Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intention in announcing August 14 as ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’ to remove disharmony finds an echo from 74 years ago, in a page of the Constituent Assembly debates.
The incident recorded in the Assembly’s annals dates back to July 14, 1947 . It had then been just over a month after Lord Mountbatten announced the partition of British India into two independent dominions of India and Pakistan in June 1947.
Partition was a certainty, but Haji Abdul Sathar Haji Ishaq Sait, a Member elected from the Madras Presidency, who was president of the Muslim League from Malabar, was present in the Constitution Hall to participate in the Constituent Assembly debates which Jawaharlal Nehru described as a “high adventure of giving shape, in the printed and written word, to a Nation’s dream and aspiration”.
Dr. Rajendra Prasad, in the Chair, asked the Members to present their credentials and sign the Assembly’s Register. The Secretary then called out Mr. Sait’s name.
One of the Members, Deshbandhu Gupta, intervened at that point. He asked whether it would not be “fair” to the House to have Mr. Sait first reveal whether he still subscribed to the “Two Nation Theory”.
“I take it that, as a sovereign body, and in view of the Partition that has been decided upon, we should review the whole question and lay down that a Member who does not subscribe to the Objectives Resolution that has been passed cannot sign the Register,” Mr. Gupta told the Chair.
The ‘Objectives Resolution’ was the resolve of the Constituent Assembly to frame a Constitution for a Sovereign, Independent, Indian Republic. Mr. Nehru had introduced the ‘Objectives Resolution’ as an indication “to ourselves, to those who look to this Assembly, to those millions in this country who are looking up to us and to the world at large, as to what we may do, what we seek to achieve, whither we are going”.
After hearing out Mr. Gupta, Dr. Prasad said he had raised an “interesting” point, but indicated it was not worth taking any further. Dr. Prasad said Mr. Sait, an elected Member of the Constituent Assembly, was clearly entitled to sit in the House as long as he did not resign.
“Anyone who has been elected is entitled to sit in this House as long as he does not resign. Therefore, I do not think I can prevent any Member who has been elected duly from signing the Register,” said Dr. Prasad, who went on to serve as the first President of India.
The record of the day showed that Mr. Sait was the first one to be called to sign the Register.
Four days after this exchange in the Constitution Hall, the Royal Assent was given to the U.K. Parliament’s Indian Independence Act on July 18.