Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 12, March 14, 2015
It Is No ‘Treason’, Mr Sachar
Saturday 14 March 2015
The veteran jurist and former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Mr Rajindar Sachar, has taken undue offence to the watermark of the Preamble to the Consitution in an advertisement appearing without the words “secular” and “socialist". These words were inserted in 1976 Amendment to the Constitution while the ad was issued on the occasion of the 66th anniversary of India’ s Republic when these words did not form part of the Preamble. He dubs the action as “treason". This is not the case.
The line of argument taken by a person of the stature of Rajindar Sachar in his article, ”This is treason, Mr Prime Minister” (Mainstream February 14) is appalling. One is surprised at his understanding and appreciation of the fact, law and the situation of an “unimaginable crisis...gripping our country”, something nowhere visible.
He takes offence to a government advertise-ment carrying the watermark of the Preamble to the Constitution on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of our Republic on January 26. How could the omission of the words “secularism” and “socialism” become a “devious interpolation” when these words were not there in the Preamble in 1950? Moreover, January 26 marked the 65th anniversary of the 1950 Preamble and not of the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution which “interpolated” the two words in 1976. In fact, insertion of these two words on the occasion of the 65th anniversary would have constituted what he calls a “devious interpolation”.
It has also been pointed out that a similar advertisement bearing the watermark of the 1950 Preamble too was published in 2012. But to Sachar, for reasons best known to him, it did not constitute “treason”. There is hardly any overt or covert reason for Sachar to jump to anticipate that the NDA Government wishes to delete the words “secularism” and “socialism”. He quotes Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad expressing his opinion to “delete” secularism although nothing of the sort appeared in the media. Even if Sachar is rightly quoting Prasad, the latter had every right to exercise his constitutional right to personal opinion and expression. We also know that a single individual cannot amend the Constitution. It is the exclusive right and prerogation of Parliament. The present Parliament has as much the right to delete the two words from the Preamble to the Constitution as the then legislature had to insert these in 1976 during emergency.
The 1976 Amendment was in itself a political ploy in the guise of national interest. Sachar himself quotes Dr B. R. Ambedkar stating in the Constituent Assembly: “If these directive principles to which I have drawn attention are not socialistic in their direction and in their content, I fail to understand what more socialism can be.” The Supreme Court alluded to the same impression: “Though the word “socialism” was introduced into the Preamble by a late amendment of the Constitution that socialism has always been the goal is evident from the Directive Principles of State Policy. The amendment was only to emphasise the urgency.”
Sachar claims that “Dr Ambedkar refused to do so (incorporate the word “socialism” in the Preamble) for technical reasons”. He stands contradicted by the latter’s speech in Constituent Assembly where he emphatically declared: “I don’t see why the Constitution should tie down the people to live in a particular form and not leave it to the people themselves to decide it for themselves.” Why should the future generations of Indians be perennially bound constitutionally to a particular way of live and live in a particular form of society and government? Why should the people in a democracy be perpetually denied the right to choose or change the system of economy they like in changed circumstances?
Even without these two words the various Articles virtually make the Constitution “secular” and “socialist” because it prohibits discrimination on grounds of faith and provides for equal opportunities and rights to all irrespective of caste, creed, sex and region.
The Prime Minister and his Cabinet did take oath that “they will bear true faith and alligience to the Constitution of India as by law established”. Nowhere have they implicitly or explicitly hinted their intention not to abide by their oath. Therefore, there is hardly any rationale to demand and the PM to oblige to reiterate their resolve just to satisfy the imaginary fears of some persons. If Sachar’s argument was stretched further, that would inversely mean that Parliament cannot amend the Constitution because the MPs had on oath declared to abide by the Constitution.
There seems to be a deliberate design in leaving the two words undefined to let different people and parties the unbridled liberty to interpret these differently in their own way to suit their political purpose at a particular point of time and place. It is because of this that every leader and political party enjoys the unrestrained freedom to claim to be ‘secular’ and to dub the opponent ‘communal’. Even those political organisations whose membership is restricted to a single community claim themselves to be ‘secular’.
Mentioning “secularism” is meaningless unless defined and codified. And when was the Hindu (Indian) society not secular? No concept could be more secular than that of sarv dharma sambhav (every faith was equal). The founding fathers of the Constitution had refrained from inserting the word “secular” only because they never thought that Hindu society could ever be non-secular.
The insertion of the word “socialist” without defining too is as much a misnomer as is “secular”. Socialism means different things to different people in different countries. The USSR, now Russia, China, Cuba and many other countries are ‘socialist’ ones but socialism varies from country to country. Many of our political parties claim themselves ‘socialist’ but their concept of socialism is not one and the same. It changes with the person and the party. During last Assembly elections Mamata Banerjee defeated the CPM-led Left Front Government in West Bengal and replaced it with a TMC one. But interpreting this change as defeat of communism-socialism and advent of a capitalist regime would be patently wrong. Therefore, calling the country a “socialist” republic is as vague and incomprehensible as “secular”.
In reality the mere saying so in the Preamble does not make the Indian Government, political parties and the people “secular” and “socialist”. These two words are not a panacea for all the ills of secularism-communalism and poverty facing the country. Despite there being in the Preamble, neither has communal harmony become the order of the day, nor have the communal riots become a thing of the past nor is socialism ruling the roost. During the last about forty years of the country having been declared “socialist” constitutionally, poverty has just not vanished. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.
Going by the Sachar logic, exercising their fundamental right to opinion and to express it against the Amendments to the Constitution by individuals or parties or challenging these in courts amounts to “treason” in this “secular” and “socialist” Republic of India. But section 124A of the Indian Penal Code provides: “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards... the Government established by law in India ... shall be punished with imprisonment for life...” How do the words and actions of the NDA Government amount to “treason” only the jurist in Rajindar Sachar can explain.
Amba Charan Vashishth
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