History of Parliament



We choose this system of parliamentary democracy deliberately; we choose it not only because, to some extent, we had always thought on those lines previously, but because we thought it was in keeping with our own old traditions also; naturally the old tra­ditions, not as they were, but adjusted to the new conditions and new surroundings, we choose it also—let us give credit where credit is due—because we approved of its functioning in other countries, more especially the United Kingdom.  —Jawaharlal Nehru

Representative Bodies in Ancient India

On the twentysixth day of January 1950, with the com­mencement of the new republican Constitution, India became for the first time in her long history, a full-fledged parliamentary democracy with a modern institutional framework. Democracy and representative institutions were, however, by no means entirely new to India. Exist­ence of some deliberative representative bodies and democratic self-governing institutions could be traced back to as early as the Vedic age (Circa 3000-1000 BC). The insti­tutions—Sabhaand Samiti—mentioned in Rigveda, may be said to have contained rudiments of a modem Parliament. These two institutions were differentiated from each other in their status and functions. The Samiti was the general assembly or house of the people, and the Sabha,a smaller and select body of elders, broadly corresponding to the Upper House in modem legislatures. There are enough in­dications in Vedic texts to suggest that the two bodies were closely associated with the affairs of the State and exercised considerable authority, influence and prestige. Some of the salient features in the functioning of modem parliamentary democracies—free discussion and decision by the vote of the majority—are known to have existed. The decision by the majority was regarded as "inviolable, not be overrid­den, because where the many meet in an assembly and speak there with one voice, that voice or vote of majority is not to be violated by others."1 In fact, the foundational prin­ciple of ancient Indian society was that the government should be conducted not by the will of a solitary persori, but jointly with the aid of councillors whose advice was to be respected. Vedic political theory recognised Dharma as the true sovereign. And Dharma was not religion but corre­sponded most closely to the modem concept of the Rule of Law. Dharma or the Rule of Law was upheld and enforced by the King. Ideally, the powers of the monarch were lim­ited by the will of the people and the customs, usages and injunctions of Dharmasastra. The King was required to take an oath of loyalty to the law and the Constitution of the realm and to hold in trust the State for achieving the wel­fare of his people, both material and moral. While there can be no denying the fact that ancient Indian polity was pre­dominantly monarchical, there were many instances of elective kingship and in any case, certain democratic insti­tutions and practices were often in-built in the monarchical system.

There is ample historical evidence contained in the Aitareya Brahaman, Panini's Ashtadhyayi, Kautilya's Arthashastra, the Mahabharata, inscriptions of Ashoka's pil­lars, writings of contemporary Greek historians and the Buddhist and Jain scholars, and the Manusmriti, of the ex­istence of a number of functioning republics during the post-Vedic period of history. Sovereignty in these republics,

Samgha or Ganarjya as they were known, vested in a fairly large assembly which elected not only the members of the Executive but also military leaders. It controlled foreign af­fairs and decided issues of peace and war. Also, the popular assembly exercised full control over the Executive. The Pali texts provide interesting details of the practice and proce­dure adopted in the assemblies of the ancient republics which according to some scholars, were marked with the underlying concepts of "legalism and constitutionalism of a most advanced type." Thus, for instance, the assembly had its Speaker called Vinayadhara and Whip called Ganapuraka who were familiar with procedural devices and terms like resolutions, lack of quorum, vote by majority, and so on. Discussions in the assembly were marked by elements of purity, fairness, frankness and freedom. Voting was by tickets (Salaka)—slips of wood of different colours to repre­sent different opinions. Complicated and serious matters were often referred to a Special Committee elected from among the members of the assembly.

Grass-roots democracy found its expression in the ex­istence and functioning of Regional Councils (Janapadas), City Councils (Paura Sablias) and Village Assemblies (Grama Sabhas). These bodies administered local affairs with almost complete freedom of local initiative and self-governance. Arthashastra, Mahabharata and Manusmriti contain numer­ous references to the existence of Grama Sanghas. Elective local bodies like the Grama Sabhas, Grama Sanghas or Panchayats, were common features of Indian polity in those days. While the democratic institutions like Sabhaand Samiti and the republican states later disappeared, at the village level Grama Sanghas, Grama Sabhas or Panchayats survived and continued to function and flourish as effective institu­tions right through the rule of many Hindu and Muslim dynasties and till the advent of the British rule or even there­after in one form or the other.

Beginnings of Modem Parliamentary Institutions

Parliamentary,government and legislative institutions in their modem connotation owe their origin and growth to India's British connection for some two centuries. It would, however, be wrong to presume that the British institutions as such were at any stage transplanted in India. The Parlia­ment of India and the parliamentary institutions as we know them today had an organic growth on the Indian soil. They grew through many relentless struggles for freedom from foreign rule and for establishment of free democratic institutions, and the successive doses of constitutional re­forms grudgingly and haltingly conceded by the British rulers.

Charter Act, 1833: The first faint beginnings of a Cen­tral Legislature for India are to be found in the Charter Act of 1833 which introduced important changes in the system of Indian administration and also in the legislative powers of the Indian Government. It established one Legislative Council for all the British territories in. India. For the first time the Govemor-GeneraTs Government was known as the 'Government of India' and his Council as the 'India Council'. It also introduced an element of institutional specialisation in the government by differentiating the law­making meetings of the Governor-General’s Council from its executive meetings. The demarcation made by the Act between the executive and legislative functions of the Gov­ernor-General's Council led to the addition of a 'fourth' or legislative member and the appointment of the distin­guished jurist Lord Macaulay to occupy this position.

Thus, one may find the seeds of a Legislative Council (as distinct from the Executive Council) in the 1833 Act al­though it was not to be so described till much later.

Charter Act, 1853: The last of the Charter Acts, the Charter Act of 1853 made important changes in the Gover­nor-General’s Council. Tbe 'fourth' or legislative member of the Council, was placed on the same footing as the other members by being given a right to sit and vote at executive meetings. At the same time, the Council was enlarged for legislative purposes by the addition of six special members who were styled as "Legislative Councillors". Thus, along with the Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief, the Council, as constituted under the Act of 1853, consisted of 12 members. Discussion in the Council, when acting in its legislative capacity, became oral instead of in writing; bills were referred to Select Committees and not to single members, legislative business was conducted in public in­stead of in secret and reports of the proceedings were officially published. Thus a big step was taken towards dif­ferentiating the Legislature from the Executive. The new Council conceived its duties not to be confined only to leg­islation but, as observed in the Montagu-Chelmsford Report (1918), "contrary to the intentions of Parliament, it began to assume the character of a miniature representative assem­bly, assembled for the purpose of enquiry into and redress of grievances".

Indian Councils Act, 1861: The Indian Councils Act of 1861 sought "to make better provision for the constitution of the Council of the Governor-General" and "for the local Government of the several Presidencies and Provinces." The Act was said to be the "prime charter of the Indian Legisla­ture" inaugurating the "system of legislative devolution in India." The Act introduced important changes in the ma­chinery for legislation, both at the central and provincial levels. It reconstituted the Council of the Governor-Gen­eral. Hereafter, it was to consist of five (instead of the erstwhile four) ordinary members. For purposes of legisla­tion, the Governor-General was authorised to nominate to his Council "not less than six nor more than twelve" addi­tional members, at least one half of whom were to be non-officials. Though there was no statutory stipulation to appoint Indians as non-official members of the expanded Council, an assurance was given in the House of Commons that Indians would be so appointed. Notwithstanding this assurance and the fact that the Council was expressly for­bidden to transact any business "other than the consideration and enactment of legislative measures intro­duced," or to entertain any motion other than a motion for leave to introduce such a measure, it could hardly be re­garded as being, anywhere near a responsible or representative legislative body.5 It was merely a legislative committee of the government, by means of which the Ex­ecutive obtained advice and help in legislation. Not being a deliberative body with respect to any subject but that of immediate legislation and lacking power to inquire into grievances, call for information or examine the conduct of the Executive, the Council did not, in many measure, con­stitute the germ of responsible institutions. Nevertheless, from the point of view of constitutional development, the 1861 Act did mark an advance over the previous position in that, for the first time since the advent of the British rule in India, it accepted the important principle of representa­tion of non-officials in legislative bodies. Also, hereafter the laws were made after due deliberation and were regular pieces of legislation which could be changed only by the same deliberative and public process by which they were made. Thus the days of legislation by the Executive were practically over, and the making of laws was no longer con­sidered to be the exclusive business of the Executive.

Formation of Indian National Congress: The Indian National Congress was founded in 1885. It initiated the pro­cess of gradual relaxation of imperial control and the evolution of responsible government in India. From its very inception, the Congress made gradual introduction of rep­resentative institutions in the country as the main plank of its platform. The Congress considered the reform of the Councils "as the root of all other reforms." Speaking on the subject at the fifth session of the Congress (Bombay, 1889), Surendranath Banerjee said: "If you get that, you get everything else. On it depends the entire future of the country and the future of our administrative system.""

Indian Councils Act, 1892: The Indian Councils Act, 1892 was, in part at least, a step in the direction of respond­ing to the growing Indian demand for representative institutions. The adoption by the British Parliament of the Indian Councils Act, 1892 with a view to "give the people of India a real living representation in the Legislative Coun­cil", was regarded as a triumph for the Congress insofar as the British Government for the first time "recognised the representative element in the enlarged Councils." The Con­gress had the satisfaction of being "responsible for unifying Indians for the common purposes of their political enfran­chisement."

The 1892 Act amended the Indian Councils Act, 1861, to reconstitute the Councils of India. The Legislative Coun­cil of the Governor-General was further enlarged to consist of "not less than ten nor more than sixteen" (instead of the erstwhile minimum of six and maximum of twelve) addi­tional members. Similarly, the number of additional members in the Provincial Legislative Councils was also in­creased. The regulations under which the additional members of the Councils were to be nominated on the rec­ommendations of certain recognised bodies or associations representing particular interests. In the case of the Gover­nor-General's Legislative Council, or the Indian Legislative Council as it came to be known, five more 'additional' mem­bers were thus brought in, one being nominated by the non-official members of each of the four Provincial Coun­cils and one by the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce. Though the term 'election' was scrupulously avoided, the fact that the non-official members of the Provincial Councils recom­mended and returned their nominees to the Central Council, indicated implicit acceptance of the principle of indirect election.

Members of the Legislative Council were also granted the privilege of asking questions, that if of interrogating the government members with a view to eliciting information on important matters. This right, which is one of the funda­mental rights of any legislature, was very sparingly used at the time, but its grant marked a definite step forward in the progress of the parliamentary institution. It is interesting that in the initial stages the right was availed of even by official members, and it is amusing to read of one govern­ment member questioning another and eliciting information.

The Act of 1892 was certainly an improvement on the 1861 Act, insofar as it brought in a representative element in the Legislative Councils and relaxed to some extent the restrictions on the working of the Councils. The entry of the 'elected' members marked the beginning of new era in the life of the Council. Greater expression began to be given to popular opinion, and the deliberative, as also the critical aspect of the discussions underwent a change.

Indian Councils Act, 1909: The relentless campaign launched by the Congress for greater and more effective representation in running the affairs of the country culmi­nated in the Morley-Minto reform proposals of 1908. The scheme of Morley-Minto constitutional reforms was given effect to through the Indian Councils Act, 19097 The Act as supplemented by regulations framed under it, made impor­tant changes in the Constitution and functions of the Indian legislatures. The maximum number of members of the In­dian Legislative Council was raised from 16 to 60 (excluding the executive councilors who were ex-officio members) and the size of the Legislative Councils in the Presidencies/ Provinces was also more than doubled. The Act required that the members of the Legislative Councils should include elected as well as nominated members.

The 1909 Act enlarged the functions of the Legislative Councils. It gave to the members the power to move reso­lutions on the Budget and on any matter of general public interest and to divide the Council upon them. The resolu­tions were to take the form of recommendations to the executive government, but the government was not bound to accept them. The power to put questions was extended by permitting supplementary questions subject to disallow­ance by the President.

The biggest defect of 1909 Reforms was the creation of separate or communal system of election providing for representation and reservation of seats in Councils for special interests like Muslims, chambers of commerce, zamindars, etc. The communal system of representation initiated by the Act poisoned the future public life of India and increased separatist tendencies. It was the biggest shock to secular Indian nationalism after the suppression of the 1857 revolt and was indeed the greatest victory for the British policy of 'divide and rule'. In the words of Sardar Pannikar, this was "the first expression of the pernicious two-nation theory" which ultimately resulted in the partition of the country.8

Government of India Act, 1919: The Reforms Act of 1919 as supplemented by Rules made under it, introduced many important changes in the Indian constitutional sys­tem. At the Centre, the Indian Legislative Council was replaced by a bicameral Legislature consisting of a Council of State (Upper House) and a Legislative Assembly (Lowe House), each with an elected majority.

The Council of State was to consist of not more than 60 members, nominated or elected in accordance with statu­tory rules, and of these not more than 20 were to be officials. The first Council of State had a total of 60 members, of whom 34 were elected, 20 were nominated officials and 6 nominated non-officials. The strength of the Legislative Assembly was provisionally fixed by the Act of 140 (100 elected, 26 nominated officials and rest nominated non-of­ficials). But there was power, by statutory rule, to increase the total number, and to vary the proportion between the classes of members, so that at least five-sevenths of the to­tal number had to be elected members and at least one-third of the rest non-officials. The first Legislative Assembly, con­stituted under the 1919 Act, came into being in 1921. It had 145 members, 104 of whom were elected (52 by General, 30 by Muslim, 9 by European, 7 by Landowners, 4 by Com­mercial and 2 by Sikh constituencies), 26 officials and 15 nominated non-officials.

The elected members of both the Houses were chosen by direct election, but on a very much restricted franchise based on qualifications of property, and tax or education. In the case of the Council of State, property qualifications for voters were pitched extremely high making the House, more or less, an exclusive preserve of wealthy landowners and merchants. The property qualification for voting for election to the Assembly was put at a lower level than that for the Council of State, but it was still considerably higher than that required for the provincial franchise. The total elec­torate for the Council in 1920 was only 17,644 and for the Assembly 904,746. The normal term of the Council was five years, and that of the Assembly three. The Governor-Gen­eral could dissolve either House before the expiration of its full term. He could also extend their normal life in special circumstances. The two Houses had coordinate powers, except that only the Assembly could grant or withhold sup- ply.

The 1919 Act while establishing partially responsible governments in the Provinces under a system of what came to be known popularly as 'dyarchy', did not introduce any element of responsibility at the Centre and the Governor- General-in-Council continued to remain responsible only to the Secretary of State for India and through him to the British Parliament. The Central Legislature, though more representative than the previous Legislative Councils and endowed, for the first time, with power to vote supplies, had no power to replace the government and even its powers in the held of legislation and financial control were limited and subject to the overriding powers of the Governor-General. Thus, even as the Central Legislature's power to make laws for the whole of British India, for British subjects and servants of the Crown in India, and for all British Indian subjects within as well as without British India was reiterated, it continued to be subject to many important limitations which were designed either to keep the sovereignty of the British Parliament intact or to maintain the supremacy of the Governor-General and his Council. Broadly speaking, the Indian Legislature had no power to amend or repeal any parliamentary statute relating to British India or to do anything affecting the authority of the British Parliament. The Act also required that measures affecting certain important matters could be introduced in either House of the Indian Legislature only with the previous sanction of the Governor-General. Besides his existing power to veto any Bill passed by the Legislature or to reserve the same for the signification of His Majesty's pleasure, the Governor-General was given the power to secure the enactment of laws which he considered essential for the safety, tranquility or interests of British India, or any part of British India. The Governor-General also continued to have the power to promulgate ordinances for the peace and good government of British India in case of emergency.

Similarly, in the financial field, while power was given to the Legislative Assembly to assent or to refuse its assent to any demand for grant or to reduce the amount referred to in any demand, if the Assembly declined to vote a de­mand put before it, the Governor-General in Council could restore it by simply declaring that it was essential to the discharge of his responsibilities.

The Indian Legislature under the Act of 1919 was thus only a non-sovereign law-making body and was powerless before the Executive in all spheres of governmental activity—administrative as well as legislative and financial.

Nevertheless, with the constitution of a Legislature, the making of laws ceased to be the business of the Governor- General's Council. That body had now to function in terms of cabinet and submit the financial and legislative proposals of the government to the Legislature, presided over by non­official presidents. A tremendous increase in the scope of legislative activity was witnessed ad several measures of permanent benefit to the country were enacted. The Budget, except for certain reserved heads of expenditure, was subject to vote and the government had to weather many a storm when supplies and services were refused, or the entire Budget thrown out by the House. With freedom of speech in the Houses being assured and with their right to ask questions, move resolutions and motions of adjournment, the members had opportunities to criticise and expose the government. Some of the members were afforded additional opportunity, through Standing Committees, of influencing the government and familiarising themselves with the working of the executive departments. 

The emergence of the Central Legislature was a matter of historic importance. For the first time it gave the repre­sentatives of the people a voice in making laws and influencing governmental policies. It also played a great role in the shaping of the political destinies of the country. While the country was fighting to overthrow foreign domination, the representatives of the people assembled in the Legisla­ture carried the battle into the House. The world saw an alien government bow to the wishes of the people to accept defeat. Defeat, of course, did not make any difference to the government because the government, consisting as it did of nominated Executive Councillors, had no obligation to vacate. Nevertheless, the existence of a highly critical Leg­islature encouraged the exercise of care and discretion on the part of the Executive and instilled in it a consciousness of its obligation to the people.

Lokmanya Tilak termed the 1919 Reforms as "dissatisfying, disappointing and a sun without morning", but he declared that he would accept what had been given, agitate and work harder, and use it for obtaining more as soon as possible. His policy of responsive cooperation included both cooperation, and constitutional assertion, and if need be, constitutional obstruction. Annie Besant declared the scheme to be "unworthy toibe offered by Britain and re­ceived by India." A sort of schism was thus created in the Congress over the 1919 Reforms. In 1918, some moderates leaving the Congress, had formed a separate organisation called the National Liberation Federation under the leader­ship of Surendranath Banerjee. These moderates hailed the Reforms but the Congress at its 1919 Amritsar session called them "inadequate, unsatisfactory, and disappointing."

The Legislature Under the 1919 Reforms: The constitu­tional reforms of the 1919 Act came into force in 1921. The largest and the most influential political party in the coun- try, the Indian National Congress, boycotted the 1920-21 elections and was thus not represented in the legislatures that came into being in 1921. Only the National Liberal Fed­eration formed by the moderates who had left the Congress in 1918 took active part in the elections and a number of eminent members of the Party were elected to seats in the legislatures. As was expected of them, and as the terms of their pledge to their constituents demanded, they dis­charged their function as legislators and ministers. Their programme in the Councils was described by them as "a policy of uniform, continuous and consistent obstruction."11

In 1923, Deshbandhu C.R. Das and Pandit Motilal Ne­hru formed the Swaraj Party which advocated fighting elections and entering the Councils with a view to either changing or wrecking the system from within "the enemy's camp". The special Delhi Session of the Congress held in September 1923 under the presidentship of Maulana Azad adopted the Swarajist plan of Council entry and thereafter the Swaraj Party became the legislative wing of the Congress. Swaraj Party leaders justified entry into the legisla­ture saying that under the contemporary situation, it was the best course to make the administrative system hollow and ineffective.

The Swaraj Party achieved remarkable success at the polls in 1923. By winning 45 seats out of a total of 145, the Swaraj Party became the largest party in the Central Legislature. According to Maulana Azad, the biggest victory of the party lay in the fact that it secured even those seats which were reserved for the Muslims. And, with the support of some independents and of the members of the Nationalist Party led by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, it got an absolute majority. The Swarajists under the leadership of Motilal Nehru defeated the government on several motions of national importance and repeatedly prevented the passage of the budget and many legislative measures. They staged several walk-outs. As a result of the Swarajist efforts, resolutions on 'National Demand' were passed with overwhelming majorities in 1924 and 1925.

The Swaraj Party had a poor showing at the 1926 elec­tions. On 7 March 1926 the All India Congress Committee called upon the Swarajists, owing to the absence of any sign of cooperation from the government, to walk out of the leg­islatures as a protest. Thus the Swarajist experiment came to an end.

One important development during the period was the evolution of the office of the Speaker. While the first Presi­dent (Speaker) of the Central Legislative Assembly, Sir Frederick Whyte was nominated in August, 1925, Shri Vithalbhai Patel was elected and became the first non-offi­cial President (Speaker) of the Assembly. He along with several other members of the House realised that the inde­pendence of the elected Speaker was prejudicially affected because the Secretary of the Assembly was the Secretary of the Legislative Department under the Government of In­dia. On 22 September 1928, Pandit Motilal Nehru moved a resolution in the House that a separate Assembly Depart­ment be constituted. It was adopted unanimously. The Secretary of State for India accorded his approval with cer­tain modifications and a separate self-contained department known as Legislative Assembly Department was created with effect from 10 January 1929. The Speaker was made the de facto head of the new department and the staff was appointed with the approval of the Speaker.

The limited reforms brought about under the Government of India Act, 1919 proved totally inadequate to satisfy the popular demand for a representative responsible government. The national opinion gathered momentum against a legislature with limited powers, and with every passing year the demand for a fully sovereign Parliament and responsible government became more insistent.

Appointment of Simon Commission: The years 1920 to 1935 were fateful years. During this period considerable political consciousness developed in the country. The In­dian National Congress, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, developed into a mass organisation. The Act of 1919 had provided for the appointment for a Royal Commission at the expiration of ten years "for enquiring into the work­ing of the system of government.. .and the development of representative institutions in British India.and of report­ing "as to whether and to what extent it is desirable to establish the principle of responsible government, or to ex­tend, modify, or restrict the degree of responsible government...existing therein, including the question whether the establishment of second chambers of the local legislatures is or is not desirable." In November 1927, two years before it was due, the appointment of a Commission was announced. But, the Commission's Chairman, Sir John Simon, and all its members were chosen from the British Parliament. The all-white Simon Commission was boy­cotted by most of the Indian parties. The report of the Commission published in May 1930 was rejected by all po­litical parties. The Indian National Congress presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru at its Lahore session in 1929 had al­ready declared complete independence or Puma Swaraj as its aim.

The Government of India Act, 1935: The Act of 1935 aimed at providing a federal structure. The Governor-Gen­eral was to have a Council of Ministers, not exceeding ten in number, "to aid and advise" him "in the exercise of his functions" except where he was required to exercise his functions in "his discretion" or in "his individual judge­ment". There was no reference in the Act to either collective or individual responsibility of the ministers to the Federal Legislature, although every minister was required to be a member of either House of that Legislature. Also, there was no reference to a Prime Minister. The functions of the Gov­ernor-General with respect to the appointment and dismissal of the ministers were to be exercised in his "dis­cretion". He was empowered in his "discretion" to preside at meetings of the Council of Ministers.

The Federal Legislature was to consist of His Majesty, represented by the Governor-General, and two Chambers to be known respectively as the Council of State (the Upper Chamber) and the House of Assembly (the Lower Chamber). The Council of State was to consist of 156 repre­sentatives of British India and not more than 104 representatives of the Indian States while the Assembly was to consist of 250 representatives of British India and not more than 125 representatives of the Indian States. The Council of State was to be a permanent body not subject to dissolution, but one-third of its members were to retire every third year. Every Federal Assembly, unless sooner dissolved by the Governor-General in his "discretion", was to continue for five years. In a rather strange and involved provision, the Act provided for the representatives of British India to be elected to the Upper Chamber by provincial constituencies through direct election, and, representatives to the Lower Chamber to be elected by electoral colleges constituted by members of Provincial Assemblies, through indirect elections.

Each house was to elect its Chairman and Deputy Chairman and would have power to regulate, subject to the provisions of the Act, its own procedure and business. The Governor-General was empowered to summon and pro­rogue the Legislature, and to dissolve the Lower House at his "discretion". No Bill would become law unless agreed to by both Houses and assented to by the Governor-Gen­eral or, in the case of Bill reserved for the significance of His Majesty's pleasure, by His Majesty. Even an Act as­sented to by the Governor General could be disallowed by His Majesty. The Governor-General could remit a Bill to the Houses for reconsideration. In the case of disagreement between the Houses, the Governor-General could summon a joint sitting in which a decision would be reached by a majority vote.

The two Houses were given nearly equal powers; the difference lay in the sphere of finance,. Money Bills could be introduced only in the Lower House, but the Upper House had the power to amend or reject them in the same way as the Lower House, and the Governor-General was empowered to resolve the differences by summoning a joint sitting.

The 49th and the 50th Sessions of the Congress held in Lucknow (April, 1936) and Faizpur (1937) respectively, re­jected in its entirety, the new Constitution embodied in this Act as it "in no way represents the will of the nation". The Congress felt that the Act had been imposed on India against the declared will of its people. The Indian people, the Congress declared, could only recognise a constitutional structure which had been framed by them.

The Federal part of the 1935 Act, however, never came into operation as the Princely States could not be persuaded to accede to the Federation. As a result, the Constitution of the Central Government'^ India remained the same as it was under the Act of 1919 with such modifications as were necessitated by the introduction of autonomy in the Prov­inces. Thus, no Council of Ministers, responsible to the Legislature, was appointed at the Centre and the powers and functions of the Central Legislature, as provided in the 1919 Act, remained unchanged until the Indian Indepen­dence Act, 1947. The Legislative Assembly as constituted in 1934 had 44 members of the Congress Party and 11 nation­alists who ordinarily voted with them, under their leaders, Bhulabhai Desai and Aney. The independents, who held the balance between the national parties and the government bloc, were led by M.A. Jirtnah. The main purpose of the Nationalists was to prove the irresponsible character of the Government of India and to demonstrate that the Indian people had no confidence in the government and were not prepared to support it. Two important occasions to oppose the government were when voting took place on the Rail­ways and secondly, in the General Budget. The demands for grants on many items were rejected in pursuit of the object. The cut motions were moved in order to ventilate Indian grievances and censuring the government for its negligence in action and antipathy to the interests of the people. The government restored most of the cuts in com­pliance with the special powers of certification vested in the Governor-General. This attracted the stigma that India was being ruled by the autocratic fiat of the Governor-Gen­eral and not with the consent of the elected representatives of the people.

Fresh elections to the Central Legislative Assembly which were overdue were held in the last quarter of 1945. The Congress contested the elections on the issue of its 'Quit India' resolution of 1942 while for the Muslim League the issue was 'Pakistan'. The result showed that the Congress secured a majority of the elected seats (56 out of 102). Sarat Chandra Bose was the leader of the Congress Legislature Party. The Indian Independence Act 1947 introduced some changes. The provisions of the Act of 1935 which required the Governor-General or a Governor to act in his discretion or in exercise of his individual judgement ceased to have effect. The Dominion Legislature was vested with "full power to make laws..., including laws having extra-terri­torial operation".

The First Sovereign Legislature

In pursuance of the Indian Independence Act, the Govern­ment of India Act, 1935 was modified and adapted by the Governor-General to make it the provisional Constitution of the Dominiort, until some other provision was made by the Constituent Assembly. There was a Council of Minis­ters "to aid and advise the Governor-General in the exercise of his functions". The legislative powers of the Governor- General were removed and power was conferred on him to promulgate ordinances only in case of emergency for the peace and good government of the Dominion. The Gover­nor-General ceased to be a part of the Dominion Legislature and his power of dissolution ended. Thus, the Governor- General became a mere constitutional head of the country and the sovereignty of the Dominion Legislature was com­plete. The Indian Independence Act, 1947, declared the Constituent Assembly of India to be a fully sovereign body and on the midnight of 14-15 August 1947, the Assembly assumed full powers of the governance of the country. Sec­tion 8 of the Act conferred on the Constituent Assembly full legislative power. It has, however, soon felt that it would be desirable to maintain distinction between the Constitu­tion-making function of the Constituent Assembly and its ordinary function as a legislature. The House having agreed, a Committee under the Chairmanship of G.V. Mavalankar was appointed on 20 August 1947 to consider the matter., On 29 August 1947, after considering the Mavalankar Committee Report, the Constituent Assembly resolved that the business of the Assembly as a Constitution-making body should be clearly distinguished from its function as the Dominion Legislature and that a provision should be made for the election of a Speaker to preside over the Assembly while functioning in the latter capacity.13

In accordance with the aforesaid Resolution, the Leg­islative Assembly Rules in force immediately before the establishment of the Dominion of India were modified and adapted by the President of the Constituent Assembly.

The Constituent Assembly (Legislative) as a distinct body met for its first sitting in the Assembly Chamber on 17 November 1947, with the President of the Constituent Assembly (Dr. Rajendra Prasad) in the Chair.

Only one nomination, that of G.V. Mavalankar, was received for the office of the Speaker and he was declared as duly elected. Later Dr. Rajendra Prasad vacated the Chair which was then occupied by Speaker Mavalankar. Mean­while, the Constituent Assembly was engaged in the task of framing a Constitution for independent India.

The Constituent Assembly accepted the principle of the parliamentary executive collectively responsible to the popular House of the Parliament, as recommended by the Union Constitution Committee and as subsequently incor­porated into the Draft Constitution prepared by the Drafting Committee. While introducing the Draft Constitution and recommending the parliamentary system in the Constitu­ent Assembly on 4 November 1948, B.R. Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee said that "The Draft Constitution in recommending the parliamentary system of executive has preferred more responsibility to more stabil­ity." While some dissentient voices were heard against the concept of the parliamentary type of government, the over­whelming opinion was in favour of the Drafting Committee's proposal14 and finally with the coming into force of the republican Constitution of independent India

on 26 January 1950, d full-fledged parliamentary system of government with a modem institutional framework and all its other ramifications was established. The Constituent Assembly became the Provisional Parliament of India and functioned as such until after the first General Elections based on adult franchise. The Parliament was constituted under the provisions of the new Constitution.

The first general elections under the new Constitution were held during the year 1951-52, the first elected Parlia­ment with the two houses—the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha—came into being in May 1952, the Second Lok Sabha came in May 1957, the Third in April 1962, the Fourth in March 1967, the Fifth in March 1971, the Sixth in March 1977, the Seventh in January 1980, the Eighth in December 1984, the Ninth in December 1989, the Tenth in June 1991, and the Eleventh, Twelfth and Thirteenth in May 1996, March 1998 and October 1999 respectively.15

The Rajya Sabha first constituted in 1952 is a continu­ing, permanent House, not subject to dissolution. One-third of its members retire every two years.


  1. Radha Kumud Mookerjee, Glimpses of Ancient India, Bombay, 1970, pp. 5-6, 41; Balashastri Hardas, Glimpses of the Vedic Nation, Madras, 1967, p. 514.
  2. S. Altekar, State and Government in Ancient India, Delhi, 1949, pp. 83-86; Mookerjee, op.cit., pp. 45-46.
  3. For further discussion of the theme, see P.L. Bhargava, India in the Vedic Age, Lucknow, 1971; Mookerjee, cit., Balashastri Hardas, op.cit., Altekar op.cit., S.N. Mishra, Ancient Indian Republic, Lucknow, 1976; J.P. Sharma, Republics in Ancient India, Leiden, 1968; S.K. Roy, Democracy in India, Calcutta, 1960; K.P. Jayaswal, Hindu Polity, Bangalore, 1955; and R. K. Mookerjee, Local Government in Ancient India, Oxford, 1920.
  4. Ilbert, The Government of India, Oxford, 1922, pp. 83-87.
  5. Montagu-Chelmsford Report, paras 63 to 65 and Report of the Indian Statutory Commission (Simon Commission), Vol. 1, 1930, para 133 and John Cumming (ed.), Political India (1832-1932), Oxford, 1932,
    1. 161.
    2. P. Sitaramayya, History of the Indian National Congress, Vol. 1,1935, p. 37; A.M. & G. Zaidi, The Encyclopaedia of the Indian National Con­gress, New Delhi, 1976, Vol. V, pp. 229 and 615.
    3. Zaidi, cit., 227.
    4. M. Pannikar, Asia and Western Domination, 1953, p. 155; Zaidi, op.cit., Vol. V, pp. 545-46.
    5. Data regarding the composition of the two Houses is based on R. Coupland, The Indian Problem 1833-1935, Madras, 1943, p. 64.
    6. G. Pradhan, India's Struggle for Swaraj, 1930, p. 136.
    7. Bisheshwar Prasad, Bondage and Freedom, 1979, p. 364.
    8. N. Murty and K.V. Padmanabhan, The Constitution of the Domin­ion of India 1947, Introduction.
    9. Constituent Assembly Debates, V, 29-8-1947, pp. 359-60.
    10. Constituent Assembly Debates, VO, pp. 32-33.
    11. For further study, see Subhash C. Kashyap, History of Parliamen­tary Democracy, Delhi, 1991; History of Parliament of India, Delhi, 6 Vols., 1994-2000.