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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 8, February 14, 2015

Preamble, Secularism and Constitution

Monday 16 February 2015

by Irfan Engineer

A controversy was generated over the Republic Day advertisement of the Union Government, wherein the facsimile of the Preamble of the Constitution was shown. The words “Socialist” and “Secular” were missing therein. The BJP leaders’ defence was that it was the facsimile of the original Constitution and therein the words “Socialist” and “Secular” were not mentioned. It is a fact that the words “Socialist” and “Secular” were added in the year 1976 by virtue of the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution. However, it will always remain a mystery as to whether the facsimile of the original Constitution without the words “Socialist” and “Secular” was chosen because it better suited the ideology of the ruling party or it was an inadvertent mistake. The former is more likely to be the case as the ruling party is uncomfortable with both the secular and socialist world-views and has pilloried and mocked at these constitutional values. When PM Modi presented a copy of the Gita to the Japanese Emperor, he ridiculed the secularists by saying that they could kick up a storm and trigger TV debates.

The BJP governments in Gujarat, MP, Rajasthan and Haryana are introducing Hindu religious texts and making Saraswati Vandana and Surya Namaskar—Hindu rituals—compulsory in schools even though these are contrary to Articles 28 and 29 of the Constitution. Hindu nationalist organisations are enforcing upper-caste traditions, with the BJP regimes looking the other way. For example, vandalising arts, literature, films, thoughts, ideas, views, expressions, representations etc. disapproved by them; coercing sections of minorities to convert to the Hindu religion; forcibly preventing conversions from the Hindu community; using coercive violence against festivals, celebrations and occasions like Valentine’s Day; propagating hate against the minorities thereby causing and supporting their ghettoisation process; enforcing the dietary habits of the upper castes with the use of coercion in preventing transportation of cattle, taking illegal possession of cattle and picketing slaughter houses; forcing marital alliances and choice of friends dictated by the Hindu social order, etc. The HNOs enforce communal boundaries sustained on misrepresentations and hate propaganda against the non-Hindus. This is possible only when young people are deterred from freely choosing their friends and exercising matrimonial preferences and made to follow certain culture through education, media, institutions like khap panchayats and political fronts of the HNOs. All this is in violation of the spirit of secularism. The BJP has seldom made any bones about being opposed to secularism, which for them means affirmative action for the minorities even when it is well deserved, giving the minorities their cultural space and taking care of their security.

The BJP Government has opposed any affirmative action in favour of the non-dominant sections of the society which were traditionally excluded by the Hindu social order of caste-based hierarchies. The inequalities resulting out of the feudal caste-based and gender-based order are further sought to be aggravated by using the free-market principle and letting the market govern the distribution of resources. The beneficiaries of the market-driven distribution of resources are of course those who control and dominate the markets and are capable of using unregulated or partly regulated markets to their advantage. The ‘make-in-India’ campaign and ‘ease of doing business’, single-window clearance, amendments to labour laws for a more liberal hire-and-fire regime, more business-friendly and ‘development’-friendly environmental regulation regime ensure liberal investment opportunities to enable large business corporations exploit labour and grab the land of peasants using coercive instruments at cheaper rates through the amended land acquisition law. The BJP has therefore been opposed to socialism as well

It is a fact that the words “secular” and “socialist” were not included in the Preamble of the Constitution adopted by the Constituent Assembly (CA), but after you graduate, you do not tell the world that your qualification is matriculation. Nor does one affix one’s photo taken when one was born on driving licences and passports. Likewise, after liberating ourselves and constituting ourselves into a democratic, socialist and secular nation, and following a bitterly fought freedom movement in which thousands gave up their carriers, liberties, enduring physical injuries inflicted by the colonial state and even sacrificed their lives, we cannot pull out a picture of our birth (socio-political structure of the ancient period) and say we are a Hindu Rashtra with the words “socialist” and “secular” missing in them. A Hindu Rashtra would be anti-secular and we are witnessing the ideology being enforced by the state even on the unwilling, which include women, adivasis, Dalits, workers and liberals within the Hindu community.

Though the words “secular” and “socialist” were added later, there was no doubt in the minds of the people designing the Constitution that they were creating a secular and socialist Constitution, even though the words were consciously not used. The word “secular”, as we understand now, at the relevant time carried more of a birth-mark connoting non-religious if not anti-religious phenomena. Those who drafted the Constitution looked upon secularism not as irreverence towards faith or turning away from religion, but freedom to profess practice and propagate all religions. Lok Nath Mishra asked how would it sound (if the word secular was used) when Article 19 (Article 25 of the final Constitution) gave citizens the right to propagate religion! In spite of strong objections from the Right-wing elements, the right to “propagate” religion alongside the right to “profess and practice” religion was retained in the then Article. 19.

H.V. Kamath wanted the Preamble to begin with the words — “In the name of God, we the people of India...” A. Thanu Pillai intervened and opposed Kamath’s amendment stating that that would amount to compulsion in matters of religion and be contrary to freedom of faith. Rohini Kumar Chaudhury wanted to amend Kamath’s amendment and have the opening words as “In the name of Goddess”. Pandit Hridaynath Kunzru also opposed Kamath’s amendment on the ground that the collective could not be forced on anybody and it would be contrary to the Preamble which promised freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship to everyone. Kamath pressed for division and his motion was defeated 41 (Ayes) to 68 (Noes). All other variations of Kamath’s amendment—like addition of words “in the name of the Parmeshwara”, “by the grace of the Supreme Being” etc.—met the same fate: defeat by voice-vote. Brajeshwar Prasad made a strong appeal that the word “secular” should find place in the Constitution as the national leaders had laid greatest stress on it and it would “tone-up the morale of the minorities”.

Thus, even though the word “secular” was not introduced in the Preamble as the word then understood was different from the way we in India use it, the right to profess, practice and propagate religion along with rejection of amendments to introduce the words “In the name of God” signified the middle path that the Constituent Assembly wished to tread.

Similarly, there were amendments to introduce the word “socialist”. However, socialism too was then associated with state control of all means of production and abolition of private property, which could not have been the way forward for India at that point. Maulana Hasrat Mohani made a strong pitch that India in the Preamble should be called the “Union of Indian Socialistic Republics” on the lines of the USSR. Shibban Lal Saksena moved the amendment which, among other things, desired to transform “Bharat into a Sovereign, Independent Democratic, Socialist Republic...” whereas Brajeshwar Prasad wanted “to constitute India into a co-operative common-wealth to establish a socialist order...”. All the amendments were negated. Nevertheless, the Constitution had provisions for affirmative action for the women, children, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, other socially and educationally backward classes. The Constitution’s authors also thought it prudent to include Part IV as the Directive Principles of State Policy in which, among many other things, the state would try to pursue a policy under which “the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good” [Article 39 (b)] and “the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment” [Article 39 (c)]. In his address on November 25, when the Constitution was finally ready, Dr Ambedkar described the Constitution as ‘social democracy’. He said:

“We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy.”

The CA left subsequent generations to introduce the words “socialist” and “secularism” into the Preamble of the Constitution. Dr Ambedkar quoted Jefferson in his final adoption address to the CA:

“We may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a right, by the will of the majority, to bind themselves, but none to bind the succeeding generations, more than the inhabitants of another country.”

Dr Ambedkar had apprehended the contradiction of having a Constitution that propounds equality of all citizens amidst huge social inequalities. “On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognising the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which is Assembly has to laboriously built up.”

We need to remember those words of wisdom of Dr Ambedkar. The pace at which the economic and social inequalities are increasing in India is worrisome. How much and for how long the Hindutva ideology can be deployed to awe and mesmerise those experiencing further margina-lisation and impoverishment so as to mislead them into believing that socialism and secularism are against their (Hindu) interests remains to be seen. The resounding victory of the AAP in the Delhi elections tells us that they won’t be for long mesmerised by all talk of development which benefits only a few industrialists.

The author is the Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbail.