Minority Rights in the Indian Constituent Assembly Debates, 1946-1950

Date: Jun, 2002
ODID Working Paper No. 30
Author(s): Rochana Bajpai (Nuffield College)

(First Published December 1999, Revised June 2002) This article analyses the arguments advanced for and against minority rights in the Indian Constituent Assembly. During the course of my analysis, I show first, that arguments advocating and opposing different kinds of minority provisions, advanced from diverse political and ideological positions, employed a shared legitimating vocabulary. The concepts of secularism, democracy, equality and justice, and national unity and development defined this legitimating vocabulary. Second, while it has generally been assumed that the constitution-makers subscribed to a single notion of secularism or democracy, my analysis shows that different conceptions of these political ideals were at play in arguments about minority rights in the Constituent Assembly. Third, against dominant understandings of Indian political discourse, this article emphasizes that different kinds of liberal norms were a crucial part of the legitimating vocabulary on minority safeguards. Finally, I argue that our understanding of an important and neglected development in India's constitutional history, the withdrawal of political safeguards for religious minorities during the making of the Indian Constitution, is furthered by an analysis of the legitimating vocabulary on minority rights in the Constituent Assembly debates.

ODID Author(s)