It is commonly believed that B.R. Ambedkar framed the Indian Constitution. Many think he did so single-handedly. But like any other constitution, ours wasn’t created by any single person. It was formulated in a number of Committees and then debated and decided inside the Constituent Assembly.
However, there is a reason why Ambedkar is usually given all the credit. He was a popular leader of the Dalits (people of scheduled castes) who constitute about 16% of India’s population today. That is a big vote bank. For decades, those who wish to get the Dalit vote have been feigning Ambedkar-worship by singing paeans to his constitutional contributions.
No doubt, Ambedkar was a key member of the Constituent Assembly. He sat in some of its topmost committees, such as the Union Constitution Committee chaired by Jawaharlal Nehru. Ambedkar also led the Drafting Committee which scrutinized the original draft prepared by the Constitutional Advisor, B.N. Rau. Shepherding the final draft through the Assembly was a major accomplishment indeed, where Ambedkar made some of his finest speeches.
But the real architect of India’s Constitution was Jawaharlal Nehru. His Union Constitution Committee had 15 members including Ambedkar. Almost all key principles of the Constitution were decided by this Committee, and only then brought to the floor of the Assembly. And since the Assembly was in total control of the Congress party of which Nehru was the indisputable leader, the Committee decisions were almost always approved.
So much so that in the case of deciding how the President of the country ought to be elected, Nehru’s wish prevailed over all others inside the Assembly. He wanted the President to be elected indirectly by the MPs and MLAs sitting in the country’s legislatures. In a joint meeting in June 1947 of the Assembly’s 36 topmost framers, Nehru was asked to reconsider. But he never did. Today, India’s President, the head of government, is not elected directly by the people.
In the following article, one of India’s leading constitutional scholars, Sudheendra Kulkarni chronicles the roles of Ambedkar and Nehru in the making of India’s Constitution.
[Excerpts of Kulkarni’s article first published in The Herald}
Nehru Stands Above Ambedkar in the Writing of India’s Constitution
By Sudheendra Kulkarni
We are living in times when it has become hazardous to extol the greatness of our first prime minister who provided leadership to a free India for the longest stint in its history ─ 17 years. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru began steering the ship of the nation in tempestuous times, when India had been partitioned and the division was accompanied by communal killings, destruction, and trans-border migration on a horrendous scale. …
NEHRU’S ROLE IN THE MAKING OF THE CONSTITUTION IGNORED
Since this article is being written on the occasion of Constitution Day – 26 November, 1949 was when the Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution of India; it came into force on 26 January, 1950 –
I would like to highlight how Nehru’s preeminent role in its making is sought to be falsified. In contrast, a myth has been created that Dr B R Ambedkar was the sole author and architect of the Indian Constitution.
A successful attempt has been made to raise, in popular consciousness, Ambedkar’s place in Indian history far above that of Nehru. Disconcertingly, even the Congress party and the large body of its supporters among the intelligentsia have followed the bandwagon. In the process, Nehru’s decisive philosophical and practical contribution to the making of the Indian Constitution – quite apart from his foundational contribution to the making of modern India – seems to be headed towards oblivion.
An important caveat here:
It is not my intention to negate or belittle Dr Ambedkar’s important role in drafting the Indian Constitution – or in India’s freedom struggle. As a champion of social justice and a determined fighter for the just rights of the oppressed and discriminated sections in the caste-ridden Indian (Hindu) society, he imparted a uniquely useful dimension to our freedom struggle and also to the Constitution.
Indeed, as the head of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution, he certainly stands tall among the luminaries who were part of the Constituent Assembly.
AMBEDKAR: NOT THE SOLE ARCHITECT OF THE CONSTITUTION
However, it helps to know that members of the Drafting Committee – much less its chairman – did not have the sole or overriding power to prepare the document on their own, or the way they like. They had to draft the Constitution as per the views and recommendations of various subject committees, and the draft itself was discussed, amended and ultimately adopted by the larger Constituent Assembly.
In this entire process, no leader played a more pivotal role than Nehru. How could it have been otherwise? He was, after all, and after Mahatma Gandhi, the tallest leader of the freedom movement and the Congress. He was the prime minister in the interim government of India, formed on 2 September 1946.
It was Mahatma Gandhi who asked Nehru, the Prime Minister of the new Congress-led government, to invite Ambedkar to join the council of ministers.
Again, it was on account of Mahatma’s suggestion, and also in recognition of Ambedkar’s well-known scholarship in legal and constitutional matters, that the Congress party, which had an overwhelming majority in the Constituent Assembly, decided to appoint him as Chairman of the Drafting Committee.
NEHRU LED THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY BEFORE AMBEDKAR
Ambedkar was not a member of the Congress. Indeed, he was its bitter critic. He was not one of the front-ranking leaders in the anti-British struggle, which was led, principally, by the Congress. Therefore, it is unreasonable to think that, when the time came to create a Constitution for the soon-to-be-independent India, the Congress and its leaders would play a role subservient to that of Ambedkar.
All of us today know that the Preamble to the Indian Constitution is its heart and soul. As stated by Ambedkar’s own Drafting Committee, the Preamble is based on the ‘Resolution on the Aims and Objects of the Constitution’ (which came to be known as the ‘Objective Resolution’), which Nehru moved on 13 December 1946, and it was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 22 January 1947.
NEHRU CREDITED WITH THE ‘BASIC STRUCTURE’ OF CONSTITUTION
The Supreme Court of India, in its landmark 1973 judgment in the Kesavananda Bharati case, held that the objectives enshrined in the Preamble contain the Basic Structure of the Constitution.
The then Chief Justice, S S Sikri, observed: The Preamble of our Constitution is of extreme importance and the Constitution should be read and interpreted in light of the grand and noble vision expressed in the Preamble.
In other words, the ‘Basic Structure Doctrine’, which has given our Constitution its permanent, stable and guiding character, owes mostly to Nehru’s vision as he had articulated it in the Constituent Assembly, much before Ambedkar was made the chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee.
‘OBJECTIVE RESOLUTION’ THAT FORMS THE BASIS OF CONSTITUTION
Besides the Preamble, Nehru’s intellectual fingerprints can be seen all over the Constitution. Most of the defining ideals, principles and guarantees in the Constitution, for which it is globally acclaimed, had found passionate expression in Nehru’s speech while introducing the ‘Objective Resolution’.
These include: people as the source of all power and authority of the independent and sovereign India; guarantees of social, economic and political justice to the people of India without any discrimination; equality before the law; freedom of thought, expression, faith; safeguards to backward and tribal areas, and historically discriminated sections of society; and an obligation on the government to promote world peace, international friendship and cooperation.
TRANSLATING PEOPLE’S MANDATE TO GOVERNANCE
Furthermore, Nehru was chairman of two important committees ─ Union Powers Committee and Union Constitution Committee. The deliberations of these committees helped in ensuring the centrality of the Union government over State governments, a principle that has greatly protected the political unity of India and kept a check on fissiparous forces.
Nehru, a quintessential democrat, recognized the importance of safeguarding citizens’ right to freedom, which came to be embodied in Article 19 and also in Articles 20-22.
He upheld the principle of an independent judiciary as the protector of citizens’ rights and also to check the transgressions of the State institutions. Guaranteeing protection to minorities (on which Nehru and Ambedkar had similar views) was his other important contribution.
On the rights of the President, Nehru ensured a fine working relationship between the Head of State and Head of Government, even as the Constitution makes it amply clear that Parliament is the supreme law-making authority and the Prime Minister is the supreme executive authority.
This constitutional wisdom has been respected by all the presidents ─ from Rajendra Prasad to Ramnath Kovind ─ and has given all the prime ministers ─ from Nehru to Narendra Modi ─ the necessary space and powers to translate people’s mandate into governance.
NEHRU’S HISTORIC SPEECHES IN THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY
Anyone who reads the Constituent Assembly debates would assert that the star performer was Nehru, not Ambedkar.
Every time he spoke in the Constituent Assembly, his voice and words carried the gravitas and stamp of authority of the future leader of the nation.
Nowhere is it more evident than in the all-important ‘Objective Resolution’ speech. He, indeed, spoke twice on this resolution. Even by the Nehruvian standards of brilliant oration, the two speeches excel in idealism enriched by lyricism. They are comparable to his ‘Tryst With Destiny’ oration, on the midnight of freedom, eight months later.
This article was first published in National Herald on 27 November 2017