BN Rao: The Forgotten Hero


India became a democratic Republic on this day in 1950 after attaining independence from the British in 19 47. Democracy means rule by the choice of the majority; a republic is more meaningful: rule by ordinary people, not by hereditary monarchs, feudal lords or any other privileged class. A nation-state is considered full-fledged and sovereign only when, apart from its geographical boundary and people living within it, it has its own Constitution based on which laws of the land are made and rules of conduct by the public and more importantly the public servants are specified in terms of right and wrong and corresponding punishment for violation. Essentially, a Constitution is the ‘will’ of the state. It is a sociopolitical and legal document which is drafted by experts and debated and voted by a Constituent Assembly or a similar body.

The Indian Constitution was drafted by a core committee of seven experts headed by Dr BR Ambedkar. All were legal experts or administrative luminaries including Sir BN Rau,  KM Munshi, N Gopalaswamy Ayyangar, Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar, Syed Mohammad Saadullah, N Madhava Rau who was Diwan (Prime Minister) of Mysore and replaced Bl Mitter who had resigned due to ill health. NMR had vehemently opposed Hindi as the national language. The draft was debated, altered, and finally approved by the Constituent Assembly after a couple of years.  DP Khaitan was also inducted, but he died in 1948 to be replaced by TT Krishnamachari, who became a Minister two times in the  Nehru Cabinet.

Ambedkar was chosen the head because he had already served in various sub-committees like the Advisory Committee, Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee, and Minorities Sub-Committee of the Constitutional Assembly. He submitted a memorandum with very valid suggestions to the Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee. This memorandum was later published for wider circulation under the title ‘States and minorities, their rights and how to secure them in the Constitution of free India’. That is why the Congress party was convinced that legislation and solidification of freedom would not be easy without the services of Dr. Ambedkar. Incidentally, the Congress had earlier opposed tooth and nail Ambedkar’s entry into the Constituent Assembly. In his letter of 30th June 1947, Dr Rajendra Prasad, President of the Constituent Assembly, had requested BG Kher, the then Prime Minister of Bombay, to elect Dr. Ambedkar immediately.

The Constitution of India is the most voluminous in the world, consisting of 448 articles, 25 parts, 12 schedules, 5 appendices, and over 98 amendments.

Mahatma Gandhi was not really sidelined from the constitution-making exercise. He chose to keep away because he was keen that the Congress be dissolved before any critical state activity was undertaken. Gandhi also did not attend the gathering where Nehru made his first speech to the Constituent Assembly. Gandhi was a mass leader, not a politician. The Constitution drafting required patience, negotiating skills, and flexibility to accommodate diverse opinions. Gandhi believed he was not really cut out to be part of such an activity. The committee had other brilliant people from nearly all walks of life including some of those who opposed the Congress like Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee. Nehru, Patel, Rajendra Prasad, and Maulana Azad were very seriously involved in the Constitution-making process. But Gandhi had made his desire clear which was duly given place by the expert team. The Mahatma’s focus on villages, agriculture, self-reliance, etc., was given high importance in the Constitution. So, Gandhi around this time remained busy touring across India trying to douse communal fires that were burning incessantly at most places.

The smartest card played by shrewd Nehru was putting Ambedkar at the top, thereby sending out a strong political message that the untouchables would not face discrimination ever. History shows this one act has done more for ‘Dalit empowerment’ than any other step.

There is much talk about who really was the biggest brain behind making the Constitution as knowledgeable people believe Ambedkar couldn’t have been the guy. Oldies with wisdom, who knew India of those days, have said univocally that BN Rau who was appointed as the adviser to the Constituent Assembly was the expert who did the most job and worked out the democratic framework of the Constitution. He singlehandedly prepared the initial draft by February 1948, to be debated, revised, and finally adopted by the team on November 26, 1949. The Drafting Committee, under the chairmanship of Ambedkar, declared that the ‘Draft Constitution’ was being scrutinized thoroughly by adviser BN Rau for making it one of the world’s best Constitutions.

President of Constituent Assembly Rajendra Prasad, just before signing the Constitution on November 26, 1949, thanked Rau profusely for having “worked honorarily” assisting the assembly not only with his knowledge and erudition but enabling the other members to perform their duties with thorough prudence. Rau was not a member of the Constitutional Assembly but was the most important expert who did the primary thinking and writing. He has been religiously ignored by frontline politicians who never gave him his due space in history. Rau is the principal framer of the Indian Constitution; others only did the cosmetic jobs here and there. like they have forgotten VP Menon, Secretary of States, who drafted the ‘instrument of accession’ to force the 564 Princely States to merge with the Union of India, Rau is not remembered by the political bosses of today. Most of them do not even know who he is by name.

Sir Benegal Narsing Rau, an illustrious Kannada, born on February 26, 1887, lived till November 30, 1953. He served as an Indian Civil Service officer, a jurist, a diplomat, and a statesman of great repute. He was also India’s Representative to the United Nations Security Council between 1950 and 1952. His brothers were equally illustrious: Benegal Rama Rau was Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and B Shiva Rao an eminent journalist-politician. One of the foremost Indian jurists of his time, Sir Rau, had also helped draft the Constitution of Burma in 1947. As India’s Representative at the UN Security Council, he served as president of the council and recommended armed assistance to South Korea. later, he became a member at the Korean War post ‘Armistice’ of the UN Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC). A graduate of the Universities of Madras and Cambridge, Rau entered the ICS in 1910. After revising the entire Indian statutory code (1935-37), he was Knighted in 1938 and made judge of the Bengal High Court in 1939. His writings on Indian law include a study on Constitutional precedents as well as articles on human rights in India. He briefly served during 1944-45 as Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. From February 1952 until his death, he was a judge of the Permanent Court of International Justice, The Hague. Before his election to the court, he was regarded as a candidate for UN Secretary-General.

Rau does not live in the hearts of Indians as the maker of the great Constitution of India. Ambedkar, who was placed as the team leader by Nehru, is projected as the supreme brain who gave the Constitution. Just one month later on February 26, no big leader or self-proclaimed statesman will remember Rau on his 130th birthday.

(The writer is a core member of Transparency International, Odisha)

[As received on WhatsApp]