In the previous posts in this series, we looked at the representative credentials of the Assembly by focussing on the nature of the franchise. In this post, we look at another strand of the representation question: Did the Assembly represent the diversity of Indian identities?
The legitimacy of the Assembly is sometimes attacked by arguing that only dominant identities were represented in the Assembly. To engage with this claim, let’s first briefly explore the composition of the Assembly.
While Hindus (94.6%) dominated the Assembly, members from other major religious communities found a place. These included Christians, Parsees, Sikhs and Muslims represented by individuals like Frank Anthony, Husain Iman, and G Gurmukh Singh.
On the gender front, the Assembly was male-dominated, only 15 members were women. Some of the key women Assembly members included Hansa Mehta, Rajakumari Amrit Kaur and Dakshayani Vellayudhan.
We do not have sufficient data to get a sense of the exact caste composition. However, it appears that the Assembly was dominated by upper castes.
That’s not to say that members from lower-caste backgrounds were not represented. The most Dalit member was B.R. Ambedkar who arguably played the most critical role in the Assembly. Other Dalit members include S. Nagappa and Dakshayani Vellayudhan, who incidentally was the only Dalit woman in the Assembly.
229 members of the Assembly came from the 12 British Indian provinces to the Constituent Assembly. The Princely States were represented by 70 individuals. Six members had a from Backward Tribes background.
Indeed, close to 80% of members were elected on a Congress ticket, but there was great ideological diversity within the party. This can be said of the Constituent Assembly as a whole as well. K.T. Shah was a socialist and came from the left, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, President of the Hindu Mahasabha, was from the right, and so was Thakur Das Bhargava and K.M. Munshi. There were liberals too, like Minoo Masani.
So, it appears that overall, there was really no major identity that went unrepresented in the Assembly. Critics could, and have, argued that representation, especially in the cases of marginalized communities, was not enough and was merely symbolic.
Two things should be considered when engaging with this claim. First, the representation credentials of an institution, in this case the Assembly, should not be judged against some idealized state of affairs. It is inevitable that dominant groups, who enjoy significant political and social capital, will always tend to wield more power and call the shots. We need to investigate if efforts were made - procedurally or otherwise - to facilitate the participation of individuals from marginalised groups.
Second, the political and social context of the historical period should be considered. Also, it is useful to adopt some comparatives as well, how did the Indian Constituent Assembly measure against other Constituent Assemblies on the question of representation of identities?
When we embark on an analysis, paying attention to historical, political and comparative contexts, it appears that the Indian Constituent Assembly was reasonably representative.