The Indian freedom movement sought total Independence from British colonial rule but saw India firmly tethered to the world affairs. When Indians were drafting their Constitution, the Constituent Assembly members debated what India’s disposition towards the world and its international role should be. They debated two specific issues: the ratification of India’s decision to join the Commonwealth of Nations, and Article 40 of the Draft Constitution (Article 51, Constitution of India 1950) that dealt with international relations.
The demand for ‘purna swaraj’ was a significant aspiration of the Indian freedom movement, and was encoded in the ‘Objectives Resolution’ during the initial sittings of the Constituent Assembly. A year before India adopted its Constitution, the Assembly had to decide on India’s future in the Commonwealth of Nations and clarify its relationship with ‘purma swaraj’.
When Nehru moved a motion in support of India’s membership to the Commonwealth, he reminded the Assembly of a unique arrangement that India had negotiated – India would be a part of the Commonwealth without being United Kingdom’s dominion. He argued that joining the Commonwealth would not impinge on India’s independence. Instead it would anchor the nation’s ties with the world.
Not all members were convinced. One member believed that the Commonwealth membership would align India with the ‘Anglo-American’ power bloc and limit India’s foreign policy options. Another suggested that India adopt the Irish approach: refrain from official membership but acknowledge its special relationship with the UK. In the end, the Assembly voted in favour of India’s membership and saw it as a move to secure its relationship with foreign nations.
The debate on Article 40 of the Draft Constitution (Article 51, Constitution of India 1950) was not as heated as the Commonwealth motion. Finally, ‘Article 51: Promotion of international peace and security’ was included in the non-justiciable Directive Principles of the State Policy.
The central theme of the debates was world peace and one member felt that India was primed to be its flag bearer given its cultural and historical legacy. Further, members were confident that this article would enable India to pursue an independent foreign policy and not be dragged into international wrangles.
The framers of the Constitution walked a tightrope: emphasising freedom from colonial domination but eschewing international isolation. These cosmopolitan convictions have allowed a poor developing country like India to punch way above its weight in international affairs.
1. Debate Summary: Article 51 - Promotion of international peace and security.
2. This Month in Constitution Making (May 1949): India Decides to Remain in the Commonwealth of Nations
3. Blogpost: Constituent Assembly was Divided on the United Nation’s Future
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