The framers of the Constitution ensured that the governance of the Indian republic would be based on direct elections with universal adult franchise. Their membership of the Constituent Assembly, however, was a result of indirect elections with no adult franchise.
In 1946 the Cabinet Mission Plan (‘Plan’) formally set up the Assembly and laid down some guidelines and rules on its functioning and composition. The Plan acknowledged that universal adult franchise would have been the preferred manner in which Assembly members were elected.. However, this would delay setting up the Assembly - something that the Plan, due to the complexity and uncertainty of the prevailing political situation, wanted to avoid.
The Plan decided that the next best and most pragmatic solution would be to take advantage of the recently elected 1946 Provincial Legislative Assemblies. 26 million people voted in these elections on a limited franchise.
These Provincial Legislative Assemblies, through a single transferable vote, elected 229 members from 12 Indian Provinces to the Constituent Assembly. In addition to this, the Plan set up a Negotiation Committee to involve the Princely States in the constitution-making process – 70 representatives of the Princely States came onboard.
The Plan distributed the provincial allotment of seats between the main religious communities (General, Muslim and Sikh). In order to protect the interests of smaller minorities, an Advisory Committee on the rights of citizens, minorities and tribal and excluded areas was set up.
So, does the indirect election of Assembly members diminish the representative credentials of the Assembly? It is important to note that neither the Plan nor Indian political leaders were opposed to direct elections and adult franchise in principle; these remained the preferred option, , but were not viable at the time. Nonetheless, some effort was made to ensure representation – at least with respect to religious communities – in the provincial distribution of seats.
Another way to evaluate the representative credentials of the Assembly is to look at the composition of the Assembly itself. While the Plan set out the broad contours of the distribution of seats, Indian political parties could give out tickets to individuals of their choice within the Plan's boundaries. Were these choices informed by a need to ensure representation of different communities? We can get a sense of this by looking at the composition of the Assembly, which we will do in the next post in this series.