The insertion of a Preamble in Constitutions has now become a customary affair. As such, our Constitution too contains a Preamble at the beginning of the Operative Part. It is like the preface of a book and, hence, it has no educative on legal value.
But as our Supreme Court has opined, if a written provision of the Constitution seems to be ambiguous or confusing, its real meaning can be ascertained with the help of the Preamble, re Barubari Union (1960). Thus, it is a good means of finding out the actual meaning of the Constitution and, in this sense, it is the key to the understanding of it, as noted by DD Basu in Introduction to the Constitution of India.)
The Preamble to our Constitution actually gives us a lot of information of great import.
First, it informs us the date of the acceptance of the Constitution. From its declaration, we come to know that it was enacted and adopted on November 26, 1949.
Secondly, the words, ‘We the people of India”, at the beginning of the Preamble indicate that it is enacted by the people of India and, as such, it is a bold assertion of the doctrine of ‘popular sovereignty’. So, it can be ascertained that the Constitution is not a forcible imposition by alien rulers or by a home-grown dictator.
Of course, some critics have detected a folly in such declaration. According to them, the Constitution was really enacted and adopted by an elected Constituent Assembly. But, due to various restrictions, only 13 per cent of our people took part in that election and hence it was not a popularly elected body. Moreover, the Draft was never sent to the people for a referendum in order to know their opinion.
But, Dr VD Mahajan has rightly observed that ‘there is not much strength in the criticism’. At the time of making of the Constitution, the country was facing a dangerous crisis marked by riots, bloodshed, partition and communal frenzy and so it was not possible to hold a broader election for the Constituent Assembly.
Truly, the Constitution was not sent for a referendum. But, in fact, such a referendum was redundant because soon the first general election on the basis of wide adult franchise was held under the new Constitution (1952). Before the election, some leaders had declared that if they were elected, the Constitution would be scrapped and a new one would take its place. But, in the election, they lost ground and all the makers of the Constitution came out with flying colours, as noted by Dr MV Pylee in Constitutional Government of India.
Thus, it is established beyond doubt that the Constitution Assembly, although indirectly elected with partial voting, was a fully representative body of the people and its creation was an instrument of popular will. Afterwards, several elections have been held under the Constitution, but no demands came up for its scrapping.
Thirdly, the Preamble has determined the political system of the country. It, initially, emblemed India as a ‘sovereign democratic republic.’
The word ‘sovereign’ means that the country is entirely free from external control and, internally, it enjoys supreme power. In other words, it can take its own decisions without outside interference and it has the supreme power over all citizens and institutions of India.
The country is ‘democratic’, because it is based upon liberty, equality and fairplay and, further, ultimate power is exercised by the people as a whole.
The term ‘republic’ signifies that the Head of the State is elected by the people and that there is no place for a nominated head or a power-monger dictator. In fact, an elected Presidents acts as the keystone of the political system.
The 42nd amendment of 1976, however, added two words in the Preamble – they are ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’. Of course, according to DD Basu, they are ‘juristically vague,’ because, they give us little meaning. But, simply speaking, they indicate that the state seeks to eradicate all sorts of exploitation and injustice and that there is no scope for any religious discrimination and favouritism.
Fourthly, the Preamble proceeds to define the objectives of the republic. They are justice, liberty equality and fraternity. The essence of ‘justice’ is the attainment of the common good as distinguished from individual benefit. The term ‘liberty’ implies the absence of unnecessary and illogical control over the individual freedom. ‘Equality’ is a term which guarantees the abolition of special favour to any one and ensures similar opportunity to all. Then, the term ‘fraternity’ emphasises the spirit of common brotherhood inside the state and spiritual unity among the human beings. Finally, the ‘unity and integrity of the nation’ emphasises the ideal of common citizenship and the indestructibility of the federal state against any sort of separatist activity. In other words, the people of India are to live unitedly like a solid phalanx and they have to counter all disintegrating forces.
Thus, in the words of PB Gajendragadkar, ‘the basic philosophy of the Constitution of India is to be found, in essence, in the preamble itself’. As a cardinal truth, it is the soul of the Constitution.
Of course, due to its drafting excellence, our Preamble has been widely appreciated. It has set up before our people some lofty ideals which human ingenuity has invented during the march towards civilisation. It is, in fact, a blend of idealism and realism. This is why, it is a beacon blaze or guiding star to the rulers and the ruled, as stated by Dr BC Rout in his Democratic Constitution of India).
Dr SC Kashyap has rightly claimed that the words used in it ‘are some of the noblest’. In this sense, it is like a jewel in the Constitution. No wonder it has earned the invaluable appreciation of Ernest Barker, the world-renowned political scientist, who has observed – ‘It is the Supreme prose-poem-ray, it is perfection itself’.
Thus, it may be claimed that by adding such a Preamble, the makers of the Constitution rendered a yeoman’s service to the nation.
The writer is an Author, Griffith Prizeman and former Reader, New Alipore College.