Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Vol. 13): Speeches from the Constituent Assembly Debates
Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (1891-1956) was a scholar, social reformer, powerful advocate of the rights of Dalits and women, chairman of the Constituent Assembly of India, and the country’s first law minister.
In 1976, the government of Maharashtra set up
the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Source Material Publication Committee to compile his
complete works. The Committee consisted of the state’s then education minister
and noted scholars and writers. In 1978, when Vasant Moon (Dalit activist,
author and Officer on Special Duty) joined the Committee, it decided to procure
and publish Dr. Ambedkar’s unpublished writings too.
The state’s Education Department started to
publish a 22-volume series titled Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches in 1979, and it brought out the 13th volume in
April 1994. The series was re-printed by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, an
autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in
This volume contains Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s
writings and speeches on the Indian Constitution. As the foreword by erstwhile Vice President K. R. Narayanan notes, the volume highlights the principal role
played by Dr. Ambedkar in drafting the Constitution.
The Constituent Assembly drafted the
Constitution of India from 1946-1950 (read its proceedings here). Vasant Moon, the
editor of this series, explains that Dr. Ambedkar’s contributions to the Assembly have been included in this volume. The comments and
criticisms of other members were only added if they were “relevant
to elucidate and appreciate the views of Dr. Ambedkar."
The 1270-page volume is divided into three main
parts. Part I covers the time from Dr. Ambedkar’s entry into the Constituent
Assembly to the presentation of the first draft of the Indian Constitution (1946-48).
Part II, which makes up more than two-thirds of the entire volume, contains
excerpts from the clause-wise discussion of the Draft Constitution (1948-49).
Part III presents discussions from the nine-day third reading of the Draft
Constitution, which was formally adopted on November 26, 1949. In addition, the
volume contains facsimiles of two pages from the calligraphic edition of Indian
Constitution, bearing handwritten signatures of its makers, including Dr.
This part contains contains discussions from December 9, 1946, when Dr. Ambedkar joined the Constituent Assembly as a representative of Bengal, up to the presentation of the first draft of the Constitution on November 4, 1948. Divided into three sections, it contains an overview of the objectives of the Constituent Assembly (Section 1), select reports and commentary by members of the Constituent Assembly's committees (Section 2); and the Draft Constitution as published in the Gazette of India on February 26, 1948 (Section 3).
Section 1 begins with a resolution moved by Jawaharlal Nehru, laying out the aims and objectives of the future Constitution which would proclaim India as an “Independent Sovereign Republic” and offer guidelines for its governance. It is followed by what the editor described as a ‘historic’ speech by Dr. Ambedkar in response to the resolution on December 17, 1946. Babasaheb said: “...the Resolution, although it enunciates certain rights, does not speak of remedies. All of us are aware of the fact that rights are nothing unless remedies are provided whereby people can seek to obtain redress when rights are invaded.”
Babasaheb’s work both within the Constituent
Assembly and its various committees made it clear to the Congress party that
his contribution was indispensable – notes editor Vasant Moon. Consequently, he
was re-elected to the Constituent Assembly from Bombay in July 1947 after
having resigned as its member post the division of Bengal in
June. He was made chairman of the
Drafting Committee on August 30, 1947.
The second section contains excerpts from the discussion on the Interim Report on Fundamental Rights introduced by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on April 29, 1947. Here, Dr. Ambedkar makes several replies and rebuttals to those opposing its clauses on minority protections: “Rights of minorities should be absolute rights. They should not be subject to any consideration as to what another party [the Pakistan government] may like to do to minorities within its jurisdiction.”
Section 3 presents the first reading of the
draft constitution and its introduction by Dr. Ambedkar. Although he believes
that the Constitution is robust and shall provide the country with sufficient
guidance, he says: “No Constitution is perfect and the Drafting Committee
itself is suggesting certain amendments to improve the Draft Constitution. But
the debates in the Provincial Assemblies give me courage to say that the
Constitution as settled by the Drafting Committee is good enough to make in
this country a start with. I feel that it is workable, it is flexible and it is
strong enough to hold the country together both in peace time and in war time.”
During the debates, many appreciated Dr. Ambedkar’s
work as chairman of the Drafting Committee and deemed the draft to be a “monumental
document” which “struck a golden mean.” But there were others who were more
critical of the constitution and adjudge it “un-Indian” and an imitation which
surrenders to the values of the West.
Sections 4 to 7 contained within this part include abridged clause-wise discussions on clauses of the Draft Constitution, especially Dr. Ambedkar’s work within the Constituent Assembly and the points he raised during the debates and discussions. Certain specifications of the Draft Constitution – such as Article 226 which gives power to the Central Legislature to pass legislation on matters included in Provincial list, Article 294 which deals with the extension of the provisions of the protection of minorities in Indian States – are laid out and explained by Dr. Ambedkar. His detailed explanation and reasoning behind accepting or rejecting amendments is also included.
Article 35 of the draft Constitution stated that the “State shall endeavour to secure a civil code for the citizens of the country.” On November 23, 1948, Mohamad Ismail Sahib of the Madras constituency moved a motion demanding the addition of a proviso stating, “Provided that any group, section or community of people shall not be obliged to give up its own personal law in case it has such a law.” Dr. Ambedkar rejected this amendment saying that “this country has practically a Civil Code, uniform in its content and applicable to the whole of the country” and that it must remain so. He added: “It is perfectly possible that the future Parliament may make a provision by way of making a beginning that the Code shall apply only to those who make a declaration that they are prepared to be bound by it, so that in the initial stage the application of the Code may be purely voluntary.”
The editor Vasant Moon notes that "the amendments adopted by the House were those which Dr. Ambedkar had accepted."
Dr. Ambedkar moved a motion to adopt the Indian Constitution on November 17, 1949 – almost three years after the introduction of its draft. In his closing speech where he offered acknowledgements to the members of the Constituent Assembly as chairman of the Drafting Committee, Dr. Ambedkar remarks on the nature of true democracy: “The working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of State such as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depend are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics.”
This final section includes excerpts from the speeches of members appreciating the work of Dr. Ambedkar, the drafting committee, and the Constitution. V. I. Muniswamy Pillay (a member of the Constituent Assembly from the Madras Presidency) remarks, “To that galaxy of great men of Harijans now we have to add Dr. Ambedkar.” Members summarise the drafting, proceedings and amendments to the Constitution, which ultimately contained 395 articles. Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya who was elected to the Constituent Assembly from Madras province in 1946, remarks that the constitution is a “grammar of politics, if you like, it is a compass to the political mariner.” He appreciated the “steam-roller intellect” with with Dr. Ambedkar guided the Assembly.
This final section ends with a tabular representation of each article of the Indian Constitution and the dates they were discussed on. The editor notes that Dr. Ambedkar’s speeches relating to specific legislations other than those concerning the framing of Indian constitution, such as the Hindu Code Bill, can be found in Volume 14.
Focus by Harmandeep Khera.
First edition compiled and edited by Vasant Moon
Second edition edited by Hari Narke
The first edition was published by the Education Department, government of Maharashtra, in April 1994. This is a 2014 reprint by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Delhi, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.