Monday, December 4, 2023

The journey to an Independent India and the framing of her Constitution

By Prashant Saurabh

India is all braced to celebrate her 72nd Republic Day on the 26th of January this year. It has been 74 years of independence and 71 years since the Constitution was framed by the team lead by Dr B.R. Ambedkar. But why is the Constitution saluted on 26th January? Why not the 27th or 25th? We know that we celebrate Independence Day on 15th August because, after an enduring struggle, we secured our freedom from the British Monarchy. It is one of the paramount dates of the nation and dates such as this usually come with a huge significance behind them.

On the 31st December 1929, Jawaharlal Nehru, the president of the Indian National Congress hoisted the National Flag on the bank of Ravi river, in Lahore. The Congress asked the Indian Nation to observe 26th January as Independence Day. A pledge of Independence was read, a declaration of Poorna Swaraj, or the Deceleration of the Independence of India, asking the people to withhold taxes. More than one hundred and seventy Indian members of the central and provincial legislature resigned exhibiting their support for the resolution. The event was the beginning of the end of British oppression in India. On this day, India officially changed the nation’s ambition from Dominion status within the British Empire to attaining Total Independence or Poorna Swaraj.

Before 1930, Indian political parties had endorsed political independence from the United Kingdom. The all Indian Home Rule League and All India Muslim League had been promoting Home Rule for India, according to it, India would have inured dominion status within the British Empire, similar to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the Irish Free State. The most pro-British party, The Indian Liberal Party, opposed independence, as a matter of fact even the Dominion status, as it would weaken links to the British Empire.

The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, outraged the public against the British Rule. Officials as well as the common civilians of European nations were targets of this outrage. The Rowlatt Act was passed in 1919 by the Imperial Legislative Council which gave the British government the power to arrest any person without any trial. In 1920, Mahatma Gandhi along with the Congress committed themselves to Swaraj, i.e., political and spiritual independence from the British monarchy, stating “these were the basic rights of Indians”. Mr Gandhi led the non-cooperation movement, opposing the law and exclusion of Indians from the government and denying social and political freedom. Hasrat Mohani, a famous poet and a Congress leader, was the first activist to demand complete freedom or Poorna Swaraj in 1921.

In 1928, a seven man committee was appointed to compose constitutional and political reforms for India. The committee led by Sir John Simon, was known as the Simon Commission. The commission never involved or consulted any of the Indian political parties. Upon arrival, Sir Simon and other committee members were faced with public demonstrations in opposition to the Commission which followed them everywhere. British police laathi charged to disperse the outraged public, causing lethal injuries to Lala Lajpat Rai, a prominent Indian Leader, outraging the masses even further. Congress, backed up with the support of other Indian political parties appointed a commission to propose constitutional reforms for India. The team lead by Congress president Motilal Nehru proposed a report, known as the Nehru report, demanding India be granted self-government under Dominion status within the British Empire.

Young nationalists like Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru opposed the Dominion status because it would have retained the British Empire as the constitutional head of the state which had been India. They demanded congress to resolve in making a complete break of all ties with the British Empire. Nehru was influence by the idea of young Bhagat Singh’s Total Independence which he had introduced in a resolution in 1927. Singh’s resolution faced rejection due to Gandhi’s opposition.

In 1928, Gandhi proposed a resolution in the Congress session held in Kolkata demanding Dominion status for India within two years which he further reduced to one year. Bose later proposed an amendment during the open session of Congress that sought a complete break with the British. Gandhi rebuked this amendment stating that all the muttering of Independence was an empty formula and the nation is not prepared to adapt to the role of an Independent nation. Hence, the amendment by Subhas Chandra Bose was rejected and Gandhi’s resolution was fully adopted.

Later in 1929, a round table conference was organised in London where the British government offered to meet the Indian representatives. Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India met with Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the then president of Congress Motilal Nehru to discuss the meeting. Lord Irwin was asked whether the conference would proceed on the basis of Dominion Status on which Irwin failed to provide assurance, hence resulting in the closure of the meeting.

The denial of reforms and political rights started to agitate the Congress resulting in unification of the lot towards the goal to push out the British from India completely. Jawaharlal Nehru was elected President and veteran leaders like Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel returned to the Congress Working Committee approving the Declaration of Independence, which stated:

The British government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually … Therefore… India must sever the British connection and attain Poorna Swaraj or complete independence.

The deceleration of Independence was officially promulgated on January 26th, 1930. The salt satyagrah movement and a nationwide non-violence non-cooperation movement was initiated which went on to be a major part of the Independence movement. In 1947, the British agreed to the transfer of power as India became a free nation on the 15th August.

The new constitution was drafted by the team consisting of intellectual personalities which was led by Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar himself. It took two years and eleven months to draft the constitution. The constitution approved by the Constitutional Assembly, was mandated to take effect on 26th January 1950, to commemorate the 1930 declaration and honor the struggle for independence.

(The author has a penchant for the written expression. His features have appeared in journals and magazines. The views expressed are the personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])

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