On December 9, 1946 the Constituent Assembly met for the first time in the Constitution Hall of Parliament House, with the intention of putting together the document that would go on to form the backbone of the independent India’s government. Exuberant and full of hope, the 207 members out of 292 present in the first session started the debate and discussions which would continue for the next three months, culminating in the constitution of India.
First day (9 December 1946) of the Constituent Assembly. (Wikimedia Commons)
The British government sent the Cabinet mission to India in 1946 to discuss with Indian leaders, the process for the peaceful transfer of power. As per the guidelines laid down by the mission, provincial legislative elections were held resulting in the nomination of 292 representatives who would go on to form the Constituent Assembly. Those elected included names like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sarojini Naidu and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru among others. The task at hand was humongous. Resolutions laid out had to take care of aspects like territorial integrity, socio-economic equality, justice of law and minority rights. Setting out the objectives for the Constituent Assembly, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said the following:
“The first task of this Assembly is to free India through a new constitution, to feed the starving people, and to clothe the naked masses, and to give every Indian the fullest opportunity to develop himself according to his capacity. This is certainly a great task.”
In the next 3 years, the Constituent Assembly held 11 sessions over 165 days. The draft constitution was approved on December 9, 1949. About a month later, on January 26, 1950 the Constitution of India came into force officially, making the newly born nation of India a modern republic.
The original text of the Preamble to the Constitution of India. (Wikimedia Commons)
The date chosen for the official enforcement of the constitution had a significance attached to the sentiments of the Indian nationalists. When on December 31, 1929, Nehru hoisted the tricolour in Lahore and demanded “purna swaraj”, the date set for independence was January 26, 1930. The day was celebrated as the “purna swaraj” day for the next 17 years. When independence was finally granted in 1947 however, the day set upon by the British was August 15. It is said that the independence day was so chosen to coincide with the second anniversary of the day when Japanese forces submitted to allied powers after the Second World War. In the words of Ramachandra Guha, “freedom finally came on a day that resonated with imperial pride rather than nationalist sentiment.”
When the constitution of India was born, it was considered necessary by the makers of the document to celebrate it on a day associated with national pride and the best choice available was that of “poorna swaraj” day- January 26. For the next 67 years, India has been celebrating January 26 as the date when it elevated itself from an independent nation to a modern republic, strengthened in all its glory by a fully functioning constitution.
Members of the Constituent Assembly signing the Constitution of India.
President Rajendra Prasad arrives in his horse-drawn presidential carriage for the Republic Day parade
The the 34th and last Governor-General of India Chakravarti Rajagopalachari read out a proclamation announcing the birth of the Republic of India. The Constitution of India came into effect, declaring India as a sovereign, democratic and secular state. And Dr Rajendra Prasad took the oath as president of the new republic