In November 1948, B.R. Ambedkar moved the Draft Constitution of India in the Constituent Assembly. In the days following this, members commented on the Draft putting forward their preliminary views. This phase of the debates was general; an article by article discussion and the consideration of amendments was planned for later.
However, a member of the Assembly moved an amendment during the general discussion itself. Damodaran Seth proposed that the Assembly should not take up the Draft Constitution. He wanted a new Assembly, elected through adult franchise, to consider the Draft.
Seth believed that the current Assembly, which was not elected through adult franchise, did not have the representative credentials required to move forward in this critical phase of constitution-making. He pointed out that members to the Assembly were indirectly elected by provincial assemblies, which in turn were elected by 15% of Indians.
Balakrishna Sharma dispatched Seth’s arguments as ‘weak, groundless, uninteresting and senseless to such a degree as cannot be defined’. Sharma said that Seth’s 15% point was a ‘fallacious one - fallacious because nowhere in the world can a model assembly be constituted’. He went further and argued that ‘when to make democracy fully representative in character, we evolve such institutions as proportional representation and thereby establish fascism amongst ourselves’.
Shibban Lal Saxena urged the Assembly to not dismiss Seth’s amendment lightly. He agreed that the ideal Assembly would have been based on adult franchise. He reminded members that Indians, and the Congress Party, wanted the Assembly to be based on adult franchise but the British did not allow this. This was in reference to the Cabinet Mission Plan that had cited time constraints and practicality to discard the adult franchise route.
Invoking the practicality concern, he asked the Assembly: ‘can we adjourn now and wait for a year or so to have a new election for the Constituent Assembly and then frame our constitution?’.
Ambedkar acknowledged that the Assembly was not elected on adult suffrage. However, he rejected the claim that ‘if the Assembly had been elected on the basis of adult suffrage, it was then bound to possess greater wisdom and greater political knowledge’.
The Assembly went ahead with the constitution making process in spite of Seth’s amendment. While the Assembly was well aware that it was not a product of adult suffrage, the question rarely came up during its deliberations.
The final Constitution that it adopted on 26 November 1949 contained Article 326 that stated - ‘The elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assembly of every State shall be on the basis of adult suffrage’. The limited franchise-based Assembly ensured that the future legislatures would be always be based on adult franchise.
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