This post is second in the series ‘Who is an Indian Citizen?’. Read the previous post here
On 29 April 1947, the Constituent Assembly, for the first time, engaged with the question: Who is an Indian citizen? Members had before them a clause on citizenship prepared by the Assembly’s Advisory Committee on Minority Rights, Fundamental Rights etc. The clause read -
"Every person born in the Union or naturalised in the Union according to its laws and subject to the jurisdiction thereof shall be a citizen of the Union." "Further provision governing Union citizenship may be made by the laws of the Union.”
There was significant opposition to the clause. Assembly members were concerned that it made Indian citizenship easy to obtain; specifically, it allowed foreigners born in India to claim Indian citizenship.
The members of the Advisory Committee came out in defence of the clause and attempted to address apprehensions. Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar said that there were two types of approaches in thinking about citizenship. The first, found widely in European countries, was a notion of citizenship that was based on race and blood. The second Anglo-American approach, based citizenship on birth. The Committee, he stated, felt that the Anglo-American outlook was better. He then asked the Assembly -
‘But one thing, are we going to bring in race idea, namely, only those who are born of parents--you call them Indians or other people--are entitled to citizenship or are you going to subscribe to the principle that birth settles citizenship…’
Sardar Patel, the Chairman of the Advisory Committee, made a similar point and asked the Assembly if, in dealing with the exceptional case of children of foreigners born in India, the Assembly was ready to ‘introduce racial phraseology in our Constitution’.
Another member of the Committee, K.M. Munshi, argued that the clause merely enacted ‘two indispensable conditions, namely, persons born in India and naturalised according to the law of the Union shall be citizens…’. He told members that specifically mentioning that only children of parents who are Indian citizens would get Indian citizenship would effectively be an exercise in ‘enacting a nationality law’ – something that was not the aim of the clause at the moment.
A large part of the Assembly, it seemed, was not convinced and members wanted to defer the discussion on the clause. Rajendra Prasad, the President of the Assembly, who had misgivings about the clause himself, requested lawyers and jurists of the Assembly to go into the question; it was decided that a small committee would be constituted. The Assembly’s discussion on the clause ended with this rather amusing exchange regarding the composition of the committee:
B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya: I suggest that in addition to three lawyers one man of common sense may also be added.
President: I do not exclude lawyers from the category of people with common sense.
The next day, the President instituted an Ad-Hoc Committee on citizenship that included: Vardachariar, Bakshi Tek Chand, B.L. Mitter, Alladi, K.N. Katju, K.M. Munshi, BR Ambedkar.
In the next post in this series, we will look at the recommendations of this committee and the Assembly's response.