On 17 October 1949, the Constituent Assembly took up the preamble of the Draft Constitution for discussion – based on the Objectives Resolution introduced by Nehru on 13 December 1946 and passed by the Assembly on 22 January 1947.
Members seem to have anticipated that an amendment related to ‘God’ would be moved by H.V. Kamath. Rajendra Prasad, the President of the Assembly, asked Kamath whether he wanted to propose two versions of the Preamble, one of which would use the words ‘solemnly affirm’ in order to ‘to give freedom of choice to the believers and the non-believers’ in a similar vein to the oath prescribed in Schedule III for Ministers taking office. When Kamath refused, arguing that the Preamble did not apply to individuals, but to ‘all the people of India’, Prasad reminded him that ‘the people of India includes individuals’.
Purnima Banerji feared that this would put the Assembly in a position of ‘embarrassment of having to vote upon god’, and appealed to Kamath not move his amendment – however, he did not oblige. Kamath then proposed that the Preamble begin with the words ‘In the name of God’.
Members like Hriday Nath Kunzru, felt that Kamath’s amendment forced belief in God on Indians:
‘…but I do not see why in a matter that vitally concerns every man individually, the collective view should be forced on anybody. Such a course of action is inconsistent with the Preamble which promises liberty to thought, expression, belief, faith and worship to everyone. How can we deal with this question in a narrow spirit? We invoke the name of God, but I make bold to say that while we do so, we are showing a narrow, sectarian spirit, which is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and which we should try to forget at this time when we have reached the end of a very important stage of our labours.’
There were some members who supported the amendment. Shibban Lal Saxena came to Kamath’s defence and argued that there were other constitutions, like the Irish Constitution of 1937, which mentioned God in their Preambles. He tried to turn Kunzru’s coercion argument on its head and said ‘… but why force others who feel intensely in the matter to eliminate God’s name’.
In the end the President of the Assembly put Kamath’s amendment to vote. Kamath, Govind Malaviya, and Maulana Hasrat Mohani demanded a division of votes, i.e. each member had to indicate how they voted by a show of hands, rather than by saying ‘aye’ or ‘nay’. The amendment was defeated by 68 votes to 41, thereby excluding ‘God’ from the Preamble.