On the occasion of Republic Day, let us all spend a few minutes reading the transcript of the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly of India that took place in Constitution Hall, New Delhi, on Monday, the 9th December, 1946.
The first task was to elect a temporary Chairman. In the time-honoured tradition of India, the name of the oldest member, the 75-year old Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha was proposed and he was duly elected.
The provisional Chairman then had to deliver the inaugural address. But as ‘he felt the strain too much’ he passed on the script to Sir B.N.Rau, who read it out. The opening remarks of Dr Sinha, as read out by Mr Rau, were:
In expressing my sense of appreciation of your great kindness, I cannot conceal from myself that I feel comparing small things with great-that I am, on the present occasion in the position in which Lord Palmerston found himself when Queen Victoria offered him the highest Order of Chivalry, namely, the Knighthood of the Garter. In accepting the Queen's offer, Lord Palmerston wrote to a friend as follows:-
"I have gratefully accepted Her Majesty's gracious offer as, thank God, there is no question of any damned merit about the honour conferred on me."
I say I find myself more or less in the same position, for you have agreed to accept me as your President on the sole ground that I age, the senior-most member of this Assembly. Whatever the ground however, on which you have chosen to have me as your first President, I am nonetheless profoundly grateful to you. I have had, in my fairly long life, several honours conferred on me in recognition of my services as a humble worker in public interest, but I assure you that I regard your mark of favour as a signal honour, which I shall cherish throughout the rest of my life.
His next task was, as he stated :
For many years past, under medical advice, I have not been able to do any work in the afternoons, and I do not propose to sit after the luncheon recess. So for the time I am temporary Chairman, I propose to request the House to give me the assistance of a Deputy Chairman, and I propose that Mr. Frank Anthony be nominated by you.
Today when we see many geriatric, perambulation-challenged, visually-impaired, aurally-deficient, catheter-dependent, ventilator-supported, brain-dead individuals clinging to key posts as a matter of right, it is good to read about someone who had the humility and the good humour to acknowledge that he was being honoured only on account of his old age. And to openly state that he needed to get back home to catch up on his afternoon nap.