By the 42nd Amendment, along with the many other changes in the Indian Constitution, the words ‘socialist and secular’ were added to the Preamble. It is said that this Amendment was the effect of personal political ambitions of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi rather than the welfare of the people. It is also said that the words have been wrongly inserted because they have no clear and precise meaning. Even after the 43 years of the Amendment, the issue continues, whether the words should be removed from the Preamble or not?
The Preamble to the Constitution of India is a brief introductory statement of the Constitution. It guides the people of the nation and gives the basic principles of the Constitution. The Preamble can be referred to as the preface which highlights the principles of the Constitution.
On January 3, 1977, the words ‘socialist and secular’ were added to the Preamble of the Indian Constitution by making India a ‘sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic’ by 42nd Amendment. This Amendment was passed during the Emergency Period (1975 -1977), enacted by Indian Congress Party and headed by the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
However, this change in the Preamble is recognized as most the controversial Constitutional amendment in history. It is argued that due to her personal ambitions during the period of Emergency, she changed the Constitution to such an extent that the “42nd Amendment” was started being called as “Mini Constitution” or “Constitution of Indira”.
- After a prolonged debate between the makers of the Indian Constitution, the original Preamble was adopted by the Constituent Assembly in 1949. The original Preamble described India as a “Sovereign, Democratic, Republic”.
- In “Berubari Union, the Supreme Court…” the Supreme Court held that the Preamble is not a part of the Constitution and that the Preamble has no subjective power.
- Later in “Keshwanand Bharti v. State of Kerala” thee Supreme Court held that the Preamble is part of the Constitution. It also held that the Preamble of the Constitution can be amended but the basic structure of the Constitution cannot destroy. It has been clarified by the Supreme Court that being a part of the Constitution, the Preamble can be subjected to Constitutional Amendments exercised under article 368, however, the basic structure cannot be altered.
- Once again in “L.I.C. Of India & Anr v. Consumer Education & Research” the Supreme Court held that the Preamble is an integral part of the Constitution.
- To the effect of this judgment by the supreme court, the 42nd Amendment, officially known as The Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976, was enacted during the emergency period the years 1975 to 1977. This Amendment was headed by the Congress Party under the leadership of Indira Gandhi. This Amendment changed the description of the Preamble from ‘sovereign, democratic Republic’ to ‘ sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic’ besides other changes.
What Does Word Socialism Mean?
Concise Oxford Dictionary gives definition of socialism as a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.Like democracy, many countries interpret socialism in different manners. There is no one definition of socialism, however social ownership is the one common element in all.
In the Preamble of the Indian Constitution the word ‘socialism’ is read as ‘socialist’. The word socialist literally means a political- economic system which advocates the State’s ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange. However, the Constitution does not give the definition of the word socialist. Professor M.P. Jain says that the term does not means total exclusion of private enterprise and complete state ownership of material resources of nation.
What Does Word Secularism Mean?
Concise Oxford Dictionary defines secularism as the principle of separation of the state from religious institutions. Secularism has a wide range of meaning. The most common meaning of secularism implies the separation of religion from political, economic, social, and cultural aspects of life, religion being treated as a purely personal matter.
A secular State/ country pertains the idea of secularism which means the separation of religion from civic affairs and the State. A secular State also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion.
In India, the first face of Secularism is reflected in the Preamble of Constitution where the word ‘Secular’ is read. Originally the idea of secularism is reflected in its fundamental rights (Article 25-28) where it guarantees each of its citizens the right to practice any religion. Former Chief Justice of India, P.B. Gajendragadkar, defines secularism as, ‘The State does not owe loyalty to any particular religion as such: it is not irreligious or anti-religious; it gives equal freedom to all religions.
- negative concept – The traces of negative aspect of secularism is found in Western concept of secularism. It connotes a complete separation between the religion (the church) and the state (the politics). This aspect is inapplicable in the Indian situation where the society is multi-religious.
- The positive concept – The positive concept of secularism is reflected by India. The Indian Constitution embodies the positive concept of secularism which gives equal respect to all religions and protects all religions equally.
Secularism and Socialism: Controversies
We have often seen the controversy over the two words ‘socialist and secular’ which have been added to the Preamble of Indian Constitution by the 42nd Amendment during the Emergency Period in 1976. The general argument made by adversary is that these words have no clear and precise meaning which leads to ambiguity.
The basic notion behind the term ‘socialist’ is that exploitation and inequality would end, and that socio-economic justice would be guaranteed to all. And ‘secularism’ basically implies the existence of over-all equality in the religious field and equal freedom of conscience. According to Dr MV Pylee, if these ideals are so broadly interpreted, it will be found that ‘these concepts were implicit in the Constitution as it was originally passed’ This simply means that the original Preamble of Indian Constitution was enough for our purpose.
The Indian Constitution does not define the words ‘socialism and secularism’ which may lead to different interpretations of these words. The makers of Indian Constitution were careful enough not to drag this controversial phrase in dogmatic debates. They have made separate chapter called directive principles of state policy which assure a socialist order in the society. Similarly, the religious rights given to all citizens of India under Articles 25, 26, 27 and 28 surely implies the idea of secular state.
The Constituent Assembly debates clearly show why the words were omitted in the original Preamble. In the debate over inclusion of the words, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had clearly stated the reasons why the words should not be included in Preamble. According to him, the word ‘socialist’ is against the very grain of democracy to decide in the Constitution what kind of society the people of India should live in. He also said that there was no need to include the word ‘secular’ as the entire Constitution embodied the concept of secular state, which meant non-discrimination on grounds of religion and equal rights and status to all citizens.
“It is perfectly possible today, for the majority people to hold that the socialist organisation of society is better than the capitalist organisation of society. But it would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organisation which might be better than the socialist organisation of today or of tomorrow. I do not see therefore 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,” he had said.
His words had influenced the final decision to exclude the words from the original Preamble.
Although socialism has the same root, it is defined in different manner by different political scientists. For some it is guild socialism while for others it is democratic socialism and for Communists it is Marxist socialism. As the Preamble does not seek to adopt a specific form of socialism, the word socialism creates confusion while inserted in legal documents.
Similarly, Although the term secular was not included anywhere in the Constitution, as it was originally adopted on November 26, 1949, the makers of the Constitution were very clear in their mind as to what they meant by secularism. The word secular has no Indian origin. It traces the origin from West in the context of the Christian religion. Unlike in the West, in India secularism was never born out of the conflict between the church or the temple and the State. It was rooted in India’s own past history and culture. The whole Indian Constitution is based on the concept of secularism. India has adopted secularism of a unique and different nature. So, there was no need of inclusion of the word Secular in the Preamble. Its merely inviting the controversial debate and confusion. For all these reasons, Indian Constitution expert, DD Basu said that the insertion of these words was unwise, because, juristically, they are vague and confusing.
Times of India reporter, Sanjiv Shankaran said: “inserting the term ‘socialist’ is more problematic as it limits policy choices that can be made by a democratically elected government. What if such a government decides that the market can be useful in achieving some national goals?”
Indian eminent jurist, H.M Seervai criticizes the act of adding these words to Preamble as these words were ambiguous and should not have been inserted in the Preamble without reason.
It is often claimed that the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi re-introduced the two words for political reasons in the 42nd Constitution Amendment of 1976. Constitutional expert, S.C. Kashyap said:
“The word ‘socialist’ was added to send a message politically that she stood for the poor. The word ‘secular’ was obviously meant for the minorities in the context of the birth control programmes of the emergency period. It was not as if the Constitution was not secular or socialist before the words were added. India has been secular before the 42nd Amendment and continues to be secular after it.”
In the Indian Constitution, the Directive Principles of Sate Policy surely gives the idea of socialistic order in India. In democratic society, the people should decide in what form of social organisation they want live in. Similarly, India has adopted secularism of unique and different nature as the county is multi-religious. It can be read in Articles 25 to 28 which protect the religious rights of citizens. Thus, its can be said that the inclusion of the words was merely unneeded and confusion creating.
In fact, the makers of Constitution treated this matter in a far better way. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar gives the clear reasons on non inclusion of these words. Regardless the goals and objective behind the inclusion of the words, it has really ended in a serious controversy.
Now, if the two words are removed from the Preamble, the nature of the Constitution should not be affected in any manner. On the other hand, the words should ne removed because the Constitution cannot be labelled by controversial dogmas.
What Is Meant by Socialism in India?
In the Preamble of the Indian Constitution the word ‘socialism’ is read as ‘socialist’. The word socialist means a political- economic system which advocates the State’s ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange. However, in India Socialism does not mean total exclusion of private enterprise and complete state ownership of material resources of nation. India has adopted mixed economy.
What Is Meant by Secularism in India?
In India, the idea of secularism is reflected in the fundamental rights given in the Indian Constitution where it guarantees each of its citizens the right to practice any religion. The Indian Constitution embodies the positive concept of secularism which gives equal respect to all religions and protects all religions equally.
What Are the Critics of The Words ‘Socialism and Secularism’ In the Preamble?
The inclusion of words Socialism and Secularism by 42nd Amendment was the effect of personal political ambitions of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi rather than the welfare of the people. It is also said that the words have been wrongly inserted because they have no clear and precise meaning.
Why the Words ‘Socialism and Secularism’ Should Be Removed from The Preamble?
If the two words are removed from the Preamble, the nature of the Constitution should not be affected in any manner. On the other hand, the words should ne removed because the Constitution cannot be labelled by controversial dogmas.
Why the Words ‘Socialism and Secularism’ Were Not Added in The Original Preamble of Indian Constitution?
The Constituent Assembly debates clearly show why the words were omitted in the original According to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the word ‘socialist’ is against the very grain of democracy to decide in the Constitution what kind of society the people of India should live in. He also said that there was no need to include the word ‘secular’ as the entire Constitution embodied the concept of secular state.
 Berubari Union v. State of Kerala, (1960) 3 SCR 250
 Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225.
 L.I.C. of India and Anr v. Consumer Education and Research Centre and Ors
1995 1811; 1995 SCC (5) 482
 Secularism and the Constitution of India, by P. B. Gajendragadkar. (Kashinath Trimbak Telang Endowment Lectures). [Bombay: University of Bombay. 1971.
 An Introduction to The Constitution of India, by Dr MV Pylee, p. 78.
 Constitutional Law of India, by DD Basu, p. 3
 Constitutional Law of India, by H.M. Seervai (Universal Law Publishing)
 S.C. Kashyap, cited here: https://www.thehindu.com/books/Secularism-amp-the-role-of-the-Supreme-Court/article16814841.ece
 Our Constitution, by S.C. Kashyap, p. 64