There is a dominant view that Gandhi's role in constitution-making was minor. Gandhi’s vision of basing India’s federal, political and administrative set up on the panchayati raj did not find place in the Constitution of India, 1950 – except for the inclusion of certain articles in non-justiciable Directive Principles of State Policy: Article 40 (village panchayats), Article 43 (cottage industries) and Article 47 (alcohol prohibition)
Gandhi passed away three weeks before the Draft Constitution of India was prepared. We cannot say for sure what his opinion on the document would have been. While he sketched out utopian visions, he also practiced pragmatic institutional politics; it is plausible that Gandhi would have accommodated the view held by the Constitution framers that panchayati raj was not a practical or ideal vision for the constitutional future of India.
An aspect where we are certain of Gandhi’s contribution to constitution-making was the setting up of the Constituent Assembly. His interventions on two occasions were instrumental in making the Assembly a reality.
The first was during the late 1930s when the Indian National Congress was toying with the idea of making the Constituent Assembly a central plank of its demands from the British colonial government. Initially, there was uncertainty about the political upshot of this approach. Gandhi dispelled reservations and advised the Congress to politically mobilize around this demand and argued that a Constituent Assembly could give Indians a voice deciding their future and also help solve the (Hindu-Muslim) ‘communal problem’.
The second instance was in the mid -1940s when the Cabinet Mission Plan proposed setting up a Constituent Assembly to draft India’s Constitution. The Congress found many critical flaws in the Plan. Gandhi advised the Congress to join the Assembly nonetheless: ‘the proposed constituent assembly is not the parliament of the people. It has many defects…it is for you to get them removed. It should be a challenge for combat, and not a ground for rejection’.
The Congress took Gandhi’s advice. On 9 December 1946, the Assembly sat for the first time and over the course of the next three years drafted India’ Constitution.
The editorial team sends out a weekly desk brief. If you wish to be on our mailing list, subscribe here.