The idea of the Constituent Assembly was first proposed in 1934 by M.N. Roy. However, it took another 12 years for the assembly to be formed based on the cabinet mission plan. Initially, the Assembly was comprised of 389 members. But after the partition, some members went to the newly formed state of Pakistan, bringing the total number down to 299 members. Out of which 229 were from the British provinces while 70 were nominated from the princely states.
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When we think of the Constituent Assembly, we often think of leading members like Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. However, we must also be aware of some of the lesser-known members of the Constituent Assembly for their work was invaluable in framing the supreme law of India. On the occasion of 73rd Republic Day, we look at some of the less-known members of the Constituent Assembly.
N.V. Gadgil was born in Maharashtra on 10th January 1896. He was a graduate of Fergusson College, Pune, and he later pursued a law degree. After getting the degree, he joined the Indian National Congress and was an active participant in the Indian National Movement. He was put behind the bars multiple times due to his involvement in various freedom struggle activities. He was also a pioneer of various social reform movements in the 1930s in Maharashtra. Gadgil had an illustrious political journey too. He served as the Secretary of the Poona District Congress Committee (1921 to 1925), the President of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (1937 to 1945), and the Secretary of the Congress Legislative Party (1945 to 1947). In 1934, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Central Provinces.
Gadgil participated in several debates of the Assembly, particularly around the topics of the national language, federal set-up of India and in the discussions around the budget. In his later career, he was the governor of Punjab (1958 to 1962) and the vice-chancellor of Poona University (1964 to 1966).
He was a well-known Marathi author having published various books and essays in the field of politics, economics, law and history. He was elected as the President of Marathi Sahitya Sammelan in 1962.
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Rajkumari Amrit Kaur
Amrit Kaur was born in 1889 in Lucknow and belonged to the Kapurthala royal family. She completed her education in England graduating from Oxford University. She returned to India after her education. She co-founded the All India Women ‘s Conference in 1927 and served as its president till 1933. She was active in freedom movements and was imprisoned by the British for participating in the Dandi March. Kaur was a prominent Gandhian and was his secretary for sixteen years. She was appointed as a member of the Advisory Board of Education by the British government but resigned in 1942 in support of the Quit India Movement. She was arrested again by the British.
Kaur was instrumental in the establishment of constitutional ‘equality’ between men and women which is guaranteed under articles 14, 15, 16. She also played a pivotal role in the inclusion of the Uniform Civil Code.
In her later career, she held several prestigious positions. Kaur was the Health Minister in Prime Minister’s cabinet – making her Independent India’s first Health Minister. In 1950, she was the first female and first Asian president of the World Health Assembly, and she also led India’s delegation to the World Health Organization multiple times. She pioneered the establishment of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and was its first president. She was also the Chairperson of the Indian Red Cross for fourteen years. Her work was aimed at reducing illiteracy and eradicating child marriage.
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Annie Mascarene started her career as a lecturer in Sri Lanka. Upon her return to India, she obtained a law degree. She was a member of the Travancore-Cochin Legislative Assembly from 1948 to 1952 where she served as a Minister in charge of Health and Power.
In the Assembly, she represented the princely state of Travancore and Cochin Union. She spoke about the issue of federalism.
After the Assembly, she was elected to the first Lok Sabha as an independent candidate where she spoke about the under-representation of women in politics. Her political career was somewhat muted after an unsuccessful attempt in the 1957 Lok Sabha elections.
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Begum Aizaz Rasul
Begum Aizaz Rasul was born to a princely family in Punjab. She was involved in politics at a very early age and defied many social norms like the Purdah system. In 1937, she was elected as a member of the U.P. Legislative Assembly. Rasul was amongst the very few women legislators to be elected from a non-reserved province in British India. During her stint as a member of the U.P. Assembly, she served in top posts like Leader of Opposition (1950 to 1952) and Deputy President of the Council (1937 to 1940). She was a staunch opponent of the reservation of minorities in legislative assemblies, the partition and the zamindari system.
Rasul was the sole Muslim woman in the Constituent Assembly. She represented the United Provinces as a Muslim League member. In the Assembly, she engaged in debates on national language, India and the Commonwealth, reservation, property rights, and minority rights.
Later on, she had an active political career having been elected to the Rajya Sabha (1952 to 1956). Rasul was deeply involved in popularising hockey for Indian women. For two decades, she served as the President of the Women’s Hockey Federation. Later she went to head the Asian Women’s Hockey Federation.
Rasul penned her documentary titled From Purdah to Parliament.
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Kher was born in Ratnagiri, Maharastra in 1888. He was a bright student, having been awarded a higher distinction from Wilson College, Mumbai. Kher also received the Bhau Daji Lad award for his outstanding performance in Sanskrit. Kher established a law firm in 1918 and the internationally reputed Bombay Law Journal (1923). Inspired by Lokmanya Tilak and Mohandas Gandhi, Kher joined the national movement. He was arrested for his involvement in the Salt Satyagraha and Quit India Movement.
Kher held several prominent positions in Congress in Maharashtra. He was active in social reform movements as well. Kher founded the Bombay Legal Aid Society and Adivasi Seva Sangh. In the assembly, he engaged in discussions on the prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs, the appointment of Governors and the right to equality.