Secularism, Socialism and the Constitution

First two days of this year’s Winter Parliament session were dedicated to the “Constitution Day” debate. In the discussion ‘Commitment to India’s Constitution’, on 26th November, the issue of insertion the word Secular in the Preamble of the Constitution and its misuse for the political purpose was raised by the Home Minister. This made me wonder, why were the words “Socialist” and “Secular” not included originally and why were they later inserted into the Preamble.

At the time of the drafting of the Constitution, there were members who sought to add the terms Secular and Socialist in the Constitution. But still these word were not included. So does that mean we are not a Secular and Socialist nation? The answer is No.

The principle of Secularism is enshrined and inherent in the Constitution. Our Fundamental Rights, as stated in Article 25 to Article 28, gives us Right to Freedom of Religion. This ensures us that we have the freedom to practice and propagate our religion, whatever it may be. It is explicitly stated in our Constitution. Besides that, the basic values that are stated in the Preamble, which are considered to the soul of the Indian state, namely Justice, Equality, Liberty, Fraternity are the very foundation of the idea of Secularism. These values were much appreciated and propagated by the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.

My social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words: liberty, equality and fraternity. My philosophy has roots in religion and not in political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my master, the Buddha.

~Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

So, India was made a Secular state naturally by its Constitution. The Constitution makers did not see any need to include the word whose meaning is already embodied by the Constitution.

Now coming to the other word “Socialist”. Socialism was much popular concept at the time of Independence. Like Secular, there also was the demand to add Socialist to the Constitution. When the motion to include Socialist word was brought to the Constitution Assembly, Dr. Ambedkar did not accept it. The reason he did so, as stated by him, is to not impose a certain economic structure on the people as it would “destroy democracy altogether”.  He thought it would be best to leave it up to the people to choose the socioeconomic structure as they find appropriate for the given circumstances. Besides that, basic socialist principles were included in the Article 31, which says,

“The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing –

(i) that the citizens, men and women equally,have the right to an adequate means of livelihood;

(ii) that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good;

(iii) that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment;

(iv) that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women;….”

Now, coming to why Socialist and Secular were added to the Constitution. These two word were introduced in 1976 in the 42nd amendment of the Constitution which is also known as The Constitution (Forty-second amendment) Act, 1976. This was enacted during the Emergency by the Indira Gandhi government. This Amendment is considered to be the most controversial constitutional amendment in the history of India. This made a substantial change in the Constitution and it is also referred as “mini Constitution” by many.  This amendment was introduced for political purpose by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. There was no need to add words like Secular and Socialist in the Preamble as the values were already there. This was mainly added to get political advantage. However the addition of Secular was useless but it also clarifies the Secular nature of the country.

In conclusion, the debate over this isn’t much important. Removal of these words will be as useless as the inclusion of these words. It would only create false panic and raise controversies. What we need to do is try to upheld the principles and values given by our Constitution. Which makes us a secular nation with basic socialist values.


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