from the Indian National Congress, voiced formally in 1934, that the Indian people shall draft their constitution rather than the British Parliament. T he Congress thus rejected the White Paper circulated by the colonial government. The founding principle that Indians shall make their own constitution was laid down by Gandhi as early as in 1922. Gandhi had held that rather than a gift of the British Parliament, swaraj must spring from ‘the wishes of the people of India as expressed through their freely chosen representatives’. Elections were held, based on the 1935 Act, to the Provincial Assemblies in August 1946. These elected assemblies in turn were to elect the Central Assembly, which would also become the Constituent Assembly.
The voters in the July 1946 elections to the provinces were those who owned property – the principle of universal adult franchise was still a far cry. The results revealed the Muslim League’s command in Muslim majority constituencies while the Indian National Congress swept the elections elsewhere. The League decided to stay away from the Constitution making process and pressed hard for a separate nation. The Congress went for the Constituent assembly. T he elected members of the various Provincial assemblies voted nominees of the Congress to the Constituent Assembly.
The Constituent Assembly (224 seats) that came into being, though dominated by the Congress, also included smaller outfits such as the communists, socialists and others. The Congress ensured the election of Dr B.R. Ambedkar from a seat in Bombay and subsequently elected him chairman of the drafting committee. Apart from electing its own stalwarts to the Assembly, the Congress leadership made it a point to send leading constitutional lawyers. T his was to make a constitution that contained the idealism that marked the freedom struggle and the meaning of swaraj, as specified in the Fundamental Rights Resolution passed by the Indian National Congress at its Karachi session (March 1931). This, indeed, laid the basis for the making of our constitution a document conveying an article of faith guaranteeing to the citizens a set of fundamental rights as much as a set of directive principles of state policy. T he constitution also committed the nation to the principle of universal adult franchise, and an autonomous election commission.
The constitution also underscored the independence of the judiciary as much as it laid down sovereign law-making powers with the representatives of the people. T he members of the constituent assembly were not averse to learn and pick up features from the constitutions from all over the world; and at the same time they were clear that the exercise was not about copying provisions from the various constitutions from across the world. Jawaharlal Nehru set the ball rolling, on December 13, 1946, by placing the Objectives Resolution before the Constituent Assembly. T he assembly was convened for the first time,on December 9, 1946. Rajendra Prasad was elected chairman of the House. T he Objectives Resolution is indeed the most concise introduction to the spirit and the contents of the Constitution of India. The importance of this resolution can be understood if we see the Preamble to the Constitution and the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in it and as adopted on November 26, 1949. Rajendra Prasad Constituent Assembly in Session T he Constitution of India, thus, marked a new beginning and yet established continuity with India’s past. The Fundamental Rights drew everything from clause 5 of the Objectives Resolution as much as from the rights enlisted by the Indian National Congress at its Karachi session (discussed in Lesson 5). The spirit of the Constitution was drawn from the experience of the struggle for freedom and the legal language from the Objectives Resolution and most importantly from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), promulgated by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.
Merger of Princely States
The adoption of the Constitution on November 26, 1949 was only the beginning of a bold new experiment by the infant nation. There were a host of other challenges that the nation and its leaders faced and they had to be addressed even while the Constituent Assembly met and started its job of drafting independent India’s constitution. Among them was the integration of the Indian States or the Princely States.
The task of integrating the Princely States into the Indian Union was achieved with such speed that by August 15, 1947, except Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad, all had agreed to sign an Instrument of Accession with India, acknowledging its central authority over Defence, External Affairs and Communications. T he task of integrating these states, with one or the other Provinces of the Indian Union was accomplished with ease.
The resolution passed at the All India States People’s Conference (December 1945 and April 1947) that states refusing to join the Constituent Assembly would be treated as hostile was enough to get the rulers to sign the Instrument of Accession in most cases. There was the offer of a generous privy purse to the princes. The rapid unification of India was ably handled and achieved by Sardar Vallabhai Patel, who as Home Minister in the Interim Cabinet was also entrusted with the States Ministry for this purpose.
The People’s Movements exerted pressure on the princes to accede to the Indian union. T he long, militant struggle that went on in the Travancore State for Responsible Government culminating in the Punnapra–Vayalar armed struggle against the Diwan, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy, the Praja Mandal as well as some tribal agitations that took place in the Orissa region – Nilagiri, Dhenkanal and Talcher – and the movement against the Maharaja of Mysore conducted by the Indian National Congress all played a major role in the integration of Princely States.
Instrument of Accession:
A legal document, introduced in Government of India Act, 1935, which was later used in the context of Partition enabling Indian rulers to accede their state to either India or Pakistan. Yet, there was the problem posed by the recalcitrant ruler of Hyderabad, with the Nizam declaring his kingdom as independent. The ruler of Junagadh wanted to join Pakistan, much against the wishes of the people. Similarly, the Hindu ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, declared that Kashmir would remain independent while the people of the State under the leadership of the National Conference had waged a “Quit Kashmir” agitation against the Maharaja.
It must be stressed here that the movement in Kashmir as well as the other Princely States were also against the decadent practice of feudal land and social relations that prevailed there. “The police action” executed in Hyderabad within 48 hours after the Nizam declared his intentions demonstrated that India meant business. It was the popular anger against the Nizam and his militia, known as the Razakkars, that was manifest in the Telengana people’s movement led by the communists there which provided the legitimacy to “the police action”. Vallabhbhai Patel Though Patel had been negotiating with the Maharaja of Kashmir since 1946, Hari Singh was opposed to accession. However, in a few months after independence – in October 1947 – marauders from Pakistan raided Kashmir and there was no way that Maharaja Hari Singh could resist this attack on his own.
Before India went to his rescue the Instrument of Accession was signed by him at the instance of Patel. Thus Kashmir too became an integral part of the Indian Union. This process and the commitment of the leaders of independent India to the concerns of the people of Kashmir led the Constituent Assembly to provide for autonomous status to the State of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution.