Desk Brief: ‘We the People in the Name of Gandhi’?

31 January 2022

During a debate that would settle the Constitution’s Preamble, Constituent Assembly President, Rajendra Prasad informed the House some members had given notice of amendments that wanted the Preamble to begin with an invocation of God and Gandhi.

Prasad then did something surprising. He suggested that these amendments be withdrawn and said that ‘neither God nor Mahatma Gandhi admits of a discussion in this House’. This was a rather atypical moment in the Assembly. Although the Assembly’s rules allowed some discretion to the President in deciding the House’s agenda and in the taking up of amendments – the President did not have the authority to tell a member to altogether withdraw an amendment. Prasad was trying to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation. He did not want the Assembly’s records to reveal — for posterity — that the Assembly had rejected God and Gandhi.

Despite his request, some members pushed on with their amendments. We’ve already written about how the debate ensued with regards to God: it ended with a 68-41 vote against the inclusion of God in the Preamble. H.V. Kamath despondently reacted withThis, Sir, is a black day in our annals. God save India’.

After having reluctantly dispatched God from the Preamble, and still recovering from it, the Assembly had to now deal with Shibban Lal Saxena’s proposal to begin the Preamble with:

In the name of God the Almighty, under whose inspiration and guidance, the Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, led the Nation from slavery into Freedom, by unique adherence to the eternal principles of Satya and Ahimsa, and who sustained the millions of our countrymen and the martyrs of the Nation in their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the Complete Independence of our Motherland‘.

Brajeshwar Prasad stood up and wasn’t having it: ‘...I do not want that the name of Mahatma Gandhi should be incorporated in this Constitution, because it is not a Gandhian Constitution…. If we had a Gandhian Constitution, I would have been the first to offer my support. I do not want that the name of Mahatma Gandhi should be dragged in the rotten Constitution...’.

Most in the Assembly would have agreed with Prasad – the Constitution apart from a few provisions (Article 47, Article 40, Article 43) was not a Gandhian Constitution in any sense. It then fell on J.B. Kriplani to make an appeal to Saxena:

…It is not behoving us to vote on this amendment. We must be very sparing of the use of the name of the Father of the Nation. My friend Shibban Lal knows that I yield to nobody in my love and respect for Gandhiji. I think it will be consistent with that respect if we do not bring him into this Constitution that may be changed and reshaped at any time‘.

Much to the Assembly’s relief, Saxena changed his mind after this intervention and withdrew his amendment. And so, we the people of India adopted the Constitution without invoking any entity – human or divine.

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