‘Nothing but a republic… impossible, inconceivable, undesirable to think in any other terms,’ Jawaharlal Nehru in Constituent Assemblyhttps://indianexpress.com/article/research/nothing-but-a-republic-impossible-inconceivable-undesirable-to-think-in-any-other-terms-jawaharlal-nehru-in-constituent-assembly/

‘Nothing but a republic… impossible, inconceivable, undesirable to think in any other terms,’ Jawaharlal Nehru in Constituent Assembly

Nehru hoped that his resolution would be resolved in the first two sittings, but little did he know that adding ‘Republic’ to the “Independent Sovereign India’ would create a spark in the Assembly meetings leading to exhaustive debates.

Debate over 'Republic' in the Constitution
Jawaharlal Nehru in the Constituent Assembly along with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in 1947.

“What else can we have in India? Whatever the States may have or may not have, it is impossible and inconceivable and undesirable to think in any other terms but in terms of the Republic in India,” said Jawaharlal Nehru in the fifth sitting of the Constituent Assembly debate on December 13, 1946.

Earlier, under the Rules of Procedure, the term Republic was not present and it read ‘Independent Sovereign India’. It was Nehru who decided that India should be a sovereign republic and believed in only one kind of free India which, was “nothing but a republic.”

Nehru hoped that his resolution would be resolved in the first two sittings, but little did he know that adding ‘Republic’ to the “Independent Sovereign India’ would create a spark in the Assembly meetings leading to exhaustive debates. As the resolution to include Republic was initiated by Nehru, he considered Republic to be not just a mere law “but something that breathes life in human minds.”

A year before Independence, a threat of partition loomed over the heads of the Indian citizens which led to several killings in North India. The Muslim League remained absent from the Constituent Assembly debates.

Debate over 'Republic' in the Constitution

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Beside the massacres and distraught, Ambedkar placed his firm belief in a republic India and said, “I know today we are divided politically, socially and economically; we are a group of warring camps and I may go even to the extent of confessing that I am probably one of the leaders of such a camp. But, Sir, with all this, I am quite convinced that given time and circumstances nothing in the world will prevent this country from becoming one.”

However, there were quite a few who took refuge behind the absence of the Muslim League and Indian States and three major issues were raised by eminent members of the Assembly. First, whether it was necessary to discuss the fundamentals of the Constitution at a preliminary stage, second, whether the term Republic was fulfilling its virtue if Muslim League and Indian States were absent and last that ‘Republic’ failed to cover its socialist aspect.

Discussion of fundamentals of the Constitution at a preliminary stage

One of the members after whom all other opposing members based their amendments was Dr. M. R. Jayakar (Bombay: General) who spoke against Nehru’s resolution. A State Paper was issued earlier to the Assembly debates which, had laid down the basic principles of a preliminary meeting to give a head start to the members.

Basing his argument on the State Paper, Jayakar moved an amendment to the resolution contending that the resolution moved by Nehru spoke about present boundaries, the status of Provincial Authorities; Residuary powers, all powers being derived from the people, minorities Rights and fundamental rights, all of which were fundamental rights and were not required to be discussed if State Paper was to be abided by.

“We are no doubt a sovereign body but we are sovereign within the limitations of the Paper by which we have been created. We cannot go outside those limitations except by agreement and the two other parties being absent, no agreement can be thought of,” said Jayakar.

His contention was backed by Somnath Lahiri (Bengal: General) and Rai Bahadur Syamanandan Sahaya (Bihar: General).

Absence of Muslim League and Indian States

Suggesting to postpone the resolution, Jayakar had reasoned that the absence of Muslim League led to the absence on Indian States. The non-appearance of the Muslim League in the Assembly debates had led members to believe that all the work rendered would become “useless”.

Insisting to frame a Constitution for the whole of India, Jayakar had pointed to the majority population of the Muslims and how their absence would badly implicate the country in the future. “What happens? Probably you will frame a constitution for Section ‘A’. Perhaps you will be framing a constitution for a Union Centre for the Provinces in Section ‘A’. You may like to have a Union Centre for those Provinces. It is certain however that you will be unable to frame a constitution for Section ‘B’, the majority there being of the Muslim League. The result will be that there will have to be another Constituent Assembly, as Mr. Jinnah is wanting, for the purpose of framing a constitution for Sections ‘B’ and ‘C’,” exclaimed Jayakar.

Debate over 'Republic' in the Constitution

India as a Union was the dream Nehru and Ambedkar shared. In Jayakar’s views, the absence of the two parties from the Assembly debates would have defeated the purpose of building a Constitution. He proposed the possible result of having moved the resolution that separate constitutions would emerge for Hindus and Muslims, fearing that the third constitution would have to be framed for the States. “We may be forced to the necessity of having a Hindustan constitution, a mild, abbreviated, or qualified Pakistan Constitution and a Rajasthan constitution also. Your Union at the Centre will go,” said Jayakar.

Socialist aspect of the Republic

M. R. Masani (Bombay: General) rejected the social status quo present at that time and moved an amendment to the resolution. He questioned the social and economic justice of the country with an example, “Today if our national income were to be divided into three equal thirds, 5 out of 100 Indians get one third of our national income, another 33 get the second third and the big mass of 62 get the remaining portion.”

Appreciating that the resolution would provide for equal opportunities to people, Masani said that the assumption of equality in education and development is provided in the term ‘Republic’, however, there is no guarantee of receiving such equal facilities and opportunities.

Debate over 'Republic' in the Constitution

“The central problem of our times is whether the State is to own the people or the people are to own the State. Where the State belongs to the people, the State is a mere instrument subordinate to the people and it serves the people. It only takes away the liberty of the individual to the extent that the people really desire it.” said Masani.

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The year India became independent, Permanent Chairman of the Constituent Assembly Rajendra Prasad on January 22, 1947 passed the motion approving Nehru’s resolution which, read, This Constituent Assembly declares its firm and solemn resolve to proclaim India as an independent Sovereign Republic and to draw up for her future governance a Constitution ..