- by Professor Bimal Prasad
It goes without saying that by the time the Constituent Assembly of India met in December 1946 and Rajendra Prasad was unanimously elected its, President, he had attained a very high position in our public life because of his long experience and his exceptional qualities of head and heart. Sarojini Naidu, the famous poetess and one of the prominent Congress leaders, when called upon to felicitate Rajen Babu, as he was popularly called, observed:
Some time ago I was asked to compress an epic into an epigram about Rajendra Prasad. I was asked to say a line about Rajendra Prasad, and I said that I could only do so if I had a pen of gold dipped in a pot of honey adequately to pay tribute to his qualities. In this House where every one has said with conviction that he would be the guardian and the father of the House, I conceive him not one with the flaming sword but an angel with the lily which wins victories over the hearts of men, because in him there is essential sweetness, that is part of his strength, there is essential wisdom, that is part of his experience, there is essential clarity of vision, creative imagination and creative faith that brings him very near the feet of Lord Buddha himself.
In course of her speech Sarojini Naidu also remarked: ‘I have the last word, not because I am a woman but because I am acting today as the hostess of the Indian National Congress which has so gladly invited those who are outside its fold to come and participate with us in framing the Constitution, that is to be the immortal charter of India’s freedom’. The significance of this remark needs to be underlined. The key to understanding the making of our Constitution is to remember that the overwhelming majority of its members, as was only to be expected in the then existing situation, belonged to the Congress. A few, including B.R.Ambedkar, chairman of the Drafting Committee, who did not so belong, had been brought into that body with Congress initiative or support. In such a state of affairs it was but natural that the members of the Congress High Command really functioned as the High Command of the Constituent Assembly and played a crucial role in shaping the decisions which were incorporated in the draft prepared by the Drafting Committee. As Ambedkar himself remarked in his closing address to the Constituent Assembly:
The task of the Drafting Committee would have been a very difficult one if this Constituent Assembly had been merely a motley crowd, a tessellated pavement without cement, a black stone here and a white stone there in which each member or each group was a law unto itself. There would have been nothing but chaos. This possibility of chaos was reduced to nil by the existence of the Congress Party inside the Assembly which brought into its proceedings a sense of order and discipline. It is because of the discipline of the Congress Party that the Drafting Committee was able to pilot the Constitution in the Assembly with the sure knowledge as to the fate of each Article and each Amendment. The Congress Party is, therefore, entitled to all the credit for the smooth sailing of the Draft Constitution in the Assembly.
Among the Congress stalwarts who played a key-role in the making of the Constitution, mention may first be made of Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of the Congress Party in the Constituent Assembly, Vice-president of the Interim Government since 2nd September 1946 and prime Minister of the country since 15 August 1947. Right in the beginning, before any other serious business was transacted, he prepared and moved a resolution in the Constituent Assembly on 13 December 1946, specifying the guiding principles and objectives which were expected to form the basis of the Constitution going to be framed. The occasion was also remarkable for his masterly exposition of those principles and objectives in his two speeches in connection with this resolution: one while moving it and the other while replying to the debate on 22 January 1947. It is, however, important to remember that what he said carried overwhelming weight not so much because of his towering stature, forceful personality and clear exposition, though these certainly were always present, but because what he said represented the collective judgement of the Congress High Command of which he was the chief spokesman. The other members of the Command were Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad and Abul Kalam Azad, and they too, along with Nehru, are entitled to be called the founding fathers of the Constitution. Working together they played a key role in settling almost all the points under discussion inside the Congress Party. Although every member of the Congress Party, and indeed of the Constituent Assembly as a whole, was given full freedom to air his or her views and the debates at both the forums were always free and lively, once it became known what the High Command was thinking on a particular issue, an overwhelming majority of the Congress members fell in line. However, the nature of the role of the various members varied. Nehru not only drafted and moved the 'Objectives Resolution', but also intervened in the debates on numerous other occasions as per need of the moment. Patel, who was Home Member in the Interim Government and became Deputy Prime Minister on 15 August 1947, played an almost equally important role. He shared with Nehru the chairmanship of the most important committees set up by the Constituent Assembly whose reports were discussed on the floor of the Assembly and provided the basis for the provisions of the Constitution. Thus Nehru was chairman of the State Committee, Union Powers Committee and Union Constitution Committee and Patel of the Provincial Constitution Committee, one Advisory Committee, which and two sub-committees, one dealing with Fundamental Rights and the other with Minorities. Besides, they being the most powerful leaders of the Congress as well as deeply interested in the work of constitution making, their advice was sought on all contentious issues and once they came forward with an agreed solution, that was immediately accepted. T.T. Krishnamachari, a member of the Drafting Committee, had this in mind when he remarked that Nehru and Patel were 'the real architects of the Constitution.' Equally significant was the observation of Rajendra Prasad in his closing address to the Constituent Assembly as its President that to Nehru and Patel belonged the credit for the 'fundamentals of our Constitution’.
Prasad's contribution to the Constitution was next only to that of Nehru and Patel. Apart from his towering personality and long innings as a member of the Congress High Command, as President of Constituent Assembly he enjoyed the confidence of all sections of the House and the impartial and affectionate way in which he conducted the proceedings and encouraged every member to express his views contributed to the free flow of discussion therein. He was also chairman of two committees of the Constituent Assembly : Rules Committee and Steering Committee. Although he never, on his own, tried to influence the members one way or the other, we have it on the testimony of Krishnamachari that he remained in close touch with the members of the Drafting Committee and had 'practically had some say in most of the work’ that they did and further that his 'advice and guidance' were of great help to them. Besides, it can be safely assumed that Nehru and Patel could not settle any issue without consulting him.
While, because of his position as president of the Constituent Assembly, most of Rajen Babu's 'guidance and advice' on controversial and difficult issues was offered in private, his general guidance and advice to the members of the Constituent Assembly and indeed to posterity were contained in his three speeches—Inaugural Address to the Constituent Assembly 11 December 1946; speech on the official language of the Union, 14 September 1949; and closing address to the constituent Assembly on the Draft constitution on 26 November 1949. Those who want to have a full idea of Rajendra Prasad’s publicly expressed in the Constituent Assembly must go through the texts of those speeches published in the Proceedings of the Constituent Assembly.
I may, however, quote here some of the inspiring words contained in his inaugural address, which beautifully sum up the main principles which were finally enshrined in our constitution. He observed that it was within the power of the Constituent Assembly ‘to place before the world a model of a constitution that will satisfy all our people, all groups of communities, all religious inhabiting this vast land, and which will ensure to everyone freedom of action, freedom of thought, freedom of belief and freedom of worship, will guarantee to everyone opportunities for rising to his highest and which will guarantee to everyone freedom in all respects”.
Note about the Author:
Prof. Bimal Prasad was formerly Professor of South Asian Studies and Dean, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and India’s Ambassador to Nepal. Currently he is President, Indian Council for South Asian Cooperation; Chairman, National Gandhi Museum; Chairman, Rajendra Bhawan Trust; and Honorary Director Rajendra Prasad Academy (all in New Delhi).
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