The Indian national congress had officially, for the first time, demanded a constituent assembly in 1935, the idea was the brainchild of M.N Roy. The British government accepted the demand in the ‘August Offer’ of 1940 and finally ‘the Cripps Proposal’ on the framing of constitution came out in 1942.
Under the ‘cabinet mission plan’ the constituent assembly came into existence in November, 1946.
Its main features were:
1. Total strength=389.
Out of these 296 were allotted to British-India and 93 to Princely states.
2. Every province and Princely state was allotted seats in proportion to their population.
3. The seats for British were divided among Muslims, Sikhs and General.
4. The representatives from each community were elected by voting in the provincial legislative assembly.
5. The heads of Princely states nominated their members.
The elections were held in July-August, 1946.
• INC won208 seats.
• Muslim league won 73 seats.
• Small groups and independents won 15 seats.
• The first meeting was held on December 9, 1946 with only 211 members (Muslim league boycotted).
• Princely states decided to stay away so their seats remained vacant.
However, after the acceptance of Mountbatten plan on June 3, 1947 most of the Princely states joined. The other significant changes were declaring the assembly to be a fully sovereign body and also a legislative body.
The constituent assembly drafted the constitution and also:
• Ratified India’s membership of the commonwealth in May 1949.
• Adopted the national flag on July 22, 1947.
• Adopted the national song on January 24, 1950.
• Adopted the national anthem January 24, 1950.
• Elected Dr. Rajendra Prasad as the first President of India on January 24, 1950.
There constituent assembly contained many committees for various purposes such as House committee, Rules of Procedure committee etc. but the most important of these was the drafting committee.
It was setup on August 29, 1947 and was tasked with preparing a draft of the new constitution.
The seven members of the committee were:
1. Dr. B R Ambedkar (Chairman)
2. N Gopalaswamy Ayyangar
3. Dr. K M Munshi
4. T T Krishnamachari
5. Syed Mohammmad Sadullah
6. N Madhav Rau
7. Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar
The first draft of the constitution was published in February, 1948. The people had eight months to discuss the draft. After discussions, suggestions and proposed amendments were considered and a second draft was prepared by the assembly. The second draft was published in October, 1948. The drafting committee met for a total of 141 days and took less than six months to prepare its draft.
Enactment and enforcement of the constitution took place on November 26, 1949 and January 26, 1950, respectively. However, some parts had come into force on 26 November, 1949 itself with the passing of the motion ‘the constitution as settled by the assembly be passed’.
There are a few grounds on which the critics evaluate the constituent assembly. These are:
1. Some argued that the constituent assembly was not a representative body since its members were not directly elected by the people of India which should have been valid on the basis of a universal adult franchise.
2. Critics also suggested that the constituent assembly was not a sovereign body since it was created by the British government and also held its sessions with the government’s permission.
3. Granville Austin called the constituent assembly a ‘one party body in a one party-country’. Critics sharing his ideas believed the assembly was dominated by the congress.
4. Some critics called it an all Hindu body. They argued that it represented only the major community of the country.