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

  • Rochana Bajpai
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    This paper focuses on a neglected aspect of India's constitutional history: the withdrawal of political safeguards for religious minorities during the making of the Indian Constitution. It analyses arguments about group preferential provisions in debates as well as democracy, as provisions for minority representation entailed departures from the principle of territorial representation. The overriding consideration in nationalist discourse of this period was, however, the impact of minority safeguards on national integrity and cohesion. In nationalist opinion, preferential provisions were regarded as legitimate only in the case of certain groups - Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes - and only for a specific purpose, that of ameliorating the social and economic disabilities of backward sections. This nationalist discourse influenced the forms in which group preferential provisions were incorporated into the Indian Constitution: as temporary, self liquidating measures for the 'backward sections'. The fact that there was no principled defense in Congress opinion for such provisions in the case of religious minorities enables us understand why safeguards for religious minorities, incorporated in the first draft of the Constitution, came to be removed in the final stages of Constitution making. The paper thus argues that an analysis of political discourse is crucial for understanding political outcomes.

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    Paper provided by Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford in its series QEH Working Papers with number qehwps30.

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    Handle: RePEc:qeh:qehwps:qehwps30
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