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Making of the Indian Constitution

Like South Africa, India’s Constitution was also drawn up under very difficult circumstances. The making of the constitution for a huge and diverse country like India was not an easy affair. At that time the people of India were emerging from the status of subjects to that of citizens. The country was born through a partition on the basis of religious differences. This was a traumatic experience for the people of India and Pakistan. At least ten lakh people were killed on both sides of the border in partition related violence. There was another problem. The British had left it to the rulers of the princely states to decide whether they wanted to merge with India or with Pakistan or remain independent.


Partition of India

The merger of these princely states was a difficult and uncertain task. When the constitution was being written, the future of the country did not look as secure as it does today. The makers of the constitution had anxieties about the present and the future of the country.

Despite all these difficulties, there was one big advantage for the makers of the Indian Constitution. Unlike South Africa, they did not have to create a consensus about what a democratic India should look like. Much of this consensus had evolved during the freedom struggle. Our national movement was not merely a struggle against a foreign rule. It was also a struggle to rejuvenate our country and to transform our society and politics.

There were sharp differences of opinion within the freedom struggle about the path India should take after Independence. Such differences exist even today. Yet some basic ideas had come to be accepted by almost everyone. As far back as in 1928, Motilal Nehru and eight other Congress leaders drafted a constitution for India. In 1931, the resolution at the Karachi session of the Indian National Congress dwelt on how independent India’s constitution should look like. Both these documents were committed to the inclusion of universal adult franchise, right to freedom and equality and to protecting the rights of minorities in the constitution of independent India. Thus all leaders accepted some basic values much before the Constituent Assembly met to deliberate on the Constitution. The familiarity with political institutions of colonial rule also helped develop an agreement over the institutional design. The British rule had given voting rights only to a few. On that basis the British had introduced very weak legislatures. Elections were held in 1937 to Provincial Legislatures and Ministries all over British India.

These were not fully democratic governments. But the experience gained by Indians in the working of the legislative institutions proved to be very useful for the country in setting up its own institutions and working in them. That is why the Indian constitution adopted many institutional details and procedures from colonial laws like the Government of India Act 1935. Years of thinking and deliberation on the framework of the constitution had another benefit. Our leaders gained confidence to learn from other countries, but on our own terms. Many of our leaders were inspired by the ideals of French Revolution, the practice of parliamentary democracy in Britain and the Bill of Rights in the US. The socialist revolution in Russia had inspired many Indians to think of shaping a system based on social and economic equality. Yet they were not simply imitating what others had done. At each step they were questioning whether these things suited our country. All these factors contributed to the making of our Constitution.


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