Saturday, 7 March 2015

'Secular' and 'Socialist' Republic

An advertisement released by Government of India on our Republic Day this year, carrying a picture of the Preamble of the Constitution of India was criticized by the Congress Party for the reason that it did not contain words added by an amendment made in 1976 by Indira Gandhi. The photograph was of the original Preamble as adopted by our Constituent Assembly on the 26th November, 1949. The original Preamble page as also the other pages of the Constitution were hand-written in beautiful calligraphy, designed and decorated by painter B R Sinha of Jabalpur who was at Shantiniketan with the famous painter Nandalal Bose.

The original Preamble read as:

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
   JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
   LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
   EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
   and to promote among them all
   FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and unity of the 

The framers of our Constitution were fired by the highest ideals and were nationalists and democrats to the core. The above original wordings of the Preamble show their ideals in a pithy and very concise form.

The well-known British political theorist Ernest Barker included our Preamble in his famous book, ‘Principles of Social and Political Theory’, first published in 1951(i.e., soon after our Constitution came fully into force on 26.01.1950), after its table of its contents. He treated our Preamble as a ‘key-note’ to his book. In the Preface to the book, he explains why he included the Preamble to the Indian Constitution in the book. In his words, “It seemed to me, when I read it, to state in a brief and pithy form the arguments of much of the book; and it may accordingly serve as a key-note. I am proud that the people of India should begin their independent life by subscribing to the principles of a political tradition which we in the West call Western, but which is now something more than Western.”       

I had read this book in my post-graduate course in Political Science in 1968-70. It is still with me and is one my favourite books.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, during her haughty days, declared National Emergency in June, 1975, curbing all Fundamental Rights including Right to Life and Liberty. This Emergency remained in force for 19 months till early 1977. During this period, she amended (42nd Amendment) the Constitution extensively. One part of this was amending the Preamble, changing the words ‘Sovereign Democratic Republic’ to ‘Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic’, and adding the word ‘integrity’ after the word ‘unity’ in the original Preamble. The extensive changes made in the Constitution included making the life of the Lok Sabha 6 years instead of 5 years as originally provided in the Constitution.

This was the period when the then sycophant Congress President proclaimed, “Indira is India and India is Indira.”!!! Indira Gandhi so much believed in her own Government propaganda about her popularity that she got the Lok Sabha dissolved one year before the amended period of 6 years and ordered fresh election, hoping that her party would be re-elected with a thumping majority and she would become Prime Minister for another 6 years. But her calculations went awry and utterly wrong; Congress Party was thrashed miserably in the Elections that followed and she herself was miserably defeated. Voters punished her for all the excesses by her and by her the then Yuvraj and heir-apparent younger self-willed son Sanjay.

The Janata Party Government led by the Gandhian liberal Morarji Desai took office, one of whose first tasks was, by the 44th Amendment to the Constitution, to undo the wide-ranging changes made in the basic structure of the Constitution. Yet, due to the adamant and obstructionist attitude of Congress Party which was in majority in the Rajya Sabha, the original form of the Preamble could not be restored.

Now, what were the gains by adding the words ‘Secular’, Socialist’ and ‘Integrity’ in the Preamble? When the Preamble already envisages freedom of belief, faith and worship, what does the word ‘secular’ add up? When the Preamble envisages ‘unity’ what value does the word ‘integrity’ add?

Adding the word ‘Socialist’ had a purely political motive to garner the bulk votes of the underprivileged and was in line with her much-publicised slogan ‘Garibi Hatao’ (Remove Poverty). How is it that even almost 40 after this amendment, during most of which period Congress was in power, ‘garibi’ is yet to be ‘hotaoed’? As the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thacher said, the trouble with 'socialist' policies is that you eventually run out of other people's money to distribute.

Now, let us look back at the thinking in the Constituent Assembly when the proposed Preamble was being discussed:          

During the Constituent Assembly debate on the 15th November,1948 , a member, Prof KT Shah suggested that the words, “Secular, Federal, Socialist” be inserted into the Preamble.

Dr B R Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee, explained why the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ were not included in the Preamble.
He said: “Sir, I regret that I cannot accept the amendment of Prof. KT Shah. My objections, stated briefly are two. In the first place the Constitution, as I stated in my opening speech in support of the motion I made before the House, is merely a mechanism for the purpose of regulating the work of the various organs of the State. It is not a mechanism whereby particular members or particular parties are installed in office. What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organised in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether. If you state in the Constitution that the social organisation of the State shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgment, taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organisation in which they wish to live. It is perfectly possible today, for the majority people to hold that the socialist organisation of society is better than the capitalist organisation of society. But it would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organisation which might be better than the socialist organisation of today or of tomorrow. I do not see therefore why the Constitution should tie down the people to live in a particular form and not leave it to the people themselves to decide it for themselves. This is one reason why the amendment should be opposed.”

He then added, “The second reason is that the amendment is purely superfluous.”

The last remark applies equally to addition of the word ‘integrity’ to the word ‘unity’.

A few questions come to mind. Did not the framers of our Constitution believe in secularism? Did the country become more secular after the amendment in 1976?

The Directive Principles of State Policy incorporated in the Constitution enjoins the State to follow some principles while making laws. These are not legally enforceable but the Constitution says that these shall be "fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State "to apply these principles in making laws". Article 44 in this Chapter says " The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India." Those who are now declaring from their house tops that they are "secular" are strangely keeping quiet when a vocal section is opposing tooth and nail, enactment of a uniform civil code to govern the personal laws like marriage, succession etc. for all citizens of India!   

Now, let us remember that the term ‘socialism’ means different things to different people. The concept ranges from the liberal Fabian socialism to the extreme Communist ideology of ‘From each according to his capacity; to each according to his needs’ and ownership of all property by State. It has been aptly said, ‘Socialism is like a hat which has lost its shape because everybody – with differently sized heads – wears it.’!

 Before re-unification Germany divided by Allied Forces after World War II, the communist East Germany, politically and ideologically controlled by the then communist Soviet Union, was officially named as ‘German Democratic Republic’!

Now a last question: Can we subsequently alter the Preamble and still say that it was adopted on the 26th November, 1949? 

By amending the Preamble, are we not tampering with its sanctity and sacrosanct nature?


  1. Refreshingly unbiased and straight forward article in contrast to the confusing and self righteous debates on TV on the same topic !

    1. Thank you.

      What I have stated are facts only. Since public memory is short, we sometimes forget history, even recent history.