The Constituent Assembly of India - created and constrained by the Cabinet Mission Plan - sat for the first time on 9th December 1946. Representatives of the princely states did not participate in the initial sittings of the Constituent Assembly.
During colonial rule, princely states had a direct relationship with the Crown, different from that of the regular British Indian provinces; they were, to a large extent, independently governed by their respective monarchs. The position of the princely states became uncertain when the British decided to leave India: they could remain independent or join the Indian Union. Some of them considered joining and taking part in the constitution-making process but the question of how remained.
The Cabinet Mission Plan contained a proposal for the setting up of a Negotiating Committee to facilitate the participation of the representatives of the princely states in the framing of India’s Constitution. On 21st December 1946, K.M. Munshi moved an amendment in the Constituent Assembly to set up this committee. This newly set up committee would engage with a committee that had already been set up by the Chamber of Princes, and with other representatives of the princely states to a) determine the distribution of seats in the Constituent Assembly reserved for the princely states b.) decide on how the representatives of the princely states would be returned to the Assembly. Munshi’s resolution proposed to appoint the following to the Negotiating Committee: Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, Shankarrao Deo and Gopalaswami Ayyangar and provided for the addition of a maximum of three more members.
The Constituent Assembly while broadly agreeing with Munshi’s resolution, moved some amendments and a debate followed. P.R Thakkur, Jaipal Singh and Munniswami Pillai wanted members of the depressed classes (a reference to Dalits/lower castes) to be represented on the Constituent Assembly’s negotiating committee. They believed that the depressed classes were worse off in the princely states than in the British Indian provinces and their interests had to be protected during negotiations. B.G. Kher, Nehru and Munshi opposed these proposals. They argued that the negotiating committee’s brief was limited and communal representation was neither desirable nor as Nehru reasoned, would be practical: numerous groups could be identified on a communal basis and providing for representation for all on the small committee was not possible.
Another concern – first expressed by Somanath Lahiri – was that the negotiating committee might make decisions unilaterally, without the approval or ratification of the Constituent Assembly. Diwan Chaman Lall moved an amendment to Munshi’s resolution: it called for the negotiating committee ‘to report to the Constituent Assembly the result of such negotiation.’ Nehru gave an assurance that no final decisions would be taken by the negotiating committee without taking the Constituent Assembly on board. Munshi accepted Diwan Lall’s amendment and urged the Assembly to do the same. The Constituent Assembly adopted the amended Resolution as per Diwan Lall’s proposal and all other amendments were withdrawn.