On 9th December 1946, the Constituent Assembly sat for the first time. Acharya Kriplani, the then President of the Indian National Congress, kicked off proceedings - on behalf of the members of the Constituent Assembly he requested Dr Sachidananda Sinha to take the chair and invited him to be the provisional Chairman of the Constituent Assembly. Dr Sinha was the oldest parliamentarian alive and held critical positions in government throughout his career.
He began by reading out three messages from foreign countries – America, China and Australia. The message from America, signed by Dean Acheson, the Acting Secretary of State of the United States, read:
‘With the approach of December 9, I extend to you as Provisional Chairman of the Constituent Assembly, and through you to the Indian people, the sincere good wishes of the United States Government and of the people of the United States for a successful conclusion of the great task you are about to undertake. India has a great contribution to make to the peace, stability, and cultural advancement of mankind, and your deliberations will be watched with deep interest and hope by freedom loving people throughout the entire world’.
In 2015, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, presented a copy of the original telegram to Barack Obama on his 3-day visit to India as the President of the United States
After reading out the messages, Dr Sinha made a long speech: he revisited the history freedom movement and demands for a Constituent Assembly, mentioned the Muslim League’s absence and talked about the Cabinet Mission Plan. The core of his speech, however, was comparative constitutional making and history.
As India was set on the path of drafting a Constitution, which constitution making projects and constitutional texts in world history could the Constituent Assembly look for advantage? Dr Sinha recommended the Constitutions of Switzerland and America. Interestingly, he dismissed the British constitutional system as a useful reference because the
‘political method of devising a constitution for a country has not been known to our fellow-subjects in Britain, for the simple reason that under the British Constitution, there is no such Constituent law, it being a cherished privilege of the British Parliament, as the sole sovereign authority, to make and unmake all laws, including the Constitutional law of the country’.
Dr Sinha ended his speech by hoping that the work of the Constituent Assembly will be marked ‘with a vision which may restore India to her pristine glory, and give her a place of honour and equality amongst the great nations of the world.’
After his speech, he proposed Frank Anthony as the Deputy Chairman. All members of the Constituent Assembly then presented their credentials and signed the register. Proceedings were adjourned until the next day.
Three days after Dr.Sinha’s appointment as the provisional Chairman, on 12th December 1946, the Constituent Assembly elected Rajendra Prasad as the permanent Chairman and would go on to lead the Constituent Assembly for the next three years. Due to his ill health, Dr Sinha did not play an active role in the constitution-making period and in 1950, the year the Constitution of India came into force, he passed away. His signature is the last on the original copy of the Constitution of India, 1950.