The Election of the Chairman- Day Three of the Constituent Assembly (December 11th, 1946)

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Dr. Rajendra Prasad was unanimously elected as the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly. Four nominations were received, all in favour of Prasad, although two of them were found to be invalid because of the absence of seconder’s name. The two valid nominations were from – Acharya Kriplani (proposer) and Vallabh Bhai Patel (seconder), and Harekrushna Mehtab (proposer) and Nand Kishore Das (seconder). The invalid nominations were proposed by T.Prakasam and S.Radhakrishnan respectively.

Curiously, the temporary Chairman, Dr.Sachchidanand Sinha exclaimed “Hip hip hurrah, hip hip hurrah”, after announcing the election of Rajendra Prasad, while most members shouted Inquilab Zindabad and Jai Hind.

S.Radhakrishnan, followed by Gopalswami Ayyangar delivered long congratulatory speeches. While discussing the nature and progress of the British rule in India, Radhakrishnan mentioned the basis of it – the famous CECIL RHODES principle, fundamental to imperialism, that is, philanthropy plus 5 percent. He also observed that the British were empirics from the very beginning. When they adopted any particular line of action, it was not a willing surrender of power or authority but it was a response to the historic necessities. To buttress this point, he quoted Lord Palmerstone, who had said ‘we British have no eternal principles, we have only eternal interests’.

Radhakrishnan was quite critical of the British Government for fostering divisions between Congress and the League, and attempting to limit the sovereignty of the Assembly. He warned of bitterness creeping into the relations between India and Britain. He also talked about the common ancestry and promised cultural autonomy, and regretted the absence of League members from the House.

The philosopher invoked Buddha and his piety, as well as Ashoka, who got ‘समवाय एव साधुहः’ inscribed on his Edicts. It means ‘Concord is the Supreme Good’, thereby acknowledging the importance of peace and harmony when different races and religions inhabit inside a country. He further added that India was a symphony where there were, as in an orchestra, different instruments, each with its particular sonority, each with its special sound, all combining to interpret one particular score. He extolled the spirit of this great country which was to ‘Live and let live’. Dr.Radhakrishnan lauded the innate gentleness of the temporary and the permanent Chairmen, both of whom came from Bihar, and attributed that trait to the spirit of the vihara. He quoted the Mahabharata-

मृदुना दारुणं हन्ति मृदुना हन्त्यदारुणम् ।
नासाध्यं मृदुना किंचित् तस्मात् तीव्रतरं मृदु ।।“

“Gentleness can overcome the hardest things; it can overcome the softest things. There is nothing impossible to be overcome by gentleness, and therefore the sharpest weapon we have is gentleness.”

Radhakrishnan lamented that Indians had not been gentle with millions of their fellowmen for centuries, and had done wrong by them. It was not a question of justice, guilt, or charity, it was time to make atonement for the past. Lastly, he expressed hope that the spirit of amity, concord and harmony which has come down to us from the image of Siva in the Indus civilization, down to Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Rajendra Prasad, would inspire the efforts of the Assembly.

The Hon’ble Diwan Bahadur Sir N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar (why should he have carried such baggage of titles into the Constituent Assembly is a relevant question) dwelt upon the need to defeat all attempts, direct or indirect, at weakening or whittling down the sovereign Powers of the Assembly. The task of the Assembly was, in the not very elegant word that the Cabinet Mission had employed in its Statement, the ‘settling’ of the Constitution for all India-all India, including not merely the Union but the units and, if the Assembly and its Sections were to so decide, the Groups, if any, were to be formed at all. The statement of the Cabinet Mission was the law of the constitution of the Assembly. That constitution derived its authority not from the fact that its authors were three Members of His Majesty’s Government but from the fact that the proposals made therein had been accepted by the people of India.

 He spoke on the powers and scope of the Assembly- “The law of the constitution of this Assembly does not vest in any outside authority, Judicial or otherwise, the interpretation of any of its provisions. In one single instance alone does it require that the Chairman should obtain the advice of the Federal Court at the request of the majority of either of the major communities in the Assembly before he takes a decision on the issue. It follows therefore that the decision of all questions of interpretation of the law of the constitution of this Assembly will be in the Chairman’s hands, subject to such directions as this Assembly itself may give.” No such ruling was binding upon it, unless the Assembly agreed to be abide by it. Ayyangar questioned a recent statement of HM’s Government in which said that ‘either side’ was free to ask an outside authority to decide matters of interpretation, and that the Assembly should accept whatever decision was given.

After these two speeches, Frank Anthony, Sardar Ujjal Singh, Lt Col Kamleshwar Singh (Maharajadhiraja of Darbhanga) and Joseph Alban D’Souza welcomed the permanent Chairman. D’Souza invoked Burke who had presaged a century ago that when the child India came of age, the trusteeship must end. He asked the Assembly if India had still not come of age? Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, CM Poonacha, Vishwanath Pillai and HV Kamath also welcomed Dr. Rajendra Prasad. In his brief speech Kamath mentioned Netaji Bose’s Azad Hind Fauz, the gospel of universalism (Sanatano nityanutarih) and signed off with Kathopanishad’s –

“उत्थिष्ठ जागृत प्राप्य वरान्निबोधत”

“Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached.”

Somanth Lahiri, the communist representative, wanted the Assembly to declare freedom there and then. Jaipal Singh Munda, the representative of aboriginal tribes of Chhota Nagpur, the captain of the Gold-winning hockey team at Amsterdam Olympics(1928 had this to say, besides congratulating Dr.Prasad-

Let the British quit. Then after that, all the later-comers quit. Then there would be left behind the original people of India.

Finally, the temporary Chairman called bulbul-i-Hind, the Nightingale of India, Sarojini Naidu, to have the last word in prose, and not in poetry. Sinha and Sarojini indulged in some mirthful banter amid loud cheers. Naidu sang a Kashmiri poem-

बुलबुल को गुल मुबारक, गुल को चमन मुबारक,

रंगीन तबीयतों को रंग-ए-सुख़न मुबारक….

She promised to keep her address brief, and confine herself, “as a woman should, to purely domestic issues.” She adopted a humorous tone and touched upon everyone, right from SN Sinha to Radhakrishnan and Jaipal Singh Munda (who had asked everyone except the Aborigines to quit India). She regretted the absence of Muslim League members, and hoped that they would soon join the proceedings under ‘her old friend Jinnah’. She also mentioned Dr. Ambedkar, who was initially opposed to the convening of a Constituent Assembly but had later joined it, and hoped his bitterness would mellow with the passage of time and conducting of worthwhile business.

The temporary Chairman, SN Sinha, recalled his long association with Prasad, right from the days of the latter’s successes at the matriculation and the university levels.  Finally, after J.B. Kriplani had thanked the temporary Chairman for his successful stint, the elected Chairman, Dr.Rajendra Prasad, delivered his speech in Hindi, and repeated certain important points in English.

The proceedings got wounded up with the announcement of the names of 15 members elected to serve in the Procedure/Rules Committee.  


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