What is the composition and functions of Constituent Assembly?

The Cripps Proposals of 1942 though rejected by the Congress is unacceptable had one redeeming feature is that it ceded the request of Indians to frame their own constitution through a Constituent Assembly. On March 15 1946 the Cabinet Mission came to India and in the course of, its stay, recommended the forming of (a) the Constituent Assembly an Interim Government.

It was decided that the Constituent Assembly was to be elected indirectly by the Provincial Assemblies. According to the plan the provinces of British India were, grouped into A, B and C. Each province was allotted seats on the basis of population in the ratio of one member for a million. The seats given to a province were decided among three communities on the basis of their number, the three communities being the Muslims, Sikhs and general including Hindus -and all others who were not, Muslims and Sikhs. The Indian states were also to be given adequate representation not exceeding 93 members.

The elections to the Constituent Assembly were held in July 1946. The Indian National Congress won 202 out of 210 general seats while the Muslim League got 73 out of 78 seats reserved for the Muslims. The Assembly was however not able to start its work immediately as Jinnah withdrew his acceptance and caused the Muslim League to boycott it. The Congress went ahead with its plan and appointed an expert committee to draft fundamental rights and arrange an early session of the Assembly.

The party also accepted the Viceroy's invitation to form an interim govt. with Nehru as Prime Minister. The League refused to join the government and continued to ignore the Assembly. A compromise between the League and the Congress could not be worked out.

The League felt that if it pressed for a separate state for Muslims it would ultimately get it. And the British Government's periodic statements were ambigious enough to encourage the League in its thinking so. A statement issued by the British Govt. in Dec. 6. 1946 said that if the Constituent Assembly did not have representation a from a large section of the Indian population a constitution framed by such an Assembly would not be forced on any unwilling part of the country. It appeared as if the British-were admitting the possibility of more than one Constituent. Assembly first met on December 9, 1946. The representatives of the Muslim League stayed away and only 211 members were at the meeting. Then about one fourth of the nation was unrepresented. The League obviously felt that such a challenge to the legitimacy of the Assembly could not be ignored by the British.

Composition

The Constituent Assembly was indirectly elected by the Provincial Assemblies which themselves were elected in the basis of a limited franchise established by "the Government of India Act of 1,935. The 1935 Act imposed qualification on the basis of tax property and education. This kept' out more than 70% of the adult population from the voting.

Their Constituent Assembly then reflected the composition of the: Provincial Assemblies in which the Congress had a comfortable majority, indeed, some members of the Constituent Assembly were not satisfied that the Assembly had a truly representative character and wanted a new Constituent Assembly to be convene on the basis of universal adult franchise.

The Congress however was not in favor of this procedure which it felt would prove slow-and difficult to follow in the conditions- existing in the country at that time. The Congress in its own way had tried to broaden the representation in the Assembly to include different sections of the population, going beyond the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim grouping stipulated by the Cabinet Mission, the Congress Party sent; directions to the Provincial Legislatures to include representatives of Anglo Indians, Christian passes backward classes and Women. Thus all these sections found representation in the Constituent Assembly. Finally, when the elections were over the Constituent Assembly consisted of leading figures of the Congress party like Nehru, Patel, Pant, Rajendra Prasad, K.M. Munshi, C. Rajagopalachari and T.T. Krishnamachari etc.

After the partition representatives of Bengal, Punjab, Sind, North Western Frontier Province, Baluchistan and the Sylhet district of Assam were no longer to be members of the Constituent Assembly of India. There was a fresh election in the new provinces of West Bengal and East Punjab. So when the Constituent Assembly resembled on October 31, 1947 there were 299 members. 229 from the provinces and 70 from the states.

The composition of the Assembly reflected the different ideological views present in the country at that time. There were socialists, the" Marxian as well as the democratic variety. Both groups were opposed to private ownership of important means of production and wanted an equalitarian society, while the Marxian society wanted a revolutionary reconstruction, it was the more moderate group preferring peaceful parliamentary methods that held sway. Sardar Patel may be considered a leader of Rights views supporting private enterprise.

Work

When the Constituent Assembly first met on December 9, 1946 J.B. Kripalini, the then Congress President, proposed the name of Dr. Sachidananda for the post of the Provisional President. Later on December 11, Dr. Rajendra Prasad as elected as the President of the Constituent Assembly.

The Constituent Assembly appointed several committees for framing the constitution. Some of the important committees were (i) Union powers committee of members chaired by Jawaharlal Nehru. The committee on Fundamental Rights and minorities of 54 members chaired by Sardar Patel (ii) the committee on Union constitution of 15 members with Jawaharlal Nehru-as Chairman (iii) the provincial constitution committee of 25 members chaired by K.R. Munshi. These committees submitted their reports between April & August 1947. This draft contained 240 clauses and 13 schedules in order to consider the Draft constitution; a Drafting Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was set up.

The Drafting Committee prepared the first Draft of the constitution. This was then circulated for the comments of jurists, lawyers, judges and other public men. In the light of this criticism Drafting Committee prepared a second draft which consisted of 315 Articles and 9 Schedules. The second Draft was placed before the Constituent Assembly in Feb, 21-1948. The Draft was then considered clause by clause by the Assembly. The third reading commenced on Nov-14 and was finished on-' Nov-26, 1949. On this date the constitution received the signature of the President of the Assembly and was declared as passed. It had taken 2 years 11 months and 18 days to complete the task.

It must however be noted that while the formal centers of the work of drafting the constitution were no doubt the Constituent Assembly and Drafting Committee, the Congress leaders held the important powers of decision-making. In a way the Congress Working Committee was the real architect of the constitution in that most of the important decisions were arrived at on the basis of what the Congress leaders suggested. Granvile Austin points out those four men - Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad and Abul Kalam Azad - constituted a virtual oligarchy in the Assembly and dominated the proceedings by virtue of the prestige and power they enjoyed both in the Congress and in the Government.

The manner in which the Constituent Assembly arrived at decisions was that of consensus defined by Austin as manner of making decision by unanimity or near unanimity. An effort was made to smoothen differences and arrive at compromises and agreement. The objective was to overcome the biases and an element of overruling dissent, ingrained in" decision by majority. Some constitutional experts believe that accommodation would be a better word than consensus to describe the procedure adopted in the Constituent Assembly as-most of the decisions were those of the Congress Party. Issues which raised some heat before, compromises were arrived at included the center-state-relations, Judiciary role in interpreting the constitution, the entire constitution of balancing personal rights and national integrity, personal rights and the needs of socio economic development and the matter of special rights for minorities and depressed class.