Samvidhaan – Episode 1/10

We have here, ladies and gentlemen, an original copy of the Constitution of India. One of a 1000 made specially… …for the members of the Constituent Assembly. who toiled day and night for 3 years to complete this book. I present to you the Constitution of India! This is no ordinary book. It is a symbol of our nation. But have you ever wondered what exactly is a nation? Social scientists say that people of one race, one religion, one language, one flag and following one law constitutes a nation. But the Indian subcontinent with with its many languages, religions, cultures and races cannot be fixed into narrow definitions. Such a nation and society needs to break old norms to unitedly move forward. It cannot do so by following ancient rules. And so our forbears created our Constitution, our identity. This is the mirror that shows who we are and how we can improve ourselves. From today, I will take you on a tour of this magical world. How was it created, when was it made, who made it and why. Let us go there, where the story of our Constitution begins. let’s look at that sacred book which we will study. Led by Shantiniketan’s famous painter Nandalal Bose, several artists used Indian history, mythology and legend to design and decorate this book. And Prem Behari Narain Raizada’s calligraphy adorned the text. But their painstaking effort pales in comparison to the three years of labour and imagination needed to actually shape our Constitution. Because that was not just the act of creating a book. It was the visualisation of a new nation, a new society. Of such a civilization that was never seen before in this world. In December 1946, when the Constitution formally started to take shape had actually begun much earlier. The revolutionaries of the 1857 War of Independence, had attempted to write their own Constitution. Though their revolt was crushed early but the dream to make a constitution for a free nation was neither crushed, nor lost. As the freedom movement under Mahatma Gandhi gathered force, the demand for our own Constitution became more vocal. Now, under the leadership of Gandhiji, history had once again given us a chance to shape a new India. Congress leader and exemplary lawyer, Pandit Motilal Nehru in 1928 prepared a report that came to be known as the ‘Nehru Report’ or ‘Swaraj Samvidhaan’. After him, when his son Jawahar became a leader of the Congress the young leader clearly articulated the dream of India’s Constitution Freedom is never granted. Independence comes not by changing a clause of some law. By naming this a new form of government, the British aim to prolong their rule. Real Independence will come when we elect our own Constituent Assembly and think about our own Constitution decide our own laws, make our own constitution. Due to persistent demand, the British in 1935 enacted the Government of India Act. This Act was not only woefully short of the Indian demand for self-rule, but it also increased tensions between Congress and the Muslim League. Later, during World War II, in 1945, Dr. Tej Bahadur Sapru consulted all parties to prepare the framework for a draft constitution. With the losses of World War II and the shock of Azad Hind Fauj and Quit India movement the British lost all hopes of ruling India forever. Winston Churchill won the war, but lost the elections. The new British Prime Minister Clement Attlee said that the work of making a Constitution for India and accomodating demands of the Muslim League. would begin immediately. Under this, for the first time, a group of 3 cabinet ministers of His Majesty’s government, arrived in India. And this came to be called – The Cabinet Mission. The Shimla sittings were held in the Viceregal Lodge, where leading Indian political figures had assembled. The Congress sent its President Maulana Azad along with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. The Muslim League fielded Mr Jinnah along with Liaquat Ali Khan, Sardar Nishtar and Nawab Ismail Khan. Others represented the Sikhs, Parsees, Christians and Dalits. And representing the many princely states of India, was Bhopal’s Nawab Mohammad Hamidullah who in those days was the Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes. Jinnah Sahib resented the fact that the Congress, according to him a Hindu party, was represented equally by Muslims including their President. In such a situation, the cool hill-station of Shimla, was bound to turn hot. Jinnah Saheb wanted for Assam and Bengal in the east, and the four Muslim majority provinces in the west, to have their own separate Constituent Assemblies. The rest of the country could then have theirs. The native states could decide who they wanted to join, or whether they wanted to remain independent. The Congress flatly refused the idea of several constitutions. But Jinnah my brother, have we ever had different laws for Hindus and Muslims? Where is the need for two different laws now? And who says you are the sole representative of the Muslims? Brother, we too are Muslims. Right, Maulana? The bitter truth was that the British – well aware of their depleting military might, had no desire to douse the communal fire. And before leaving they wanted to turn power over to a loose confederation, preferably British controlled. Such an agreement was proposed on 16th May, 1946. Bapu, here’s the working Committee’s resolution against Jinnah’s groupings. We cannot let our country be divided. Whatever the wrongs of British rule, the Cabinet Mission has done their duty and are eager to get off our backs. Now it is upto us to turn this sad, unfortunate land into a happy and fortunate one. All in all, the Cabinet Mission was a failure. Not wishing to return empty-handed, they began another round of talks, and a month of effort resulted in the resolution of 16th June, 1946. If we do not accept the Cabinet Mission’s proposal of joining the interim government, not only will we be left out but it is possible that they will send us back to jail. Hence it is better that we accept their small demand that we will have no Muslim member in the cabinet list. Are you making a plan to remove your own name, Maulana? Sardar, the nation is bigger than any individual or religious group. I understand what Maulana is saying. If we lose this chance to join the government then the League and Mr Jinnah will take undue advantage. Bapu, what is your opinion? I don’t know anything about advantage or disadvantage. I speak as my conscience dictates. I believe that fearing Jinnah, or in a hurry to join the government, if we leave out names of our Muslim brothers from the list then how are we different from them? Jinnah Sahib may represent only Muslims… But, are you leaders only of the Hindus? You’re right, Bapu. But, Cripps and his people are not willing to wait. And to join the government even if we have to remove the names of Muslims from the cabinet, What difference does it make? It makes a difference to me. And I am not willing to have any links with such a party. If you people are so eager to rule then make your government. But I will leave Delhi. Bapu we understand you. But if at this moment we do not give them our immediate reply, the chance will be lost. If this is what all of you have decided, then I admit defeat. I don’t trust the motive of the British here. But I have no proof to back my suspicions either. If you permit, I would like to leave.. Are we to let Bapu leave? Pyarelal! And so a new Constitution was agreed upon. It was also agreed that despite Mr. Jinnah’s suggestions there was to be only one Constituent Assembly to decide the future of the Indian nation. Obviously, no one was entirely pleased at this arrangement. But for Jinnah it was as if lightning had struck, and he was not one to forgive and forget. But Qaid-e-Azam, will our Direct Action be non-violent? And as you know, I am no believer in the non-violence of Mr. Gandhi. Two months of parleys suddenly ended. The Cabinet Mission went back as menacing clouds rose on the horizon. Viceroy Wavell ordered all Provincial Governors to keep the police ready. But Bengal’s Governor Sir Frederick Barrows informed Wavell that the Muslim League Prime Minister H.S. Suhrawardy had declared 16th of August a police holiday. 16th August 1946 was to be a black day in our history. Answering Jinnah’s call, right from the morning of 16th August, armed gangs wrecked havoc on the streets of Calcutta. Counter-violence followed and for three days rioters ruled the city. The police remained on leave. The army with their Dragon tanks sat quietly in their barracks and murder, violence and arson continued on the street. More than 4000 people were killed in three days. The violence spread to Bihar and beyond. Even Bombay was affected. But the cycle of violence in Noakhali of East Bengal stunned everyone. Leaving everything behind, Gandhiji rushed to Noakhali. Wavell believed that only a government made of Indians, could prevent this civil-war like situation. So Pandit Nehru accepted the position of Vice President and Sardar Patel the Home Minister in the interim government. At first Jinnah ridiculed the new arrangement, but on 15th October he allowed Liaquat Ali Khan to become the Minister of Finance. Jinnah kept himself out as he did not wish to play second-fiddle to Nehru. Thus the interim government was formed, but was unstable and wobbled from crisis to crisis. Gandhiji had already warned Viceroy Wavell of this danger. Wavell, now thoroughly frustrated, wrote to King George… Colder than the icy winter of London in December, 1946 was the stand-off between Mr Jinnah and Padit Nehru. When many meetings failed to produce any result, Nehru gave the British an ultimatum, in their own lair. Afraid of ‘mass action’ His Majesty’s Government hastily agreed. Within 3 days of Nehru’s return, India’s first Constituent Assembly was convened. On the historic day of 9th December 1946, in this very building, for the first time gathered, India’s Constituent Assembly. Each region sent elected members from their provincial assemblies. The Muslim League, as expected, had decided to boycott it completely. To give India a new form, to give shape to a new Constitution, important figures from all over were present in the Constituent Assembly. Except two people and perhaps the two most important people – Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi. Many members of the Assembly went to Gandhiji to seek his blessings and guidance. Come Jagjivan babu. I know… Even if we make the world’s finest Constitution it will prove worthless without people who can implement it. Bapu, I am sure we don’t have shortage of good men and women to work our new Constitution. We have come here to seek your blessings. Bapu’s blessings are always with you. But today I will give you a talisman which maybe of help to you. A talisman? I thought you had no faith in superstitions! I have absolute faith in this one. Whenever you are in doubt, apply the following test: recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man you have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to the control over his own life and destiny? In other words… will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and starving millions? Then you will find your doubts melt away. The Constituent Assembly chose the senior-most member, Dr. Sachidanand Sinha as the Interim President. Under his watch, the members took oath. Then Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected as the permanent President. Sisters and brothers, if I may be forgiven, I would like to say that in our nation divided by caste and creed, you have, by electing me, made me an outcast. Depriving me of a seat among you, you have compelled me to sit on a different chair. And it does not end there. Perhaps every single one of you also expects that I will be free of bias towards any party or community. His speech, first in Hindi and then in English, moved everyone. On the historic day of 13th December, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru presented before the Constituent Assembly a document that was to lay the foundation of our Constitution And this was – the Aims and Objectives Resolution. From India’s independence, unity and sovereignty to equality and fundamental rights of citizens in new India, Pandit Nehru’s proposal covered many subjects. Eight main points were covered in the resolution by him. And using a few words, he drew the map of our future Constitution. But he too regretted the absence of some people in the Assembly. Today, in this Assembly, we miss many people. We would have liked if representatives from the remaining areas, provinces, and princely states would have joined us. There is another person who isn’t present here but who is in the hearts and minds of many of us today – the great leader of our people, the Father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi! His hard work and dedication has made this Assembly possible. Bapu isn’t present here, because in the fulfilment of his ideals, he is ceaselessly working in some far corner of India. But I have no doubt that his spirit hovers over this place and blesses our undertaking. On 13th December, with his Aims and Objectives Resolution, Pandit Nehru had laid the foundation of our Constitution. The very next day Jinnah Saheb questioned the validity of the Constituent Assembly itself. This was merely the beginning. There were many hurdles ahead. Let us see how our Constitution makers overcame these obstacles.

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