The First DAY of the Constituent Assembly (December 9, 1946) – A Brief Account

On December 9th , 1946 at 11 AM, in the Constitution Hall was held the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly.

Acharya Kriplani requested Dr. Sachchidanand Sinha to take the chair of the temporary Chairman, welcomed him and talked about his illustrious career – the oldest among all present, the oldest parliamentarian in India having served in the Imperial Legislative Council from 1910 to 1920, in the Central Legislative Assembly as a member and Deputy President, Ex-councillor and Finance Minister of Bihar and Orissa. He was a Congressman till 1920, and had been the Vice Chancellor of the Patna University.

SN Sinha occupied the chair, and read out messages from the US Acting Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, Embassy of China and the Government of Australia. He then brought to the notice of the House the election petition from Khan Abdus Samad Khan who had challenged the validity of the election of Nawab Mohammad Khan Jogazai from British Baluchistan, which was to be disposed of later.

In his inaugural address, SN Sinha felt compelled to quote Lord PALMERSTONE, who had uttered the following words when offered the highest Order of Chivalry, that is, the Knighthood, by Queen Victoria-

“I have gratefully accepted Her Majesty’s offer, as thank god, there is no question of damned merit about the honour conferred on me.”

“I say I find myself more or less in the same position, for you have agreed to accept me as your President on the sole ground that I am in age, the senior-most member of this Assembly.”

The temporary Chairman talked about the absence of a Constituent Assembly in Britain, since the British Parliament has the sole authority to make and unmake all laws, including the constitutional laws.  The oldest Republic in Europe, Switzerland, has not had Constituent Law either.  He referred to the French National Assembly which was convoked in 1789. But France did not remain steadfast on the original principles, saw many changes over the years, and even in 1947 was in a state of flux. As we know, the Fifth French Republic was proclaimed in 1958.

In fact, the French lawmakers had been hugely influenced by the Constitutional Convention held at Philadelphia in 1787. The American Constitution has been the model for most subsequent exercises in France, Canada, South Africa and Australia. Sinha discussed the Quebec Convention of 1864. He also quoted MUNRO, an authority on Constitutional Law, saying the American Constitution was ‘based upon a series of agreements and compromises.’ He argued for such reasonable agreements and judicious compromises in case of India as well.  He quoted Viscount BRYCE to make the argument that neither was the American Centre dependent upon the states, nor were the State mere sub-divisions of the Centre. While the Centre claimed directly the obedience of every citizen, the states also had authority over their citizens, which was their own and not delegated by the Central Government.

Dr. Sinha referred to the fact that American Constitution had stood the test of time, in the sense that excepting the first ten amendments, which were virtually a part of the original charter, very few further amendments had been required to be made. As of today, 33 Amendments have been proposed by the US Congress, and sent to the states, out of which 27 have been ratified by the required number, and are now part of the Constitution. He wished the proposed Indian Constitution proved to be as resilient and wide-reaching.

The temporary Chairman also credited Gandhi for talking about the idea of a Constituent Assembly to make laws for Indians as per their own wishes. He went back and quoted a 1922 statement of the Mahatma, but could not find the exact mention. A Swaraj Party resolution of 1934 specifically asked for a Constituent Assembly for the first time.  AICC reaffirmed the demand in its 1934, 1936 and 1939 resolutions. Muslim League had been demanding the formation of two Constituent Assemblies since 1940. Ultimately the Assembly was called under the scheme propounded by the British Cabinet Mission. At the end of his address, Dr. Sinha sought Divine blessings for the endeavour so that the proceedings be marked not only by good sense, public spirit, and genuine patriotism, but also by wisdom, toleration, justice, and fairness to all; and above all with a vision which may restore India to her pristine glory, and give her a place of honour and equality amongst the great nations of the world.

And then, surprisingly, Sinha chose to quote Mohammad Iqbal, the spiritual father of Pakistan-

“Yunan-o-Misr-o-Roma sab mit gaye jahan se,

Baqi abhi talak hai nam-o-nishan hamara, 

Kuch bat hai ke hasti mit-ti nahin hamari, 

Sadion raha hai dushman daur-e-zaman hamara.”

Sinha, then beseeched the members to bring to their task a broad and catholic vision, as laid down in the Bible-

     “Where there is no vision the people perish.”

After that Sh. Frank Anthony was nominated the acting temporary Chairman of the Assembly. One elected member of the Assembly, who had passed away, Sh. Prassana Deb Raikut of Bengal was paid condolences. Then were the credentials presented and proceedings signed by the Hon’ Members. Interesting inductees(state-wise)were Ramnath Goenka from Madras, BR Ambedkar from Bengal, S. Radhakrishnan from UP, Sarojini Naidu from Bihar, Maulana Azad and Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan from NWFP and Asaf Ali from Delhi.

It is quite telling that in the whole day of proceedings, not a single reference was drawn towards the Sanatana Dharma and its great philosophy or tradition. No verse from any Hindu text was quoted,  no saint of Bharatvarsha was mentioned. Palmerstone, Munro, Bryce, Iqbal , Bible and foreign Constitutions were invoked, but distance was kept from the Smritis and Indian legal documentaries, the Arthashastra, the Bhagvadgita and the two great Epics.

Was this done deliberately?

Were the intellectuals of the day allergic to Dharmic references?

Was it a shape of things to come?

#constitution #ambedkar #SNSINHA #acharyakriplani #1946 #constituentassemblydebates #constituentassembly #lordpalmerstone #munro #americanconstitution #Iqbal #dayone #indianindependence #viscountbryce #universaladultsuffrage #dharma #philadephia

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