The Preamble to our Constitution, in its original form, pledged to create India, as a “Sovereign Democratic Republic”. Moreover, it incorporated some noble and lofty ideals like “liberty”, “equality”, “justice”, “dignity of the individual” and “unity of the nation”. This is why it is rightly claimed that our Constitution contains some serene values that human ingenuity and experience have been able to develop through the march of time.
It was quite natural. On the eve of our Independence, a highly competent Constituent Assembly was formed in order to frame the Constitution. Excepting Gandhiji, almost all prominent political leaders were elected to it. Moreover, a galaxy of eminent jurists, professors, writers and social workers found their seats in this House so that an ideal Constitution could be worked out through their combined effort.
It is also to be noted that it enacted the biggest Constitution of the world containing 395 Articles with numerous clauses and sub-clauses. But significantly none of them was adopted by mere majority vote. In fact, each of them was carefully and elaborately discussed ~ the prons and cons were freely considered and after amicable compromise, addition and alteration, they were accepted by general consensus. To be candid, 7,635 amendmentmotions were tabled and 2,471 of them were actually disposed of. When differences of opinion reached boiling point, Dr Rajendra Prasad, the President of the Assembly, asked the debaters to go outside in order to talk heart to heart.
Soon after they came back in a happy mood and with a compromise solution. In this way, our “monumental” constitution became a laborious creation of nearly three years. It was, in the words of its chief architect, Dr B R Ambedkar, “good and workable”.
But after some decades, our Parliamentarians discovered that there was a big gap in the drafting of the Constitution. So in 1976, they inserted two words ~ “socialist” and “secular” ~ in the Preamble by the 42nd amendment. Some people have felt happy that such amendment has brought about a significant improvement in the Preamble. The Leftists, in particular, have rejoiced because, in their view, it has made it really progressive. But in fact such amendment has not only been useless, it has also confused clear understanding.
As a stark reality, words like “socialist” and “secular” have no precise and clear meaning and moreover, the aforesaid amendment did not make any attempt to clarify them. Simply defined, socialism seeks to create an egalitarian society by eradicating all sorts of injustice and exploitation to the many by the few. But when it is discussed in detail, much confusion is sure to come up. As Dr S C Kashyap observed, “it means different things to different people”.
Similarly, S L Sikri points out that “the term has undergone a long process of re-definition and re-evolution”. In fact, the basic idea behind the word “socialism” is so common that everyone can claims to be a socialist. But, strangely enough no one can agree on it. This is why C D Burns observes that it is really a confusing concept. But, more aptly, CEM Joad has commented, “Socialism is like a hat which has lost its shape, because everybody wears it”. Thus, different types of socialism like “Guild Socialism”, “Syndicalism”, “Fabian Socialism” “Communism”, “Euro-Communism”, etc. have gradually come into being. Unfortunately, our Constitution has, by the aforesaid amendment, inserted the term in the Preamble ~ but it has not informed us what type of socialism it has actually chosen. Similarly, the term “secularism” gives forth little meaning.
During the Middle Age, the Pope was the religious Head of the entire Christian world. Every King of Europe ruled over a defined territory ~ but the Pope remained beyond such territorial limits. Moreover, he and other clergymen were above the monarchical power and they often unduly interfered with the political affairs. This is known as the “Doctrine of Two swords”. In other words, Europe, at that time, was under the thumbs of the Pope and his subordinates.
But, at a juncture, Martin Luther of Germany and Kelvin of France rose in revolt and they widely popularised an agitation against the system. Henry VIII, the King of Britain, too joined it on a personal ground. As a result, the authority of the Pope and his staff was sufficiently reduced and all the European Kings largely extended their power and prestige. It means, in short, a separation of religion from politics. In this way, the idea of “secularism” came to light. Now-a-days, a state is regarded as secular if it allows each individual the right to accept a religion of his own choice and no preferential treatment is accorded to any religion.
But, when the term “secular” is used separately, it may mean “irreligious” not concerned with religion, “utalitarian ethics”, “not spiritual”, “concerned only with the affairs of this world” and so on. Thus, in the absence of any precise definition of this term in our Constitution, different interpretations are eminently possible. As a stark reality, such term may give people the scope to kick up a row over a simple issue and it may even be suggested that India does not recognise any religion. For these reasons, D D Basu, the eminent commentator, has rightly observed that such words are, “juristically vague” and, hence, they cannot have a place in the constitution which is regarded as the highest law of the land.
Above all, the original constitution incorporated the basic ideas of secularism and socialism without having expressly mentioned these terms. As Dr MV Pylee writer, no particular religion is identified as “state-religion”, not does it receive any state-patronage. Art. 25 gives the citizen the fundamental right to “profess, practise and propagate” a religion of his own choice. Art. 25 guarantees that he can, with others, observe the essential rituals of his religion.
It is also mentioned that no tax can be imposed for the benefit of particular religion (Art. 27) and no religious instruction can be imparted in an educational institution wholly or partially maintained by the Government (Art. 30). Thus, the essence of secularism was included in the constitution long before the 42nd amendment.
Similarly, the principles of “socialism” wee embodied in the provisions of the original constitution. It pledged to establish liberty, equality and justice for all and the fundamental rights have sought to uphold them by judicial protection (Art. 32 and Art. 226).
Moreover, the directive Principles have been inserted in it in order to create an egalitarian state with welfare activities. So these amendments were useless. In addition, the use of two indistinct words has only confused matters.
(The writer is a Griffith Prizeman and former Reader, New Alipore College)