'Secular' And 'Socialist': How The Terms Came In The Constitution Of India

The two words in question were originally not a part of the Preamble but were added by The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 during the Emergency imposed by then PM Indira Gandhi.

Constitution of India

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Leader of The Congress in Lok Sabha made the claim that the words “socialist” and “secular” were missing in the Preamble of the Constitution of India in the copies distributed to MPs on Tuesday, September 19. 

The two words in question were originally not a part of the Preamble but were added by The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 during the Emergency imposed by then PM Indira Gandhi. 

Moreover, the term “secular” has long been debated in the past four decades, with the right-leaning claiming that these terms sanctioned  “pseudo-secularism”, “vote-bank politics” and “minority appeasement”.

‘Socialist’ In The Preamble 

The government under Indira Gandhi’s presidency ran pro-poor images with slogans like “garibi hatao” as part of their campaign. Her government, during the Emergency, included the word Socialist in the Preamble to highlight socialism as a goal and philosophy of India. However, Gandhi clarified that the socialism envisioned for India was divorced from its implication in regard to the USSR and China- it did not imply the nationalisation of India’s means of production. “We have our own brand of socialism”, under which “we will nationalise [only] the sectors where we feel the necessity”. She added that “just nationalisation is not our type of socialism”.

‘Secular’ In The Preamble 

While the citizens of India practice numerous faiths, and endorse unity in diversity, hence, ‘secularism’ aimed to embrace that unity and fraternity in the face of differences in class, caste, culture, religion and the like. The inclusion of ‘secular’ in the Preamble implied that the state protects all religions and every citizen equally while maintaining impartiality towards all.  A secular Indian state was founded on the idea that the relationship between humans takes precedence over one between a human being and God- essentially a matter of individual and personal choice. Secularism, is hence, a question of law. The secular nature of the Indian state is secured by Articles 25-28 of the Constitution.

Status Of Secularism Before The 42nd Amendment 

Although it was always a part of the philosophy of the Constitution, the adoption of Articles 25,26, and 27 signalled the intention of furthering and encouraging the philosophy of secularism in the Constitution. The 42nd Amendment only lends to the formal inclusion of the term in the Constitution and elaborates on the implicit provisions and overall philosophy of the founding document.

Dr Ambedkar along with the support of founding members like K T Shah and Brajeshwar Prasad proposed the inclusion of the term with the following argument: 

“What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organised in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself because that is destroying democracy altogether.”

Ambedkar also said: “My contention is that what is suggested in this amendment is already contained in the draft Preamble.”

Has This Been A Part Of Previous Discussions 

In a recent petition filed by former BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in the Supreme Court, he sought the removal of the words “socialist” and “secular” from the Preamble. Similar petitions have been filed earlier too. Petitioners have argued about the inclusion of these terms in the Constitution, and how such inclusions surpassed the amending power of the Parliament under Article 368. 

BJP MP Rakesh Sinha, in 2020 moved a resolution in Rajya Sabha seeking to remove the word socialism from the Preamble, saying, “You cannot tie a generation to a particular way of thinking. Besides, the Congress party which ruled the country for seven decades has changed its direction from being socialist to welfare to neo-liberalism. Its new liberal policies adopted in the 1990s have negated its own earlier positions.”

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, earlier in 2015, used an image of the Preamble of the Indian Constitution without the words “socialist” and “secular”, which led to criticism. Then Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said, “Did Nehru have no understanding of secularism? These words were added during the Emergency. Now what is the harm if there is a debate on it? We have put before the nation the original Preamble”.

The Supreme Court in 2008 even rejected a plea demanding the removal of “socialist”. “Why do you take socialism in a narrow sense defined by Communists? In a broader sense, it means welfare measures for the citizens. It is a facet of democracy,” a three-judge Bench headed by then Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan said.