4th November 1948 was a critical date in India’s constitution-making process. On this day B.R. Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, formally introduced the Draft Constitution in the Constituent Assembly. This (‘formidable’ - as Ambedkar referred to it) document, containing 315 Articles and 8 schedules, was the culmination of the Assembly’s work, particularly its committees, that began on 09 December 1946. From this point onwards, all of the Assembly’s debates – 114 out of 165 sittings - centred on this Draft.
While introducing the Draft, Ambedkar made a long and comprehensive speech that would become famous and widely cited in post-independent India. He provided the Assembly with an overview of the Draft that included important features and ideas behind various provisions.
It was in this speech, that Ambedkar for the first time, used the term ‘constitutional morality’ – which has, in recent years, been referred to widely by academics, activists and journalists. The Supreme Court too has invoked the term in judgments like Naz Foundation.
In the days that followed the introduction of the Draft, Assembly members gave their expressed their preliminary thoughts and engaged with Ambedkar’s speech. While some appreciated the document, others were not satisfied and made their concerns known.
In particular, one aspect of the Draft and Ambedkar’s speech triggered significant controversy and conflict: the role of the ‘villages’ in India’s administrative and political setup.
Even before the final Draft was presented to the Assembly, it was made public for a certain period of time; the Draft was criticised as it did not pay emphasis or incorporate provisions on based village panchayats – or villages in general. In his speech, Ambedkar rejected this view and launched a searing attack:
‘..What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism? I am glad that the Draft Constitution has discarded the village and adopted the individual as its unit…’
In the days that followed, a group of Assembly members took turns to rebuke Ambedkar. Shibban Lal Saxena drew from his experience working in villages to argue that Ambedkar’s impressions were wrong. Further, he invoked the Soviet village republics which he believed were models of good self-government. Others like H.V. Kamath suggested that Ambedkar’s ideas about villages were a symptom of Ambedkar not having been part of the freedom movement – a movement that placed the village at the core of its struggle.
After about 10 days of general discussions on the Draft, the Assembly then, on 15th November 1948, began a more focused exercise of debating and considering amendments around each and every Article of the Draft Constitution – a process that would go on till 17th October 1948.