This Month in Constitution Making (Nov 1949): Drafting Committee Comes Under Fire

16 November 2023
The seven-member Drafting Committee chaired by B.R. Ambedkar

On 17 November 1949, the Constituent Assembly initiated its proceedings, with Dr B.R. Ambedkar proposing the motion: ‘That the Constitution as finalized by the Assembly be approved.’

This marked the beginning of the final phase of the Indian constitution-making . Throughout this ‘third reading’ phase, members of the Constituent Assembly delivered lengthy speeches, reflecting on the constitution-making process and expressing their opinions on various aspects of the Draft Constitution. While the majority it appears were broadly content, a minority voiced their criticisms and dissatisfaction which were of two kinds: first, concerns about the substantive content of the Constitution and second, criticism of the Drafting Committee . This article will engage with the latter.

K. Hanumanthaiya, who would later serve as the second Chief Minister of Karnataka, observed that the members of the Drafting Committee, while undoubtedly well-versed in the art of constitution-making, were not part of the freedom movement. He even questioned their commitment to the cause of independence. According to Hanumanthaiya, this, coupled with the Drafting Committee’s inclination toward a legally oriented approach, gave the Constitution an appearance that seemed foreign rather than indigenous: ‘…we wanted the music of Veena or Sitar, but here we have the music of an English band.. ‘

Naziruddin Ahmad argued that the manner in which the Draft Constitution was being revised during the final stages of the constitution-making process was flawed. He pointed out that the Draft Constitution contained ‘..numerous errors, anomalies, redundancies, and repetitions…‘ Ahmad attributed this to the Drafting Committee and further contended that the Constituent Assembly had taken considerable liberties with English grammar, punctuation, and the wording of the Constitution. He believed these issues had serious consequences and offered examples of these drafting flaws, such as the ambiguous use of the term ‘State’ and the unnecessary inclusion of ‘Dominion of India’ instead of just ‘India.’ Moreover, Ahmad insinuated at various points in his speech that last-minute changes were made to the Draft Constitution by the Drafting Committee without informing or consulting the Constituent Assembly.

The criticisms leveled by Ahmad at the Drafting Committee are significant, as they raise questions about the legitimacy, competence, and accountability of the Committee within the constitution-making process. A more detailed examination of the Drafting Committee’s operations, utilizing recently discovered archival materials on Indian constitution-making, could assist in determining the validity of these criticisms. It is important to note, however, that the majority of the Constituent Assembly did not share these concerns. Most members, including the critics, acknowledged and expressed gratitude for the diligent work undertaken by the Drafting Committee.

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