On August 30, 1947, the Drafting Committee had its first meeting and within 165 days, the committee prepared a draft of the Indian Constitution. It took 11 sessions spread over 165 days for the committee to bring about 395 articles, eight schedules, 7,635 amendments (tabled) and 2,473 amendments (moved). These were the facts mentioned by BR Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly in 1949.
Being the chairman of the Drafting Committee, Ambedkar had faced criticism for ‘delays’ in finishing its work and ‘wasting public money’ in the entire exercise. But defending the time taken for preparing the draft, Ambedkar said, “I mention these facts because at one stage it was being said that the Assembly had taken too long a time to finish its work, that it was going on leisurely and wasting public money. It was said to be a case of Nero fiddling while Rome was burning.”
Ambedkar had to justify his stance as the chairman of the committee and gave illustrations of other countries consuming more time while drafting their Constitutions. Second reason he told the assembly was that unlike all other countries, the Indian Constitution was the most extensive and lengthy.
“Our Constitution as I said contains 395 articles while the American has just seven articles, the first four of which are divided into sections which total up to 21, the Canadian has 147, Australian 128 and South African 153 sections,” he said.
The third reason was the number of amendments the Constitution was put through and the Constituent Assembly had to deal with almost 2,500 amendments.
The Drafting Committee had unanimous support of the Constituent Assembly except Naziruddin Ahmed, a member representing West Bengal. He had coined the Drafting Committee as the ‘Drifting Committee’.
“If the Drafting Committee was drifting, it was never without mastery over the situation. It was not merely angling with the off chance of catching a fish. It was searching in known waters to find the fish it was after. To be in search of something better is not the same as drifting,” Ambedkar said.
The final draft of the Constitution faced many attacks but Ambedkar answered each query.
On Excessive Centralisation: “The States under our Constitution are in no way dependent upon the Centre for their legislative or executive authority. The Centre and the States are co-equal in this matter. The chief mark of federalism as I said lies in the partition of the legislative and executive authority between the Centre and the Units by the Constitution. This is the principle embodied in our constitution.”
On Absolute power to the Centre: Ambedkar admitted to this contention but explained that the Centre would override the States in case of emergencies only.
Ambedkar quoted a writer from the ‘Round table’ magazine to explain his stance. The writer had written that in moments of crisis, a conflict between the Centre and the States might arise, it is for such moments when the authoritative position should be made clear.
“Only those who have not understood the problem, can complain against it.”
Scared for the country’s ability to maintain democracy, Ambedkar informed the Constituent Assembly that India should abandon unconstitutional methods of civic disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. “It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution.”
In order to safeguard democracy from changing into dictatorship, Ambedkar also opined that people should not lay their liberties on the feet of a great man and trust him with too much power. “There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness.”
Ambedkar wanted political democracy to lie at the base of social democracy. Liberty, equality and fraternity were the three principles of social democracy according to Ambedkar. “They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy.”