Demand for a Constituent Assembly- A historical Perspective| Evolution of constituent assembly, Nehru Report: A blue print of the Indian Constitution
• In a democratic system people have got the right to devise their own system of governance without any outside interference. People enjoy the inalienable right to framing their own Constitution, a Constitution most suited to that country’s people’s genius, ethos and aspirations. Generally the task of framing the Constitution of a sovereign democratic nation is performed by a representative body of the country’s people. Such a body elected by the people for the purpose of considering and adopting a Constitution is known as the Constituent Assembly.
• The edifice of the Constitution of a country is always built on the foundation of its past. Therefore, to understand any Constitution of a nation, its existence and operation, it is essential to know its background and history and also that, what were the aims and aspirations of the founding father of the Constitution of India.
• The Twenty Six January 1950 marked a great event in the long and checked history of India. On that particular day the present Constitution of India was brought in to force and has announced to the world the birth of a new Republic.” It was in fact the rebirth of an ancient country after such a long period of slavery.
• The struggle for national independence was over by August fifteen Nineteen Forty Seven. On that day the two hundred years old British rule In India was brought to an end by the transfer of political authority to Indian hands. However, the attainment of Independence was not an end itself; it was only the beginning of a new struggle, the struggle to live as an Independent nation. At the same time to establish a democracy based upon the ideals of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. The need of a new Constitution forming the basic law of the land for realization of these ideals was paramount. Therefore, one of the first task undertaken by independent India was the framing a new Constitution. However, behind the establishment of the Constituent Assembly, there was a long history of struggle. It was only after a long drawn struggle that the foreign rulers conceded the demand for establishing the Constituent Assembly.
Evolution of the Constituent Assembly
• The historical origin of the Constituent Assembly is linked with the growth of the National Movement in India. The Constitution of India itself is the product of our freedom struggle whose goal was to attain nation’s independence.
• The idea of a framing of Constituent Assembly whereby Indians themselves might frame a Constitution for free and independent India was implicit in the opposition to 1919 Act. But the first definite reference to a Constituent Assembly for India though not in specific words or under that particular name was made by Mahatma Ghandhi in 1922 soon after the inauguration of the Government of India Act.
• After the commencement of this Government of India Act Mahatma Gandhi has demanded Swaraj. However, the dawn of the Twenty Century came with a new hope for India and this was the hope for Swaraj. As the representative of Indian Public opinion, the Congress passed the Swaraj Resolution in 1905 and from this time onwards the people of India marched ahead in the national mainstream for securing self-rule through the securing of the right to make a Constitution for themselves. However, till August 1917 the British rulers always denied them the right to have a responsible government – self government.
• By 1915, when the British Government was badly engaged in First World War, both the liberal and Radical Congress leaders came near and joined their hands together with the efforts of Annie Besant who favoured self Government in India. It was the question of Self Government which brought these two groups of the Congress together.
• It was the question of Self Government which brought large number of delegates from all parts of the country at the Congress session of 1916 at Lucknow when both the wings of the Congress were present. The militant revolutionary activities and closeness of the liberal and radical Congress leaders opened the eyes of the British Government to realize the fact that the people of India would not be satisfied until Self Government is allowed to them. The Montague Chelmsford Reforms proposals” declared in August 1917 that the ‘gradual development of self governing institutions with a view to progressive relations of responsible government in India as an integral
part of the British Empire. This policy can only be achieved by successive stages. The British government and Government of India must be the judges of the time and measure of each advance.
• Thereafter, the British Government made a declaration which inter alia stated that the policy of His Majesty’s Government was that India would gradually move towards the self governing dominion. Thus, it was this celebration which because the basis of the Government of India Act 1919 which was called by the liberal Congress leaders as Magna Charta of India.
Nehru Report: A Blue Print of the Indian Constitution:
• Nehru Report was the first attempt by Indians to frame a Constitution for India. The Report was based on the principle of Dominion status with full responsible government on the Parliamentary pattern. It asserted the principle that sovereignty belongs to the Indian people laid down a set of fundamental rights and provided for the federal system with maximum autonomy granted to the units but residuary power vested in the federal Lower House and the provincial legislatures with reservations of seats for minorities in certain cases for limited period. The report was admitted by an act of grant constructive statesmanship. It was a comprehensive document, which grappled with every problem from the nationalist point of view. No one will fail to notice an enormous resemblance between the Nehru Report and the Constitution that was adopted by free India.
• This Nehru Report may be described as Blue Print of our present Constitution, which is probably the greatest compliment that can be paid to it. Essentials in both are the same. From the Report it appears that the Indian leaders were quite clear in their mind even in 1928 as to what type of Constitution they wanted for a free India. However Report was too progressive to be accepted by the government.
• It was in 1934 that the idea of a Constituent Assembly for India was put forward for the first time by M. N. Roy, a pioneer of communist movement in India and an advocate of radical democrat-ism. In 1935, the Indian National Congress (INC), for the first time, officially demanded a Constituent Assembly to frame the Constitution of India. In 1938, Jawaharlal Nehru, on behalf the INC declared that ‘the Constitution of free India must be framed, without outside interference, by a Constituent Assembly elected on the basis of adult franchise’.
• The demand was finally accepted in principle by the British Government in what is known as the ‘August Offer’ of 1940. In 1942, Sir Stafford Cripps, a member of the cabinet, came to India with a draft proposal of the British Government on the framing of an independent Constitution to be adopted after the World War II. The Cripps Proposals were rejected by the Muslim League which wanted India to be divided into two autonomous states with two separate Constituent Assemblies. Finally, a Cabinet Mission was sent to India. While it rejected the idea of two Constituent Assemblies, it put forth a scheme for the Constituent Assembly which more or less satisfied the Muslim League.