Republic@70: People who steered India’s founding document
B. R. Ambedkar
A scholar of law, economics, sociology and political science, BR Ambedkar was born in 1891 in the Central Provinces at a time when people from oppressed castes faced formidable barriers in education and jobs. Nevertheless, Ambedkar earned doctorates from Columbia University and the London School of Economics before plunging into Indian politics and organising the lower castes. Often called the Father of the Constitution, Ambedkar was the head of the drafting committee and India’s first law minister.
Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar
Born in 1883 in the erstwhile Madras Presidency, Ayyar was responsible for key sections of the Constitution, and on whom praise was heaped by BR Ambedkar.
The son of a priest, Ayyar studied history and then law, quickly becoming a leading member of the Madras bar.
He was knighted in 1932 and was the advocate general of the Madras Presidency from 1929 to 1944. He was invited to the Constituent Assembly by Jawaharlal Nehru for his legal expertise.
He was part of nine committees, including the drafting committee.
“There were in the drafting committee men bigger, better and more competent than myself such as my friend Sir Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer,” Ambedkar said about him.
K. M. Munshi
The lawyer, educationist and writer was born in 1887 in Gujarat and spent his initial years as a lawyer before jumping into politics.
In the Constituent Assembly, he was a member of 11 committees—the highest number for any person.
After Independence, he became the agriculture minister and then the governor of Uttar Pradesh. A prolific writer in Gujarati, English and Hindi, he founded the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and was one of the founding members of Swatantra Party.
A politician, writer and athlete, Jaipal Singh Munda was born in 1903 near Ranchi and emerged as one of the most vocal advocates for India’s tribal communities in the Constituent Assembly.
Singh spent his childhood looking after cattle but academic brilliance saw him graduate from the University of Oxford, before joining the Indian Civil Services.
He was also a gifted hockey player and part of the Indian team that lifted the Olympic gold in 1928. He became president of the Adivasi Mahasabha in 1939 and was among the first to articulate the demand for a separate tribal homeland of Jharkhand .
In the Constituent Assembly, he was part of three committees and called for greater representation from tribes, and said the government should concentrate on welfare of the marginalised community.
India’s first prime minister and one of its tallest leaders of the freedom struggle, Jawaharlal Nehru was a barrister. He was among MK Gandhi’s closest associates and one of the leading members of the Constituent assembly who chaired three important committees. As prime minister for 17 years, he steered the country’s economy and foreign policy, while also giving direction to its education policy. But his handling of Kashmir conflict and relations with China were controversial.
Begum Aizaz Rasul
The only Muslim woman member of the Constituent Assembly, Rasul was born in 1909 in Lahore to a branch of the royal family of Malerkotla in Punjab.
She was one of a handful of women to fight the 1937 election and get elected from present day Uttar Pradesh.
She was staunchly against separate electorates for Muslims and is credited with having turned the opinions of some more conservative members; and a great believer in the Constitution.
“As a woman, I have very great satisfaction in the fact that no discrimination will be made on account of sex…I am sure women can look forward to equality of opportunity under the new Constitution,” she said in a speech in November 1948.
Rasul also headed the Indian Women’s Hockey Federation for two decades.
The first deputy prime minister and home minister of India was born in 1875 in Gujarat. He practised as a top barrister in Ahmedabad before taking the plunge in the freedom struggle. Patel was one of MK Gandhi’s trusted lieutenants who led the Salt Satyagraha from the front, and was one of the most vocal proponents of the Quit India Movement. Patel was chairman of two committees, and member of two others. He was also credited with uniting 565 princely states into the Union.
Kazi Syed Karimuddin
Born in 1899 in Maharashtra, Karimuddin studied at the Aligarh Muslim University and became a noted criminal lawyer.
He was a prominent member of the Congress and was a member of legislative assembly of the erstwhile Central Provinces. He was also a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1954 to 1958.
He is remembered for having articulated the need for protecting the privacy of an individual by moving an amendment to protect individuals from unreasonable search-and-seizure, on the lines of the American Constitution. This was probably the first time that the right to privacy was articulated in the Constituent Assembly. His amendment received some support from BR Ambedkar but the right to privacy did not find an explicit place in the Constitution at the time.
The staunch Gandhian and Congress stalwart from Bihar was the president of the Constituent Assembly and the first President of independent India.
Born in Siwan in 1884, he spent his college years in Calcutta before returning home and nurturing a student movement.
He was an ardent follower of MK Gandhi, going to jail several times. In the Constituent Assembly, he was the president and also chaired four important committees.
K. T. Shah
A leading advocate and economist, Shah was appointed by the Congress as the general secretary of the National Planning Committee in 1938 under the chairmanship of Nehru. The committee aimed to tackle unemployment and focus on industrialisation.
In the Constituent Assembly, he was a part of two committees and two sub-committees.
He is remembered for two attempts at including the word ‘secular’ in the Constitution – both of which were rejected by the assembly.
He was a strong votary of states’ rights and argued that states should not be seen as secondary to the Union government. He also argued that the freedom of the press be explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. Shah was also the principal opponent of Rajendra Prasad in the first presidential election of India in 1952.