The issue has often cropped up whether the words ‘Secular’ and ‘Socialist’ added in the Preamble to the Constitution by the 42nd amendment during the emergency in 1976, should be removed or not.
It is not in dispute that these two words were not added by the Constituent Assembly after a thorough debate.
The word ‘secular’ was not added because its tenets are very much inherent and manifest in our culture with wider ramifications. Sarva Dharma Sambhav i.e. respect for all religions is more appealing.
The makers of the Constitution were aware that the word ‘secular’ was vulnerable to misuse and misinterpretation and if that happened, the ideals which our country has cherished for centuries would get diluted in controversies.
Once freedom of speech and freedom of religion is guaranteed to the people, words like secular and socialist inserted in the Constitution are superfluous. Hence, they were right when they did not let the Constitution get surrounded by dogmas and dilemmas.
The move to add the word ‘secular’ in the Preamble was discussed by the Constituent Assembly at length. Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and others did not approve the idea of using the word which had its origins in Europe.
Having experienced the divide and rule policy of Britishers, they were also aware how the word is capable of different definitions and how it was prone to be misused. Literally speaking, the word secularism denotes non-interference in religious matters by the state.
In their wisdom, they thought that inserting such a word would raise controversies. Another factor was that of India’s unique diversity which is itself deep-rooted in social ethos and traditional harmony.
The word ‘secular’ thus did not find favour with our Constitution makers. They however, made provisions like Article 15 (1) of the Constitution which clearly mandates – “The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
In its historic judgment in the case of Kesavanand Bharti Vs. State of Kerala 1973, the Supreme Court had held that the secular character of the Constitution was part of its basic structure. It confines the scope of secularism to non-discrimination on the ground of religion. This being the position, it was superfluous and unnecessary to insert the word in the Preamble.
In a landmark judgment in the case of S.R. Bommai and Others vs Union of India (1994), a nine-judge Constitutional Bench held inter alia “…The State does not extend patronage to any particular religion, State is neither pro particular religion nor anti-particular religion. It stands aloof, in other words, maintains neutrality in matters of religion and provides equal protection to all religions subject to regulation and actually acts on secular part.’
In the light of such unequivocal declarations in Article 15 of the Constitution and various judgments of the apex Court, hardly any justification survives to continue with the word ‘secular’ in the preamble.
Study of our ancient history would leave no one in doubt that a secular ethos was prevalent in the social and political life of the country. Emperor Ashoka had placed rock edicts all over the country which preach religious tolerance and respect for all faiths.
If India is a secular state today, it is because of its cosmopolitan culture embracing all precepts, faiths and beliefs. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan described secularism as tradition in consonance with ancient religious practices, teachings in Upanishads and Vedas giving unique message to mankind –‘Ekam Sadvipra Bahudha Vadanti”- i.e. same truth is propounded by sages in several ways. He called Hindu philosophy a compendium of cosmopolitan beliefs where there is complete pluralism with God being omnipresent and omniscient in innumerable forms including Sagun and Nirgun.
Unlike other religions, it has no one God, no one scripture or one belief. It can accommodate every sect, faith or belief in integrated manner just as an ocean can amalgamate all waters. It is like a Banyan tree with Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism etc. as its branches preaching the same philosophy in their own way.
A look at post-independent India would lead to the irresistible conclusion that the word ‘secularism’ was misused for political purposes. It reached such a low ebb that appeasement of minorities was considered as an attribute of secularism.
Attempts were made to divide society on lines of majority and minorities. Instances of communal riots and disharmony have left deep scars on our polity. Charges and counter-charges on appeasement and promoting vote banks have vitiated elections.
Unfortunately, our electoral system also created such circumstances where political parties needed support on religious lines. Political parties made communal appeals to garner votes on religious lines.
When Congress was ruling at the Centre, it went to the extent of even doing away with the judgment of Supreme Court in the Shahbano case to appease Muslims. It cannot be denied that several schemes and projects were launched with a view to appease minority communities. The than Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had openly declared that Muslims have first right over the resources of country. T
here are states that openly try to provide reservation to minority candidates in government jobs not with a view to ameliorate their condition but to strengthen their electoral prospects. Supreme Court has repeatedly laid stress on a uniform civil code.
But no attempt was made to ensure its implementation. Similarly, the word ‘Socialist’ added in the Preamble to is controversial because socialism is defined in different manners. For some it is guild socialism while for others it is democratic socialism and for communists it is Marxist Socialism.
Since the word ‘socialism’ is not defined in the Constitution, its varied interpretations to suit different situations is always possible. Makers of our Constitution were cautious not to drag it into dogmatic debates and hence chose to navigate the ship safely through muddy waters. Instead of using controversial phrases, they made out a separate chapter which they called Directive Principles of State Policy.
This chapter envisages the brief roadmap of the social and economic equality to be achieved and contains directives for the State. It signifies the basic tenets of social order which will be free from exploitation and inequality in utilisation of natural resources of the country. After prolonged debate in the Constituent Assembly, the word ‘socialism’ was excluded.
Those days, Socialism was treated as an old hat that had lost its shape because everybody wore it. Had the word ‘socialism’ been inserted, the natural question would have been – which type of socialism and how about the means to achieve the same. Bringing in the 42nd amendment to the Constitution during the emergency and inserting the words ‘Secular’ and ‘Socialist’ in the Preamble was uncalled for.
Now they should be dropped. If the two words are removed from the Preamble, the nature of the Constitution shall not be affected in any manner. On the contrary, it is necessary to remove these words because the Constitution cannot be labelled by controversial dogmas.
The writer is an Advocate, Delhi High Court.