THE MEANING OF CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT
There are broadly two kinds of Constitution in the democratic world:
- The Constitutions that have grown gradually over decades and centuries through customs, conventions, legislative enactments and judicial decisions -. as in the United Kingdom.
- The Constitutions that were framed by representative assembly usually after revolutions to make a fresh start of a new regime.
In both these types, the Constitution means a body of fundamental laws, that cannot be easily changed and that have to be respected by all governments and all citizens.
ROOTS OF THE INDIAN CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY
It was first demanded by the Indian National Congress in 1934. The Muslim League was opposed to it because it suspected that a Constituent Assembly elected by adult franchise would be dominated by the Congress whom the League considered to be a Hindu party.
THE CABINET MISSION PLAN
In March 1946, a committee of the British Cabinet, known as the Cabinet Mission, led by Sir Pethick-Lawrence, visited India to assess the Indian political situation and frame a scheme for making a constitution for India. The Cabinet Mission held a conference at Shimla to bring about an understanding among the major political parties but failed to achieve it. So the Mission issued its own plan.
The plan made by the Cabinet Mission recommended for a Constituent assembly consisting of the representatives of all the major groups. It proposed that the Constituent Assembly be elected by the members of provincial assemblies. The provinces should have maximum autonomy and the Central government should have minimum powers such as on foreign affairs, defense and communication.
There was an extraordinary provision of a partial application of the communal veto. No decision on a major communal issue could be taken in the Constituent assembly without a majority of the members of the two major communities (General and Muslim) agreeing to it.
Further, a procedure was laid down that would create communal groupings in the Constituent Assembly. According to that procedure provinces would sit in three sections- A,B,C- as determined by the Mission. Two of such sections would be Muslim-majority and the third section would be Hindu majority.
- Section A: Madras, Bombay, United Provinces, Bihar, Central Province and Orissa
- Section B: Punjab, Balochistan, North-West Frontier Province and Sindh.
- Section C: Assam and Bengal
The Sections would first frame the provincial constitutions and their own constitutions before sitting together to frame the Union Constitution. The provinces were free only to join the
Sections as pre-determined by the Cabinet Mission. They were free to leave the Section
only if the Section constitution left scope for it.
THE GREAT FALLOUT
The Congress party feared that the Sections would frame the election rules in such a way that, after the elections, the provincial legislatures would be so constituted as to make such withdrawal impossible. This would satisfy the Muslim League’s demand of Pakistan and would be unjust to the provinces like Assam and the North-West Frontier Province where the Congress was dominant.
AN INTERIM GOVERNMENT AND PARTITION
The Cabinet Mission proposed that, while the work of Constitution making would proceed, the government should be carried on by the Governor-General with the help of representatives of the major parties. There was some difference between the Congress and the Muslim League on the composition of the Interim Government,. But they were sorted out. A new Executive Council was set up first with mostly Congress members and then including Muslim Leaguers.
Finally when the Constituent Assembly was convened by the Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten, on 9 December 1946, the Muslim League members were absent. They did not join the Assembly until after the decision to partition British India was taken.