Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 30 September 2023

‘Socialist’ and ‘secular’

Source: By Rishika Singh: The Indian Express

Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has claimed that the words “socialist” and “secular” were missing in the Preamble of the Constitution of India, the copies of which were given to MPs.

These two words were originally not a part of the Preamble. They were added by The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 during the Emergency imposed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The description of India as a “secular” country in particular, has been debated intensely over the past four decades; with critics, mostly on the Right, claiming that these “imposed” terms sanction “pseudo-secularism”, “vote-bank politics” and “minority appeasement”.

First, what is the Preamble of the Constitution?

Every Constitution has a philosophy. The philosophy underlying the Constitution of India was summed up in the Objectives Resolution, which was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 22 January 1947. The Preamble of the Constitution puts in words the ideal contained in the Objectives Resolution. It serves as an introduction to the Constitution, and contains its basic principles and goals.

The Preamble of the Constitution that commenced in 1950 read:

“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 the unity of the Nation;


So how did the words “socialist” and “secular” come in?

Let’s look at the word “socialist” first.

Over her years in government, Indira had attempted to cement her approval among the masses on the basis of a socialist and pro-poor image with slogans such as “garibi hatao” (Eradicate poverty). Her Emergency government inserted the word in the Preamble to underline that socialism was a goal and philosophy of the Indian state.

It needs to be stressed, however, that the socialism envisaged by the Indian state was not the socialism of the USSR or China of the time — it did not envisage the nationalisation of all of India’s means of production. Indira herself clarified that “we have our own brand of socialism”, under which “we will nationalise [only] the sectors where we feel the necessity”. She underlined that “just nationalisation is not our type of socialism”.

What about the word “secular”?

The people of India profess numerous faiths, and their unity and fraternity, notwithstanding the difference in religious beliefs, was sought to be achieved by enshrining the ideal of “secularism” in the Preamble.

In essence, this means that the state protects all religions equally, maintains neutrality and impartiality towards all religions, and does not uphold any one religion as a “state religion”.

secular Indian state was founded on the idea that it is concerned with the relationship between human being and human being, and not between human being and God, which is a matter of individual choice and individual conscience. Secularism in the Indian Constitution, therefore, is not a question of religious sentiment, but a question of law.

The secular nature of the Indian state is secured by Articles 25-28 of the Constitution.

But wasn’t secularism already an integral part of the Constitution even before the 42nd Amendment?

Yes, in essence it was always a part of the philosophy of the Constitution. The founders of the Indian Republic adopted Articles 25, 26, and 27 with the explicit intention of furthering and promoting the philosophy of secularism in the Constitution. The 42nd Amendment only formally inserted the word into the Constitution and made explicit what was already implicit in various provisions and overall philosophy of the founding document of the Republic.

In fact, the Constituent Assembly specifically discussed the inclusion of these words to the Preamble, and decided not to do so. After members such as K T Shah and Brajeshwar Prasad raised the demand to add these words to the preamble, Dr B R Ambedkar put forward the following argument:

“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.”

Ambedkar also said: “My contention is that what is suggested in this amendment is already contained in the draft Preamble.”

Has this issue been discussed earlier too?

On several occasions, including, recently, in a petition filed by former BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in the Supreme Court last year, seeking the removal of the words “socialist” and “secular” from the Preamble.

Similar petitions have been filed earlier too. Other petitioners have argued that these words were never intended to be in the Constitution, and that such insertion is beyond the amending power of the Parliament under Article 368.

In 2020 BJP MP Rakesh Sinha moved a resolution in Rajya Sabha seeking to remove the word socialism from the Preamble, saying, “You cannot tie a generation to a particular way of thinking. Besides, the Congress party which ruled the country for seven decades has changed its direction from being socialist to welfare to neo-liberalism. Its new liberal policies adopted in the 1990s have negated its own earlier positions.”

Earlier in 2015, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting used an image of the Preamble of the Indian Constitution without the words “socialist” and “secular”, leading to some criticism. Then Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said, “Did Nehru have no understanding of secularism? These words were added during the Emergency. Now what is the harm if there is a debate on it? We have put before the nation the original Preamble”.

In 2008, the Supreme Court had rejected a plea demanding the removal of “socialist”. “Why do you take socialism in a narrow sense defined by Communists? In a broader sense, it means welfare measures for the citizens. It is a facet of democracy,” a three-judge Bench headed by then Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan had said. “It hasn’t got any definite meaning. It has a different meaning at different times.”

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