After breaking away from over two centuries of oppression by the British, in 1947, India became a democratic republic in 1950. The Indian Constitution was drafted by a core committee of seven experts, headed by Dr BR Ambedkar. The draft was debated, altered, and finally approved by the Constituent Assembly making it the most voluminous constitution in the world.
However, not many people know the man who drafted the constitution singlehandedly. Sir Benegal Narsing Rau prepared the initial draft which was adopted by the team on November 26, 1949. The Drafting Committee, under the leadership 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.
This story is about the man who served India with his intelligence and excellence.
Benegal was born on February 26, 1887, into a family of intellectuals. He was a very bright student and topped the entire Madras Presidency in his matriculation, in 1901. He then graduated with a triple first degree in English, Physics, and Sanskrit, and gained an additional first in Mathematics, in 1906. Later, he received a scholarship and went to the Trinity College, Cambridge in 1909.
Benegal passed the Indian Civil Service Examination in the same year and returned to India. Being a graduate of the Universities of Madras and Cambridge, he entered the Indian civil service in 1910. He moved to the judiciary and served as a judge in many districts in East Bengal. After revising the entire Indian statutory code, he was made the judge of the Bengal High Court in Calcutta.
In 1935, Benegal worked with the Reforms Office of the Government of India, on drafting the Government of India Act, 1935. At the end of this project, Sir Maurice Gwyer, the first Chief Justice of India’s Federal Court, suggested that he gain the necessary five years’ experience that would qualify him to serve as a judge on the Federal Court as well. He then served as a judge in the Calcutta High Court.
During his tenure, Benegal also worked on two projects that he was assigned to him by the Government of India, he presided over a court of inquiry concerning wages and working conditions on railways in India, and thereafter with a commission working on reforms concerning Hindu law.
A few years later, in 1944, Benegal was made the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir state. His distinguished work brought him a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) in the 1934 New Year Honours list and a knighthood in 1938. He retired from service in 1944, and was then appointed as the Prime Minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. He resigned from this position in 1945, following differences with the then-Maharaja of Kashmir.
After that, Benegal was appointed as the Constitutional Adviser to the Constituent Assembly in formulating the Indian Constitution in 1946. He also assisted in drafting the early Constitution of Myanmar which was adopted on September 24, 1947. Benegal went to Rangoon to witness the final draft of the Constitution being passed by the legislature.
Benegal also served India as a representing delegate in the United Nations. From 1949 to 1952 he was India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, till he was appointed as a Judge of the International Court in The Hague. He also served as the President of the United Nations Security Council in June 1950.
He was invited by the Ministry of External Affairs to stand for election to the International Court of Justice where he began service, in 1952. He served for about a year. Benegal was in Zurich when he succumbed to ill health. In 1988, the Government of India issued a postage stamp in his honour.
Benegal is one of the unsung heroes that our county had. His unending work for ha made our country proud.