A Constituent Assembly for India was first argued for in 1934 by M.N. Roy, who was amongst the pioneers of the Communist movement in India. The Indian National Congress, later in 1935, officially demanded the same to frame the Indian Constitution.
Finally, in 1940, the British Government provisionally accepted the demand for a Constituent Assembly through the ‘August Offer’. In November 1946, the Constituent Assembly of India was established based on the provisions laid under the Cabinet Mission Plan.
Features of the Cabinet Mission Plan
The Constituent Assembly of India was composed according to the cabinet mission plan that had the following features:
The total strength of the assembly was proposed to be 389, including 296 seats for British India and 93 for the princely states.
The allocation of seats to the princely states was to be done in proportion to their respective population.
Each British Province was to have a division of seats in proportion to the population of the three major communities: Muslims, Sikhs and General (it included communities other than Sikhs and Muslims).
Each community would be represented by its members in the Provincial Legislative Assembly. Further, the representatives were to be chosen through voting using the proportional representation method by a single transferable vote.
The heads of the princely states would nominate their representatives.
The elections were held for the seats reserved for British India in July-August 1946. The Indian National Congress won 208 seats, while the Muslim League got 73 seats and the remaining seats went to independents and small groups. Initially, the princely states stayed away from the constituent assembly, but they joined in due time.
Working of the Constituent Assembly of India
You can understand the hierarchical working of the constituent assembly from the following pointers:
The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly took place on December 9, 1946. It was boycotted by the Muslim League that was adamant on a separate state of Pakistan. Therefore, only 211 members attended the first meeting.
The assembly elected Dr. Sachidanand Sinha as its temporary president. He was also the oldest amongst all members of the Constituent Assembly of India.
Dr Rajendra Prasad was later elected as the president of the Constituent Assembly.
Though there was only one president, the assembly had two vice presidents in H.C. Mukherjee and V.T. Krishnamachari.
The famous ‘Objectives Resolution’ was moved by Jawahar Lal Nehru in the Constituent Assembly of India on December 13, 1946.
The Indian Independence Act of 1947
There were three changes brought by The Indian Independence Act 1947 to the Constitution Assembly:
It made the Constituent Assembly of India a fully sovereign body and gave it the authority to repeal any law made by the British parliament concerning India.
The Act converted the Constituent Assembly into a Legislative Assembly and assigned it two significant functions. The first was to draft the Indian Constitution, and the second was to make ordinary laws for the country. In essence, the Indian Independence Act made the Constituent Assembly the first Parliament of India.
It reduced the strength of the Constituent Assembly from 389 to 299 because the Muslim League members, hailing from areas included in Pakistan, withdrew from the assembly.
Other functions performed by the Constituent Assembly
Besides performing the two functions assigned to it by the Indian Independence Act 1947, the assembly also gave effect to the following:
Ratification of India’s membership to the Commonwealth in May 1949.
the Indian flag on July 22, 1947
the National Song and the National Anthem on January 24, 1950
Election of the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, on January 24, 1950.
Committees of the Constituent Assembly
Since the task of drafting the Constitution was enormous, the Constituent Assembly created many committees. Some of the major and minor committees are mentioned in the following table, alongside their chairman.
Criticism of the Constituent Assembly of India
The Constituent Assembly has been criticised on the following grounds:
The Constituent Assembly took a lot of time drafting the Constitution of India.
It was not a representative body as the assembly’s members were not chosen based on the universal adult franchise by the people of India.
The assembly was heavily dominated by Congress, lawyers and politicians.
It represented only one major community, the Hindus.
It took a lot of effort to draft a Constitution for the Indian Republic. The makers did not want to rush it and deliberated about the same in the Constituent Assembly for years. The assembly held its initial session in December 1946 and the last one in November 1949. However, it met again on January 24, 1950, when members of the Constituent Assembly of India signed and formally consented to the Constitution of India.
The debates held in the assembly were intense and contradictory, yet constructive and meaningful. It is suggested to read about the constituent assembly debates to cover the topic holistically.