December 1946 was an important month for Indian Constitution-making. After twelve years of vigorous demands by Indians to decide their constitutional future, an Indian Constituent Assembly, set up by the Cabinet Mission Plan, began to draft India’s Constitution on 9 December 1946.
Sachindananda Sinha, the temporary chairman of the Assembly, presided over the first day’s proceedings. Sinha, a veteran Congress leader, took the chair and began to read out messages (congratulations and best wishes) that leaders of countries around the world had sent in. Addressing the Assembly, he recounted the freedom movement and thought aloud about which constitutions of the world could India consider a template while drafting her Constitution. This first sitting of the Assembly ended with members signing the register.
Three days later, members elected a Rajendra Prasad, a renowned Congress Leader as the permanent chairman of the Assembly. Going forward, Prasad would have to critical responsibility of steering the Assembly work. In his opening speech, Prasad reminded members about the enormity of the task ahead. He said other Constitution-making projects faced immense challenges, but in end they got the work done.
Two days later, Nehru introduced the famous Objectives Resolution in the Assembly. The Resolution laid out the broad principles on which the Assembly could draft the Constitution of India and touched upon rights, centre-state relations and more. In his speech, Nehru expanded on the Resolution’s content and also touched upon the elephant in the room: the absence of the Muslim League and the Princely States – something he felt should not hinder the Constitution-making process.
When the Chairman opened up discussions around the Resolution, M.R. Jayakar, a lawyer, in his legal reading of the Cabinet Mission Plan, argued that the absence of the Muslim League meant that the constitution-making process cannot and should not proceed. While some members sympathised with Jayakar’s position, others were quite enraged by Jayakar and opposed him vehemently.
While the question of the League’s absence captured the debate, members also debated different aspects of the Resolution including federalism, minority rights and socio-economic rights. These debates took place between the 16th and 19th. However, on the 21st December, the Assembly postponed further discussions which allowed the Muslim League to join the proceedings. This marked the close of an action-packed first month of the Assembly’s work.