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The journey of making of the Indian Constitution is a complex and multifaceted one, spanning several decades and marked by various legislative and political milestones. It began with the Indian Councils Act, 1861 by the British colonial government.

The Indian Councils Act of 1861

The Indian Councils Act of 1861 was a pivotal legislative enactment that marked a significant step towards Indian involvement in the law-making process. By appointing three Indian members to the legislative council of the Viceroy, it symbolised the beginning of Indian representation in the governance structure. Additionally, this act restored legislative powers to the Bombay and Madras presidencies and facilitated the establishment of new legislative councils for Bengal and the North-Western Frontier Province, thereby extending the reach of legislative governance to previously unrepresented regions. Overall, the Indian Councils Act of 1861 played a crucial role in associating Indians with the legislative process and expanding the scope of governance across different provinces in British India.

The Swaraj Bill of 1895

The Swaraj Bill of 1895, also known as The Constitution of India Bill, was a response to the emergence of Indian nationalism and the growing demands for self-government, even within the framework of the British Empire. This bill outlined the structure of government and included provisions for the separation of powers. It affirmed that the executive and judiciary would be subordinate to the legislative powers. The bill also guaranteed equality before the law, the right to freedom of expression through words or writings (albeit with liability to censure), inviolable homes, property rights, voting rights, access to education among others. Additionally, it addressed the establishment of a parliamentary system and mandated the creation of local legislative councils in specified provinces.

The Indian Councils Act of 1909

The Indian Councils Act of 1909 was influenced by the increasing vocal demands of nationalists for representation in the Indian government, as well as the emergence of extremist nationalists aiming to challenge British rule. This act expanded the size of provincial legislative councils and introduced executive councils in Bombay, Madras, and West Bengal. However, it faced criticism for introducing separate electorates based on religion, which was viewed as divisive.

The Government of India Act of 1919

The Government of India Act of 1919 introduced the concept of ‘diarchy’, which delineated governance into two distinct parts. The first part, referred to as the reserved area, encompassed domains such as finance, police, and justice, remaining under the control of the Governor. In contrast, the second part, known as the transferred area, included responsibilities such as local government, education, and health, administered by Indian ministers selected from the elected members of a legislative council. Interestingly, this document was often referred to as “the British Constitution for India” by Dr. Ambedkar.

The Commonwealth of India Bill of 1925

The Commonwealth of India Bill of 1925 marked a significant milestone in India’s constitutional history by introducing seven fundamental rights. Notably, it was the first constitutional document to include a fundamental right focused on non-discrimination and non-disqualification based on sex, reflecting a progressive stance towards gender equality. This bill was drafted under the leadership of Annie Besant, who convened a convention with 255 members to formulate its provisions. The structure and draft of the constitution outlined in the bill adhered closely to the principles of a well-structured constitution. However, it introduced limitations on the franchise by imposing qualifications such as income, land ownership, literacy, and education.

The fundamental rights included in the bill are as follows:

“7. (a) No person shall be deprived of his liberty, nor shall his dwelling or property be entered, sequestered, confiscated, save in accordance with law and by duly constituted Courts of Law.
(b) Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order or morality, hereby guaranteed to every person.
(c) The right of free expression of opinion, as well as the right to assemble peaceably and without arms, and to form associations or unions, is hereby guaranteed for purposes not opposed to public order or morality, or the law relating to defamation for the time being.
(d) All persons in the Commonwealth of India have the right to free elementary education, and such right shall be enforceable so soon as due arrangements shall have been made by the competent authority.
(e) All persons have an equal right to the use of roads, Courts of Justice, and all other places of business or resort dedicated to the public, provided they do not disturb public order or disobey any lawful ·notice issued ·by a competent authority.
(f) All persons residing within the Commonwealth, whether permanently or temporarily, are equal before the Law, and shall be tried for similar offences in Courts of the same order and by Judicial Officers of the same grade.
(g) There shall be no disqualification or disability on the basis of sex.”

The Nehru Report of 1928

The Nehru Report of 1928 introduced a comprehensive framework for India’s governance, advocating for a parliamentary system of government alongside universal adult suffrage. This memorandum proposed a new dominion status for India and included provisions for 19 fundamental rights, emphasising equal status for men and women and granting voting rights to individuals aged 21 years and above. These rights encompassed liberty, freedom of conscience, the practice of religion, expression of opinion, and access to free elementary education without discrimination based on caste or creed. The report also highlighted the importance of equality before the law and the right to writ of habeas corpus. While criticised for its limited practical impact, the Nehru Report garnered praise for its early envisioning and ground-breaking inclusion of economic, social, and cultural rights within the framework of fundamental rights. Additionally, the proposal for the creation of a supreme court was a notable feature of the report, reflecting its comprehensive approach to constitutional reform.

The Government of India Act 1935

The Government of India Act 1935 was a crucial milestone in India’s constitutional history, providing for provincial autonomy and establishing a federal structure. It also introduced the concept of a federal court and laid the foundation for India’s future constitutional framework. However, this Act as criticised by most of the political parties in India at the time. It was felt that the Act was formulated with a priority to safeguard British interests rather than advancing self-governance in India. Its primary aim was to amend operational procedures without diminishing the influence of British authority.

In summary, the journey towards the making of the Indian Constitution is characterised by a series of legislative reforms, reports, and political movements, culminating in the establishment of the Constituent Assembly and the adoption of the Constitution of India. Figures like Annie Besant played a crucial role in advocating for Indian self-governance and shaping the course of India’s constitutional history.

8. Creator: Vajiram and Ravi –