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Sardar Patel was the real architect of the Constitution

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel played a decisive role in the Constituent Assembly and remained the moving spirit behind some of the landmark provisions of Indian principles.

Patel, a man of action, spoke only when necessary in the Constituent Assembly, yet his impact on the Constitution was much wider than his intervention in the debates.

He played an important role in the selection of members of the drafting committee. He took a strong stand for or against Jawaharlal Nehru on key issues such as fundamental rights, the position of the prime minister, the election procedure of the President and the status of Kashmir. "The Iron Man so dominated the assembly that the Constitution which emerged from it bore his stamp and could be aptly called the Patel Constitution," says Dr P M Chopra, chief editor of the Collected Works of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Volume XI.

This special volume of the 15-part series portrays Patel as the maker of the Indian Constitution. Some of the basic tenets of the Constitution, particularly the balancing of fundamental rights with the maintenance of law and order in the state, and the reservation of a whole set of citizens rights as non-justiciable directives of the state were evolved by Patel.

Dr Chopra says Patel's predilection for a strong Centre and his anxiety to guarantee the privileges of the princes is reflected in the Constitution. He also dispensed with separate electorates and seat reservations for the minorities with the unanimous consent of their leaders.

Just as Manu, a brahmin gave the Hindus their first code, Vallabhbhai ensured that Dr B R Ambedkar, a harijan, piloted the basic law of new India. He was also instrumental for the entry of eminent jurists like B N Rau, K M Munshi, Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar and Gopalaswami Ayyangar into the Assembly. "Not only did Patel see that Ambedkar was appointed law minister but ensured that he completed his tenure despite Nehru's wish to drop him at one point," points out Dr Chopra.

After adopting the 'Objectives Resolution', moved by Nehru, the Constituent Assembly appointed an advisory committee under Patel on January 24, 1947. The committee dealt with the rights of citizens, minorities, tribal and excluded areas. Patel presented the committee's recommendations on political safeguards for minorities sans separate electorates on August 27. The recommendations were accepted in the Assembly the following day.

Dr Chopra points out that the Sardar's interventions in the Constituent Assembly during the debates were few, but forceful.

On October 10, 1949, Patel defended the inclusion of Article 283-A (incorporated in the Constitution as Article 314) which gave constitutional guarantee to the terms and privileges granted to ICS officers opting for service in Independent India. Two days later, during a debate on Article 211A (which was renumbered 238 only to be repealed later), Patel outlined a concept of people's polity which replaced the rulers polity in states acceding to the Union and defended privy purses.

On October 14, he denied any breach of promise about reservations in services to the Sikhs in a debate on Article 296 (renumbered 335), which accommodated scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in the services.

A month later, Patel explained the division of the Sirohi state between Bombay and Rajasthan on the basis of the schedule listing of states and territories.

The author says, subsequently, Patel only spoke twice--on November 26 to announce the acceptance of the Constitution by the states, and on January 24, 1950, to felicitate Dr Rajendra Prasad on being election as the first President of India.

In an Assembly debate on the interim report on fundamental rights moved by Patel on April 29, 1947, H N Kunzru and Somnath Lahiri said it was difficult to make a fine distinction on justiciable rights and rights that did not fall in that category.

"Indians had found that a government which does not depend on the people and rules the country by means of force, detaining people without trial, without a judicial process," commented Lahiri. He added that these were fundamental rights from a police constable's view and not that of a free and fighting nation.

Professor N G Ranga, however, complimented the 'charter of fundamental rights' saying the clauses were intended to see that those who believed in liberalism at one end and Communism at the other could not take advantage of the rights to pave way for totalitarianism.

In his reply, the Sardar said there were two schools of thought -- one advocating the inclusion of as many rights as possible in the report and the other seeking to restrict it to only those considered as fundamental. "Between the two schools, finally a mean was drawn," says Dr Chopra.

Patel piloted a model Constitution for the provinces in the Assembly on July 15, 1947 which contained the limited powers of governor, instructing him to report to the President about any grave situation arising in the province.

Patel clarified it was not the intention to let the governor exercise that power which could bring the provincial ministry in conflict with the governor's office.

Enumerating the other special features of the model Constitution, he said one such aspect was the many checks provided to ensure fair appointments in the high court. The judges were to be appointed by the President in consultation with the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the chief justice of the provincial high court and the governor with the advice of the provincial ministry.

On August 30, Patel presented the directive principles of state policy at the Assembly. Though not cognisable by any court of law, the directive principles were fundamental in the governance of the country.

On October 12, 1949, he outlined the concept of people's polity to replace the rulers polity in states acceding to the Indian Union; and a special status for Jammu and Kashmir.

About a month later, the Sardar announced in the House, "All the nine states, specified in part B of the first schedule of the Constitution, including the state of Hyderabad, have signified their acceptance of the Constitution."

The Constitution came into force from January 26, 1950.