Yesterday, the US House of Representatives led public hearings on President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry came to an end. If the House charges the President, then US Senate would begin to investigate the charges and come to a final verdict. Over the past month, the US impeachment process and related constitutional provisions have garnered global attention. Articles 1 (Section 2 and 3) and Article 2 (Section 2 and 4) of the American Constitution lay down the framework for impeachment. Interestingly, this framework was brought up when our Constitution framers were drawing up impeachment provisions for India.
Article 61 of the Indian Constitution provides for impeaching the President of India on the ground of ‘violation of the Constitution’. On 28 December 1948, a version of this Article – Draft Article 50, was taken up in the Constituent Assembly for debate.
Kazi Syed Karimuddin, an Assembly member from the Central Provinces (now Madhya Pradesh) wanted to replace ‘violation of the Constitution’ with ‘treason, bribery or other misdemeanours’ – a phrase used in the American Constitution. James Madison was behind this phrase.
In the US Constitutional Convention, Madison and others had shot down a proposal by another Convention member who proposed ‘maladministration’ as the ground for impeachment. Madison felt that this was vague, it could include anything, the President would always be being under the sword of impeachment. He wanted the grounds to be specific.
B.R. Ambedkar, chairman of the Assembly’s Drafting Committee, responded to Karimuddin by saying that ‘violation of the Constitution’ was ‘large enough’ to include treason and bribery. Clearly, Ambedkar, unlike Madison, seemed to believe that the grounds of impeachment should be wide and not specific. He did not share Madison’s concern of ‘vagueness’.
K.T. Shah, Economist and Congress Party leader, moved an amendment proposing that only the lower house (Lok Sabha), whose members were directly elected by the people, should have the power to initiate impeachment. He further added that this was the current practice in the United States – where the House of Representatives, not the US Senate, is given the sole power to initiate impeachment.
Members who were involved in the initial committee stages of constitution-making were aware of the American system. In 1947, B.N. Rau, the Assembly’s constitutional advisor, laid out the American and Irish impeachment provisions for Committee members to consider. The American system allowed only the lower house to initiate impeachment, while the Irish allowed for either. In 1947, the Committee decided to go with the Irish option.
Ambedkar responded to Shah by saying that the conduct of the President was of concern to both the upper and the lower houses. Therefore, there was no reason to restrict the power to initiate impeachment to only one house. By implication, his response suggested that the representative credentials of the lower house viz a viz the upper house was not critical enough to decide which house gets to initiate impeachment.
In Part II, we will look at another aspect of the American influence on Indian impeachment deliberations: particularly the role of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.