Constituent Assembly

The idea of a constituent assembly was put forward for the first time by MN Roy. In 1935, the Indian National Congress (INC), for the first time, officially called for a constituent assembly to frame a constitution for India. In 1938, J Nehru made this emphatic statement regarding the constitution- ‘The constitution of free India must be framed, without outside interference, by a constituent assembly elected on the basis of adult franchise’

The demand for a constituent assembly was accepted for the first time by the British through their ‘August offer’ of 1940. Eventually, a constituent assembly was established under the provisions of the Cabinet Mission plan.


Composition of the council

  • It was constituted in 1946
  • Some of the important aspects related to this are:
  1. Total strength of the assembly: 389
  2. 296 seats for British India and 93 seats to princely states
  3. 292 seats allocated for British India were to be from eleven governor’s provinces and four from Chief commissioner’s provinces
  4. Seats were allocated based in proportion to their respective population.
  5. Seats allocated to each British province were to be decided among the three principal communities- Muslims, Sikhs and general
  6. Representatives of each communities were to be elected by members of that community in the provincial legislative assembly and voting was to be by the method of proportional representation by means of single transferrable vote
  7. Representatives of princely states were to be nominated by head of these princely states

Remember: Some observations regarding the composition:

  • Partly elected and partly nominated
  • Indirect election by provincial assemblies who themselves were elected on a limited franchise
  • Though indirect mode of election, it included representatives from all sections of the society


Working of the constituent assembly

  • First meeting was held on December 9, 1946
  • Muslim league did not participate in the first meeting
  • Temporary president in the first meeting: Dr Sachchidanand Sinha
  • After elections were held- Dr Rajendra Prasad and HC Mukherjee were elected as the President and Vice-President of the Assembly respectively.
  • Sir BN Rau was appointed as the constitutional advisor of the assembly
  • Once the Mountbatten plan was passed even members of Muslim league who were part of Indian territory participated in the proceedings of the council
  • Members of princely states who had stayed away from the proceedings initially also participated
  • Constituent assembly held 11 sessions over two years, 11 months and 18 days
  • Last session of the constituent assembly was held on January 24, 1950


Objectives resolution

  • It was moved by Nehru in December 1946
  • It laid down the fundamentals and philosophy of the constitutional structure
  • The resolution highlighted the following objectives:
  1. Free India will be nothing but a republic
  2. The ideal of social, political and economic democracy would be guaranteed to all people
  3. The republic would grant Fundamental rights
  4. The state would safeguard the rights of the minorities and backward classes

Constituent assembly acted as the temporary legislature until a new one was to be constituted. Some of the functions it performed at this stage were:

  1. Ratification of India’s membership of the commonwealth
  2. It adopted the national flag
  3. It adopted the national anthem
  4. Adoption of National song
  5. Electing Dr Rajendra Prasad as the first President of India


Committees of the constituent assembly

Several committees were constituted to perform the various tasks associated with framing of the constitution. Some of the major and minor constituent assembly committees are given below:

Major committees

  1. Union Powers committee: presided by J Nehru
  2. Union Constitution committee: president by j Nehru
  3. Provincial constitution committee: Presided by S Patel
  4. Drafting committee: president by Dr BR Ambedkar
  5. Advisory committee on Fundamental Rights, minorities and Tribal and excluded areas- Presided by S Patel. It had following sub-committees:
    • FR sub-committee: JB Kripalani
    • Minorities sub-committee: HC Mukherjee
    • North-East frontier Tribal Areas and Assam excluded and partially excluded areas sub-committee- Gopinath Bardoloi
    • Excluded and partially excluded areas sub-committee: AV Thakkar
  1. Rule procedure committee: Dr Rajendra Prasad
  2. States committee for negotiating with states: J Nehru
  3. Steering committee: Dr Rajendra Prasad


Minor committees

  1. Committee on the functions of the constituent Assembly: GV Mavalankar
  2. Order of Business committee: Dr KM Munshi
  3. House committee: B Pattabhi Sitaramayya
  4. Ad-hoc committee on the National flag: Dr Rajendra Prasad
  5. Special committee to examine the draft constitution: Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar


Drafting committee:

  • It was considered to be the most important committee of the constituent assembly
  • It was chaired by Dr BR Ambedkar
  • He played a pivotal role in drafting the constitution and also in passage of the constitution in the assembly
  • The committee published the first draft of the constitution in February 1948. The second draft was published after incorporating changes suggested by the public in October 1948


Enactment and enforcement of the constitution

  • Final draft of the constitution was introduced in the assembly in 1948
  • After subsequent readings, the constituent assembly adopted, enacted and gave to themselves the constitution on November 26, 1949
  • Some provisions of the constitution came into force on the above mentioned date. However, most provisions came into force on January 26th, 1950. This date is referred to in the constitution as the ‘date of its commencement’. This day is celebrated as ‘Republic day’ every year
  • This day was chosen by the constitution-makers to pay homage to the ‘Purna Swaraj’ which started on January 26th, 1930.


Criticism of the constituent assembly

  1. Not a representative body since members were not directly elected
  2. It was not a sovereign body since it was established based on British order
  3. It consumed unduly long time to make the constitution
  4. It was dominated predominantly by congress party.
  5. It was dominated by lawyer-politician to a greater degree
  6. It was dominated by Hindus predominantly

However, the above criticisms do not hold true picture of the constituent assembly. Though it was indirectly elected, the constituent assembly consisted of people belonging from all section of the Indian society. The time-consuming process considering the challenge of enacting a constitution for a country like India was reasonable. The secular provisions in the constitution and the sustainability of the constitution definitively prove that the constitution did not give any overt or covert preference to the dominant religion of the land



Practice question

  1. To what extent can it be said the constituent assembly was a one party body? Critically Examine.(250 words)
  2. How was the Constituent Assembly constituted? Do you agree with some of the criticisms made against the composition and working of the Constituent Assembly? Critically comment. (200 Words)