A petition before the Supreme Court has asked it to declare the insertion of the words ‘Socialist’ and ‘Secular’ by the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 as unconstitutional. These words are included in the Preamble to the Constitution of India, 1950.
The petitioner cites the original intent of the Constitution framers, who excluded these words from the Preamble, as one of the grounds in the petition. We thought it would be interesting to revisit these debates and to examine the intent of the framers when they drafted the Preamble.
In November 1948, Ambedkar opposed K.T. Shah’s amendment to Article 1 which described India as ‘secular, federal, [and] socialist’, arguing that this impeded the democratic right of the people to choose their favoured economic or social structure. Shah also proposed amendments describing India as a ‘federal republican secular State’ in the debates on Draft Article 40 (Article 51) and as a secular State in the debates on Draft Article 18 (Article 24), both of which were rejected.
Interestingly, the inclusion of these words in the Preamble itself were subject to little discussion. The Preamble was actually debated on 17 October 1949, after much of the Constitution had already been adopted. In the words of the President of the Assembly, Rajendra Prasad, ‘the object of putting the Preamble [before the Assembly] last was to ensure that it was in conformity’ with the Constitution.
The word secular – in the context of the Preamble – was not debated. Maulana Hasrat Mohani proposed that the Preamble should include the phrase ‘Union of Indian Socialistic Republics’, similar in scheme to the USSR. This too was rejected, with Rajendra Prasad terming the amendment as ‘inconsistent with the whole Constitution.’
However, in the debates on Article 1, Ambedkar argued against the inclusion of 'Socialist' because it was redundant; he stated that if the Directive Principles of State Policy were ‘not socialistic in their direction…and content, I fail to understand what more socialism can be.’ He held similar beliefs on the inclusion of 'Secular' as well, i.e. that the entire Constitution embodied the concept of the secular state. There was little opposition to his statements in the Assembly.
Perhaps this is why, on several occasions, the courts have upheld the insertion of ‘Socialist’ and ‘Secular’ in the Preamble: from the Supreme Court in Minerva Mills describing this as ‘not only within the framework of the Constitution’ but also as one which gave ‘vitality to its philosophy’; to the 2016 judgment of the Allahabad High Court in Hindu Front for Justice v. UOI [MANU/UP/0073/2016], which held that ‘these principles and ideals have always been ingrained in the [constitutional] scheme.’
H.V. Kamath described the Preamble as setting out the ‘character of the future constitutional structure’. While the framers may have shied away from including the words 'Socialist' and 'Secular' in the Preamble, it is clear that many believed them to be inherent in the Constitution - and that this is reflected in the Fundamental Rights and the DPSPs.
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