On 24th September 2019, the General Assembly of the United Nations sat for the 74th time since the organisation’s inception in 1943. India was a founding member of the UN and played a key role in its early work. When India began drafting its Constitution in 1946, the UN was still quite young: How did members of the Constituent Assembly view the United Nations and India’s role in it? We find two substantive instances in which the UN came up in the Constitution’s deliberations that are insightful
The first was during a debate on the ratification of India’s decision to join the Commonwealth of India. Some members invoked the UN in their opposition to India joining the Commonwealth – they argued that the former international body was superior. Unlike Commonwealth, K.T. Shah stated, the UN had ‘a definite constitution a regular charter’ along legislative and executive arms. Shah went on to argue:
In preference to the United Nations Organisation, what is there, for us at least in India, in the British Commonwealth of Nations, that we should now, within a year and a half of our independence, become members of that organisation?....The United Nations is a much more world-wide organisation, claiming allegiance of many more nations of the world and actually showing itself more active in redressing wrongs than the British Commonwealth of Nations
The second was when the Assembly took up the Seventh Schedule of the Draft Constitution for discussion. This Schedule contained a list of subjects which were under the legislative authority of the Union (as opposed to the state) government. Entry 12 in this list said ‘United Nations’.
H.V Kamath moved an amendment to replace Entry 12 with ‘any international body’ as the United Nations was not the ‘only or the last word’ in international organisations. He cautioned the Assembly in taking the existence of the United Nations as a given: he suggested that there were already ‘rifts and cracks’. Interestingly, he argued that India should prioritise joining regional organisations like the – Asian Relations Organisation – that he felt had a better chance of remaining in existence.
Shiban Lal Saxena felt that specific mention of the UN in the Constitution gave the organisation an ‘importance which is not justified by plain facts’. He shared concerns about the permanence of the U.N and argued that in the future, India may want to ‘leave it and if so what the sense in keeping this entry in the Union List’. Lastly, Saxena claimed India did not really have a voice in the UN.
While India was unequivocal in its support of the United Nations in the early years, we find that members of the Constituent Assembly were divided in their perceptions about the UN’s future and India’s role in it.