The Constitution making process was organised around the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly. The members of the Constituent Assembly were elected on a limited franchise. The Cabinet Mission Plan, which set up the Constituent Assembly of India, discarded full adult franchise for elections to the Constituent Assembly and instead suggested indirect elections by members of the recently elected Provincial Legislative Assemblies. In addition to members elected by the Provincial Legislative Assembly (292), the Princely States and the Chief Commissioner’s Provinces contributed 93 and 4 members of the Constituent Assembly taking the total membership to 389. After partition, the total number of seats came down to 299 as some Provinces and Princely States became part of Pakistan. Rajendra Prasad was elected as the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly. A major chunk of deliberations of the Constituent Assembly was on the Draft Constitution (s) prepared by the Drafting Committee. Members of the Constituent Assembly proposed amendments which had to be submitted in advance to the Chairman, and these were debated at length. At the end of a debate around an Article of the Draft Constitution, the Constituent Assembly either adopted or rejected amendments. It took decisions through a majority vote. On 6th December 1946, the Constituent Assembly sat for the first time. In the span of 2 years and 11 months, it completed its task of framing the Indian Constitution. During this period the Constituent Assembly had 11 sessions and sat for a total of 165 days. On 26th November the Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution of India which came into force on 26th January 1950.
The Constituent Assembly at various points during the constitution making process, appointed a number of Committees on different aspects of the Constitution to conduct preliminary research and deliberations within smaller groups. The work of these Committees took the form of reports which were discussed in the Constituent Assembly. The Constitutional Adviser, B.N Rau compiled reports of various committees to prepare a Draft Constitution which he submitted to the Drafting Committee. Decision making in the committees was on the basis of a majority vote and members could record their dissents to decisions taken if they wished. The following were crucial committees set up by the Constituent Assembly: Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights and Minority Rights, Union Powers Committee, Union Constitution Committee, Provincial Constitution Committee.
On 29th August 1947, the Constituent Assembly through a resolution appointed a Drafting Committee to “..scrutinise the draft of the text of the Constitution of India prepared by Constitutional Adviser, giving effect to the decisions already taken in the Assembly and including all matters which are ancillary thereto or which have to be provided in such a Constitution, and to submit to the Assembly for consideration the text of the draft constitution as revised by the committee” The Drafting Committee had seven members: Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar, N. Gopalaswami; B.R. Ambedkar, K.M Munshi, Mohammad Saadulla, B.L. Mitter and D.P. Khaitan. At its first meeting on 30th August 1947, the Drafting Committee elected B.R Ambedkar as its Chairman. Towards the end of October 1947, the Drafting Committee began to scrutinise the Draft Constitution prepared by the B.N Rau, the Constitutional Advisor. It made various changes and submitted the Draft Constitution to the President of the Constituent Assembly on 21st of February 1948. The Drafting Committee and its members were very influential in Indian constitution-making during the Committee stages and the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly. Majority of the debates in Constituent Assembly revolved around the Draft Constitution(s) prepared by the Drafting Committee. Out of 165 sitting of the Constituent Assembly, 114 were spent debating the Draft Constitution(s).
Congress Assembly Party
The Congress Assembly Party was an unofficial forum where provisions of the Constitution and related issues were discussed and debated before they came up in the Constituent Assembly. All members elected on a Congress party ticket were free to attend and contribute to these meetings. There is no historical record that gives us a sense of the deliberative character of these meetings which makes it difficult to discern the exact extent of the Constituent Assembly Party’s impact on the processes and outcomes of Indian constitution making. However, proceedings of the Constituent Assembly indicate that the Congress Assembly Party did wield influence, especially through the Party whip.
First Session of the Constituent Assembly
13th Dec 1946 - 22nd Jan 1947
The Constituent Assembly formally began its task of framing the Constitution of India on the 13th of December, 1946 with Jawaharlal Nehru moving the Objectives Resolution. The purpose of the resolution was to “… proclaim India as an Independent Sovereign Republic and to draw up for her future governance a Constitution.” The resolution put forth broad principles that would inform the working of the Constituent Assembly.The resolution was adopted on the 22nd of January, 1947.
Committee Stages and Second Session of Constituent Assembly Debates
27th Feb 1947 - 30th Aug 1947
After the first session of the Constituent Assembly, a number of committees were formed to look into and report on various aspects of the Constitution. The Committees that were appointed were - Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights and Minority Rights (which consisted of the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights and the Sub-Committee on Minority Rights), Union Powers Committee, Union Constitution Committee and the Provincial Constitution Committee. These Committees submitted their reports to the Constituent Assembly during the period of April - August 1947. In parallel, as and when the Committees submitted their reports, the Constituent Assembly debated the broad principles that were set out in the recommendations of these committees. These debates came to a close on the 30th of August 1947
Draft Constitution by the Constitutional Advisor
1st Oct 1947 - 31st Oct 1947
B.N Rau, the Constitutional Advisor to the Assembly, on the basis of the reports of the various subcommittees and discussions in the Constituent Assembly mentioned in the previous stage, prepared a Draft Constitution. The Draft Constitution was ready by October 1947 and was submitted the Drafting Committee.
First Draft Constitution
The Drafting Committee began to scrutinize the Draft Constitution prepared by the Constitutional Advisor, along with other notes, reports and memoranda on October 27th, 1947. It proceeded to make changes and it finally submitted its Draft Constitution to the President of the Assembly on the 21st of February 1948.
Public Circulation of the Draft Constitution
The Draft Constitution once submitted to the President of the Constituent Assembly was published and circulated among the public. Many comments, critiques, and suggestions were received, which were then scrutinized by a Special Committee of members of the Union Constitution Committee, Provincial Constitution Committee and the Union Powers Committee and the Drafting Committee itself. The Drafting Committee, taking into account comments, critiques and suggestions arising from different quarters, along with its own inputs, sat on the 23rd, 24th, 27th of March and 18th October of 1948 for discussions. On the 26th of October 1948, the Drafting Committee reprinted and resubmitted the version of the Draft Constitution that had been submitted on 21st of February, 1948, along with a set of amendments (appended to clauses it intended to amend).
Debates on the Draft Constitution
The Draft Constitution was presented to the Constituent Assembly on November 4th,1948 by the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, B.R. Ambedkar. The Constituent Assembly proceeded to take up, clause by clause, every part of the Draft Constitution for debate. Members of the assembly often moved their own amendments to the Draft Constitution seeking to change or drop specific articles or clauses. The most crucial and voluminous debates took place at this stage, and the debates would go on till the 17th of October 1949.
Revision of the Draft Constitution
After the debates around the Draft Constitution concluded, the Drafting Committee then went on to revise the Draft Constitution according to decisions taken in the Constituent Assembly along with other tasks such as renumbering of articles, minor changes in language, dropping and insertion of clauses and articles. The revised Draft Constitution was submitted to the President of the Constituent Assembly on the 3rd of Nov 1949 , and then introduced in the Assembly on the 14th of November 1949.
Second Reading of Draft Constitution
The Assembly undertook a second reading of the Draft Constitution (revised). While many amendments were moved, most of them were negated.
Third Reading of Drafting Constitution
The third reading of the Draft Constitution began with Ambedkar moving a motion “that the Constitution as settled by the assembly be passed”. In this phase, there were few substantive debates. Most of the speeches involved general comments on the Constitution as whole. While some members expressed their satisfaction, others expressed concerns.
Enactment and Adoption of the Constitution of India
On the 26th of November, 1949, the third reading came to an end with the assembly voting for the motion that Ambedkar had proposed of adopting the Constitution. The Constitution was then finally signed by members of the Constituent Assembly on 24th January 1950 and came into effect on the 26th of January, 1950.