Many argue that the Constituent Assembly’s deliberations were mostly a farce as the fate of most articles of the Constitution were decided in advance, by the Congress Party leadership. Granville Austin adopts this view and argues that the Indian Constitution was primarily the product of the Congress Assembly Party (CAP) – an informal group of Assembly members who were from the Congress.
Jon Elster provides a useful framework for us to understand constitution-making. He suggests that members’ constitutional preferences are motivated in two ways: arguing and bargaining. When members ‘argue’ they adopt a constitutional preference because they genuinely believe in it, are advancing their interests, or are persuaded by arguments they encounter. Members ‘bargain’ when they choose a constitutional preference because they are promised something or are threatened by someone.
Within this framework, Austin seems to suggest that the Indian constitution-making process was mostly one of ‘bargaining’. CAP members were urged or threatened to adopt certain constitutional preferences by the Congress leadership. Under the watch of the party whip, the members articulated these constitutional preferences as their own during deliberations in the Constituent Assembly.. And because the Congress Party was numerically dominant in the Constituent Assembly, Austin views the final outcome of the constitution-making process as one that was forged by the Congress Party leadership.
Austin’s view on Congress Assembly Party’s role in constitution-making is mostly informed by newspaper or anecdotal sources. These sources are not sufficient to count as reasonable evidence. We do not have a historical record of the Congress Assembly Party’s proceedings to verify Austin’s claim. While the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly do indicate that the Congress Assembly Party had some influence, this was not domineering in every case. B.R. Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee, said -
‘The proceedings of this Constituent Assembly would have been very dull if all members had yielded to the rule of party discipline. Party discipline, in all its rigidity, would have converted this Assembly into a gathering of yes' men. Fortunately, there were rebels.’
Ultimately, the question of the extent of the CAPs influence is one that can only be answered in the light of better evidence; it also turns on which article of the Constitution is under consideration. On matters on which the Congress party was firmly divided, such as the adoption of a national language and property rights, the CAP wielded considerable influence on the content of the final provisions. However, on other important provisions such as those relating to the distribution of powers between the Centre and States, decisions were made only after negotiations between various factions, with due consideration being given to opposing schools of thought.
All constitution-making projects, past and current, contain a ‘politics’ component that involves threats, compromise, and negotiation in addition to genuine deliberation. The Indian constitution-making project was no different.