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Indian Polity, Study Materials

Historical Evolution and Constituent Assembly

In order to know about the Indian political structure, it becomes very important to know about the Indian Constitution. There are various rules and Acts which were passed before independence which plays a vital role in shaping our Constitution. Some of the important historical events are listed down below:

Regulating Act of 1773

  • It was the first step taken by the British Government to control and regulate the affairs of the East India Company in India.
  • It recognized, for the first time, the political and administrative functions of the Company.
  • It laid the foundations of central administration in India.
  • It designated the Governor of Bengal as the ‘Governor-General of Bengal’. The first such Governor-General was Lord Warren Hastings.
  • It provided for the establishment of a Supreme Court at Calcutta (1774) comprising one chief justice and three other judges.

Amending Act, 1781

  • To rectify the defects of the Regulating Act of 1773, the British Parliament passed the Amending Act of 1781, also known as the Act of Settlement or Declaratory Act, 1781.
  • The key provision of this act was to demarcate the relations between the Supreme Court and the Governor-General in Council.
  • It settled the question of jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

Pitt’s India Act, 1784

  • Indian affairs came under the direct control of the British Government in Britain.
  • Distinguished between the commercial and political functions of the Company.
  • Allowed the Court of Directors to manage the commercial affairs and created a new body called Board of Control (6 members) to manage the political affairs. Thus, it established a system of dual government.
  • Empowered the Board of Control to supervise and direct all operations of the civil and military government or revenues of the British possessions in India.

Charter Act, 1813

  • It ended the monopoly of the EIC in India except for the company’s monopoly in “trade with China” and “trade in tea with India”.
  • Thus, trade with India for all commodities except tea was thrown open to all British subjects. This lasted till 1833 when the next charter abolished the trade of the company.
  • Charter Act 1813 for the first time explicitly defined the constitutional position of the British territories in India.

Charter Act, 1833

  • It was the final step towards Centralization.
  • Governor-General of Bengal became the Governor-General of India (Lord William Bentinck was the first governor-general of India).
  • The Governor-General was vested with all civil and military powers.
  • It deprived the Governors of Bombay and Madras of their legislative powers.
  • The laws made under the previous acts were known as Regulations, while the laws made under this act were known as Acts.
  • It ended the activities of the EIC as a commercial body, making it a purely administrative body.
  • Introduced law member (Macaulay) in Governor General’s Council.

Charter Act, 1853

  • Separated the legislative and executive functions of the Governor General’s council.
  • Provided for the addition of six new members called legislative councilors to the council known as the Indian (Central) Legislative Council.
  • It introduced, for the first time, local representation in the Indian (Central) Legislative Council.
  • Introduced an open competition for civil services. The covenanted civil service was thus thrown open to the Indians also.

Government of India Act, 1858

  • Also known as the Act for the Good Government of India.
  • The rule of the company was replaced by the Rule of the Crown.
  • Changed the designation of the Governor-General of India to that of Viceroy of India.
  • Viceroy became the agent of the crown.
  • This act abolished the dual government of the Pitt’s India Act.
  • This act also ended the doctrine of lapse.
  • The Secretary of State was a member of the British cabinet and was responsible ultimately to the British Parliament.
  • Established a 15-member Council of India to assist the Secretary of State for India.

Indian Councils Act, 1861

  • Initiated the process of decentralization by restoring legislative powers to Bombay and Madras. (These powers were taken away through Charter Act 1833).
  • Introduced representative institutions in India by associating Indians with the law-making process.
  • Viceroy nominated some Indians as non-official members of his expanded council. Three Indians nominated were — the Raja of Banaras, the Maharaja of Patiala, and Sir Dinkar Rao.
  • It empowered the Viceroy to issue ordinances during Emergency.
  • Empowered the Viceroy to frame the Rules of Business (the same power is given to the President of India under Article 77).
  • Statutory recognition to portfolio system.
  • Establishment of new legislative councils for Bengal, NWFP, and Punjab.

Indian Councils Act, 1892

  • Though the majority of official members were retained, the non-official members of the Indian Legislative Council were henceforth to be nominated by the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and the Provincial Legislative Councils.
  • The non-official members of the Provincial Council were to be nominated by certain local bodies such as universities, district boards and municipalities.
  • Beginning of representative system in India.
  • Council to have the power to discuss the budget and of addressing questions to the Executive.

Indian Councils Act, 1909 (Morley-Minto Reforms)

  • Introduced for the first time, an element of elections to the Legislative Councils;
  • At the Provincial Legislative Councils, non-official members to be in majority;
  • Introduction of separate electorates (for Muslims).
  • It provided for the first time, an association of Indians with the Executive Councils of the Viceroy and Governors. (Satyendra Prasad Sinha became the first Indian to join the Viceroy’s Executive Council. He was appointed as the law member).

Government of India Act, 1919 (Montague-Chelmsford Reforms)

  • The idea of “Responsible Government” stressed
  • Office of the High Commissioner of India was created in London
  • Indian Legislature became “bicameral” for the first time
  • Communal representation extended to Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans.
  • Secretary of State for India now to be paid from British revenue
  • Diarchy in provinces by dividing subjects of administration between official members and elected members.
  • Created Centre-State Relations.

Government of India Act, 1935

  • Provided for the establishment of an All-India Federation consisting of provinces and princely states as units. (Note: the Princely States did not join and so Federation didn’t come into existence)
  • Residuary powers were given to the Viceroy.
  • Abolished dyarchy in the provinces and introduced ‘provincial autonomy’ in its place.
  • Introduced responsible government in provinces.
  • Introduced Bicameralism in six out of eleven provinces.
  • Extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for depressed classes (scheduled castes), women and labor (workers). (1909 – Only for Muslims, 1919 – extended for Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans.)
  • Abolished the Council of India, established by the Government of India Act of 1858.
  • The Secretary of State for India was provided with a team of advisors.
  • Established the Reserve Bank of India to control the currency and credit of the country.
  • Established the Federal Public Service Commission, Provincial Public Service Commission and Joint Public Service Commission for two or more provinces.
  • Provided for the establishment of a Federal Court, which was set up in 1937.

Indian Independence Act, 1947

  • Declared India as an independent and sovereign state from August 15, 1947.
  • Provided for the creation of two independent dominions of India and Pakistan with the right to secede from the British Commonwealth. (Governor-General of each were to be appointed by King, the on the advice of the Dominion Cabinet)
  • Empowered the Constituent Assemblies of the two dominions to frame and adopt any constitution and to repeal any act of the British Parliament, including the Independence act itself.
  • Abolished the office of the secretary of state for India and transferred his functions to the secretary of state for Commonwealth Affairs.
  • It assigned dual functions (i.e., constituent and legislative) to the Constituent Assembly formed in 1946.
  • It declared this dominion legislature as a sovereign body. Granted freedom to the Indian princely states either to join the Dominion of India or Dominion of Pakistan or to remain independent.

Timeline of Constitutional Development

  • India was getting close to the independence and with this arose the need of the constitution. The idea to have the constitution in India was first given in the year 1934 by Mr. M.N. Roy, the pioneer of the communist movement in India.
  • In the year 1935 the Indian National Congress for the first time demanded a Constituent Assembly to frame the constitution of India.
  • In the year 1938 Jawaharlal Nehru on the behalf of congress said that the Constitution of India will be made by the independent constituent assembly without any external interference.
  • The demand was accepted by the British parliament which came to be known as the August Offer in the year 1940.
  • In the year 1942, Cripps India Mission came to India under Sir Strafford Cripps and stated that the Constituent Assembly will be setup but after the Second World War.
  • Finally, in May 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan came to India under Cripps, Lawrence and Alexander and they setup the Constituent Assembly of India

Objectives Resolution as introduced by Jawaharlal Nehru

On December 13, 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru moved the historic ‘Objectives Resolution’ in the Assembly. It laid down the fundamentals and philosophy of the constitutional structure. It read:

  1. “This Constituent Assembly declares its firm and solemn resolve to proclaim India as an Independent Sovereign Republic and to draw up for her future governance a Constitution
  2. Wherein the territories that now comprise British India, the territories that now form the Indian States, and such other parts of India as are outside India and the States as well as other territories as are willing to be constituted into the independent sovereign India, shall be a Union of them all; and
  3. wherein the said territories, whether with their present boundaries or with such
    others as may be determined by the Constituent Assembly and thereafter according to the law of the Constitution, shall possess and retain the status of autonomous units together with residuary powers and exercise all powers and functions of Government and administration save and except such powers and functions as are vested in or assigned to the Union or as are inherent or implied in the Union or resulting therefrom; and
  4. wherein all power and authority of the Sovereign Independent India, its constituent parts and organs of Government are derived from the people; and
  5. wherein shall be guaranteed and secured to all the people of India justice, social, economic and political; equality of status of opportunity, and before the law; freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, vocation, association and action, subject to law and public morality; and
  6. wherein adequate safeguards shall be provided for minorities, backward and tribal areas, and depressed and other backward classes; and 7. whereby shall be maintained the integrity of the territory of the Republic and its sovereign rights on land, sea and air according to justice and the law of civilized nations; and
  7. This ancient land attains its rightful and honoured place in the world and makes its full and willing contribution to the promotion of world peace and the welfare of mankind.”

This Resolution was unanimously adopted by the Assembly on January 22, 1947. It influenced the eventual shaping of the constitution through all its subsequent stages. Its modified version forms the Preamble of the present Constitution.

Constituent Assembly

The Constituent Assembly of India consists of 389 members out of whom 292 members were elected from the various provinces, 93 members were nominated
from the princely states and 4 members were from the Chief Commissioner areas of Delhi, Ajmer-Marwar, Coorg and British Baluchistan.

The members of the Constituent Assembly were on the basis of the population and were in the ratio of roughly 1: 10,00,000 (1 million). The seats of the provinces were divided into three major communities i.e. Muslims Sikhs and General (all except Muslims and Sikhs). The members of each community selected their members by the method of proportional representation with single transferable voting system.
The Constituent Assembly included all the important personalities of India except Mahatma Gandhi and M.A. Jinnah.

After the creation of the new constituent assembly for Pakistan 90 members resigned from the constituent assembly of India which reduced the size of the
assembly from 389 to 299 members.

Working of the Constituent Assembly

The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly took place on 9th December 1946
under the leadership of Dr Sachidananda Sinha. However, he was only a temporary
president and was replaced by Dr Rajendra Prasad as the President on 11th December 1946. H.C. Mukherjee became the Vice President of the Constituent Assembly. Mr. B.N. Rau was appointed as the advisor of the Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly presented three drafts of the Constitution on
4th November1948, 15th November 1948 and 14th November 1949.
After enormous number of changes the Constituent Assembly of India finally
adopted the Constitution on 26th November 1949.

The last session of the Constituent Assembly took place on 24th January 1950 where Dr Rajendra Prasad was elected as the President of India and 284 members signed the official copies of the Constitution. Some provisions of the Constitution pertaining to citizenship, elections, provisional parliament, temporary and transitional provisions, and short title contained in Articles 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 60, 324, 366, 367, 379, 380, 388, 391, 392 and 393 came into force on November 26, 1949 itself.  The remaining provisions (the major part) of the Constitution came into force on January 26, 1950.

This day is referred to in the Constitution as the ‘date of its commencement’ and
celebrated as the Republic Day. January 26 was specifically chosen as the ‘date of commencement’ of the Constitution because of its historical importance. It was on this day in 1930 that Purna Swaraj day was celebrated, following the resolution of the Lahore Session (December 1929) of the INC. With the commencement of the Constitution, the Indian Independence Act of 1947 and the Government of India Act of 1935, with all enactments amending or supplementing the latter Act, were repealed.

The Constituent Assembly took 2years, 11months and 18days in making the Constitution and the cost of making the Constitution was approximately 64 lac The Constitution of India is the longest written Constitution in the history of the world having a Preamble, 395 Articles, 22 Parts and 8 Schedules although presently it has around 465 Articles, 25 parts, 12 Schedules and more than 100 Amendment The nature of the Indian Constitution is Quasi-federal i.e. more federal and less unitary during the normal circumstances it is federal but during the proclamation of National Emergency under article 352 the nature of the constitution becomes unitary in nature

Dr B R Ambedkar played a major role and was the chairman of the drafting committee of the constitution that is why he is also known as the father of Indian Constitution or “Modern Manu”

Chairman’s of the Important Committees

  1. Rules of Procedure Committee:  Rajendra Prasad
  2. Steering Committee:  Rajendra Prasad
  3. Provincial Constitution Committee, Fundamental Rights, Minorities:  Vallabhbhai Patel
  4. Union Powers Committee:  Jawaharlal Nehru
  5. Union Constitution Committee:  Jawaharlal Nehru
  6. States Committee: (Committee for Jawaharlal Nehru Negotiating with States)
  7. Drafting Committee:  B. R. Ambedkar
  8. Flag Committee: J. B. Kriplani

5 sub–committees:

  1. North-East Frontier Tribal Areas and Assam, Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas Sub-Committee: Gopinath Bardoloi
  2. Excluded and Partially Excluded Area (other than those in Assam) Sub-Committee: AV Thakkar
  3. Fundamental Rights sub-committee: JB Kripalani
  4. Minorities Sub-Committee: HC Mookherjee
  5. North West Frontier Tribal Areas: Gopinath Bardoloi

Minor Committees

  1. Finance and Staff Committee: Rajendra Prasad
  2. Credential Committee: Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar
  3. House Committee: B Pattabhi Sitaramayya
  4. Order of Business Committee: KM Munshi
  5. Ad-hoc Committee on the National Flag: Rajendra Prasad
  6. Committee on the Functions of the Constituent Assembly: GV Mavalankar

Drafting Committee

Amongst the most important committees of the Constituent Assembly, the most important was the Drafting committee which was set up on 29th August 1947. The main aim of this committee was the preparation of the draft of the new Constitution.

The drafting committee consists of seven members.

  1. Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (Father of the Constitution)
  2. N. Gopalaswamy Ayyar
  3. Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar
  4. Syed Mohammad Saadullah
  5. Dr. K.M Munshi
  6. N. Madhava Rau (replaced B.L Mitter)
  7. T.T Krishnamachari (replaced D.P. Khaitan)

Some Important Points to remember

  1. The Constitution was adopted on 26th November 1949
  2. The National Song was accepted on 24th January 1950
  3. The National Anthem was accepted on 24th January 1950
  4. The National Flag was accepted on 22nd July 1947
  5. Pingali Venkaiha from Andhra Pradesh was the designer of the National Flag of India
  6. Elephant was the symbol of the Constituent Assembly of India
  7. Prem Bihari Raizada was the English Calligrapher of the Constitution
  8. Vasant Krishna Vaidya was the Hindi Calligrapher of the Constitution


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