A vocal section among the Members of Parliament of India has raised objection to the inclusion of a 1949 cartoon by the legendary cartoonist Shankar featuring B R Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru, in the text book on Political Science prepared by National Council of Educational Research and Training which is being used in Secondary Schools in India since 2006.
The purpose of this piece is not to discuss the merits or demerits of this controversy but to clear a misconception about Amedkar being called the ‘Father’ of the Indian Constitution. He has been variously described as the ‘Father of the Indian Constitution’, ‘Author of the Constitution’, ‘Chief Architect’ of the Constitution etc. The fact is that none of these descriptions is correct. However, it is a fact that Ambedkar was one of the important members of Constituent Assembly of India, comprising a little less than 300 members, which framed our Constitution, taking 2 years, 11 months and 17 days.
Dr. Rajendra Prasad (who was elected the first President of India in 1952 after our Constitution came in force on the 26th January, 1950), was the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly. A galaxy of leaders including Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel, who led our Freedom Movement, were Members of the Constituent Assembly. Many of them were legal luminaries of their time. (As is well-known, Gandhiji shunned any official position.)
The Constituent Assembly constituted a number of Committees to deal with various parts of the proposed Constitution. Two important such Committees were ‘Union Powers Committee’ headed by Nehru and “State Powers Committee’ headed by Patel. These two dealt with the powers of the Centre and those of the States respectively. Another important Committee was that which dealt with Fundamental Rights. There were several such Committees. These Committees submitted their Reports, which were thoroughly debated in the Constituent Assembly.
The Committees and the Constituent Assembly studied the Constitutions of major countries of the world. The Government of India Act, 1935, which was the basic legal frame work of governance of British India, was also considered. The basic structure of our Parliamentary System was modeled on the British system; the federal structure took cues from the American system. Suitable features of the Constitutions of other countries also were taken into account.
The Reports of Committees were processed,compiled and collated by the Secretariat of the Constituent Assembly, headed by S N Mukherjee, who was the chief draftsman. He was assisted by an expert ‘Constitutional Advisor‘, B N Rau, a retired ICS Officer.
The ‘Committee to Srutinise the Draft Constitution’ headed by Dr. Ambedkar, gave final touches to the Draft Constitution, prepared by the Secretariat. The proposed Constitution, recommended by this Committee, was again thoroughly debated and amended where necessary, in the Constituent Assembly. After this, it was finally adopted by the Constituent Assembly on the 26th November, 1949. The Preamble to our Constitution, as originally adopted by the Constituent Assembly read as:
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship:
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity:
and to promote among all,
FRATERNITY, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the Nation,
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.
(In 1976, during the National Emergency imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Preamble was amended to include the words ’SOCIALIST SECULAR’ after the word ‘SOVEREIGN’ and the word ‘integrity’ after the word ‘unity’. I feel that these additional words have not given any additional value to the Preamble but have diluted the sanctity of the noble goal of the nation set in 1949. At that time there was a lot of controversy as to whether the Preamble, setting the objective of the Constitution in 1949 could be amended without scratching the Constitution itself. Can one say that the words added in 1976 were the objectives set by the nation in 1949? The Govt. led by Indira Gandhi had got the Constitution extensively amended in the Parliament. Some very basic features also were amended. For example the tenure of the Lok Sabha was made 6 years from 5 years. After the Congress, including Indira Gandhi personally, was miserably defeated in 1977, the successor Janata Party Govt. led by Morarji Desai restored the original provisions of the Constitution except the Preamble. The original Preamble could not be restored as amendments to the Constitution require two-thirds majority in the Parliament which the Janata Party did not have. The Congress party stubbornly refused to support amendment for restoring the Preamble to its original form although, sensing the mood of the nation, it had to support restoration of the other provisions of the Constitution.)
Coming back to giving credit for framing our Constitution, we can thus see that it was the result of the collaborative effort of all the Members of the Constituent Assembly and not of any single individual. A Constitution cannot be a book of fiction, non-fiction or epic poem, authored by a single individual. Indeed, the less original a Constitution, the better! A Constitution is an accumulative document in that each new Constitution benefits from the historical legacy of all the other Constitutions in the world adopted before it.
On preparing the draft of the Indian Constitution, it is worthwhile to recall that on the 25th November, 1949, a day before the Constitution was adopted, Dr. Ambedkar told the Constituent Assembly, “… the credit that is given to me does not really belong to me.” He unreservedly praised B N Rau and S N Mukherjee, for compiling and collating the Reports of the Committees and preparing the draft of the proposed Constitution for being considered by the Constituent Assembly.