Secularism and the Constitution of India – Nirmala Sitharaman

Indira Gandhi & Sanjay Gandhi

Nirmala Sitharaman“It is ironical that the Congress Party brought in changes in the basic structure of our Constitution when, originally, … the intention of our lawmakers was not to have the words “socialist” and “secular”. And even when they imposed these terms, through the 42nd Amendment, they lacked clarity and commitment to their spoken words. Today, one wonders what is “socialist” about the way we define ourselves. By the same measure, wasn’t India secular before the 42nd Amendment?” — Nirmala Sitharaman

Constitution of IndiaIt is election season. A round of elections to a few state Assemblies will be followed by elections for the 16th Lok Sabha, hopefully in 2014, if not earlier. The Congress Party is saddled with its failures, be it on matters of the economy or relations with neighbours.

Further sullying its record is corruption which has touched heights hitherto unheard of in this country.

As is its wont, the Congress has brought the “secular versus communal” debate to the fore of political discourse. That the intent is to cover up their failures may sound a little clichéd but is true. They float this debate with the hope of sowing fear in many unsuspecting minds, while, simultaneously it’s actively engaged in legitimising the formation of terror groups such as the Indian Mujahideen. The Congress believes in the skewed logic that appeasement politics is a necessity, else frustrated youth will be misled into terror! On both counts, the Congress’ logic would have worried us less were it not for the fact that it compromises our national security. The Congress, in its desperation to return to power in 2014, has created an environment similar to the Emergency days: control the media, criticise the judiciary, call members of the Opposition “obstructionists” and misuse government machinery for propaganda.

India is a “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic”. The words “socialist” and “secular” were added to the Preamble of the Constitution on November 2, 1976, during an extended tenure of the Lok Sabha. To understand the significance of this, let us recall that the mandate of the sixth Lok Sabha expired on March 17, 1976 — the country was already under Emergency, imposed on June 25, 1975, by the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. With fundamental rights suspended, media completely censored, most Opposition leaders jailed, on February 4, 1976, the Lok Sabha gave itself one year extension. It’s under such an undemocratic environment that Parliament adopted the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution and, at one go, amended the Preamble, 40 Articles of the Constitution and the Seventh Schedule. It also added 14 new Articles and two new parts to the Constitution.

The Janata Party, which came to power in 1977, annulled many of these amendments through the 44th Amendment. However, curiously, it did not remove the additions made to the Preamble — “socialist” and “secular”.

Originally, in the Preamble, as adopted on November 26, 1949, the intention of the lawmakers was made plain. They defined India as a “sovereign, democratic republic”. The Constituent Assembly debated these matters threadbare. Speaking extensively on an amendment to the draft Constitution moved by K.T. Shah on November 15, 1948, to include the words “secular, federal and socialist”.

Dr. B.R. AmbedkarDr Ambedkar rejected it on the ground that the Constitution should not lay the socio-economic structure of the country. He also felt that people should not be bound to a specific social order. Furthermore, socialist objectives were already infused in Article 31 of the draft Constitution. However, Dr Ambedkar did not spell out his reasons for not accepting “secular”.

Rejecting Shah’s plea that the state should have nothing to do with any religion, K.M. Munshi said, “A secular state is not without God. It is not a state which has resolved to uproot religion … it is not a state which denies religious faith in the country.” Ananthasayanam Ayyangar, Mahavir Tyagi, Jerome D’Souza and Sidhwa spoke in similar lines.

Around the same time as these discussions were taking place in the Constituent Assembly, delivering the convocation address at the Aligarh Muslim University in 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru said, “You are a Muslim and I am a Hindu. We may have different religious faiths or we may even not have any religious faith, but our cultural heritage remains the same. It is as much yours as mine.” In his own style, Nehru was stating that there would be no state religion nor would there be any discrimination based on religion. Eventually, the Constitution did not have the words “socialist” and “secular” when adopted in 1949.

It was much later, in November 1976, during the Emergency and during the extended term of the sixth Lok Sabha that Union law minister H.R. Gokhale introduced the 42nd Amendment, without explaining the need to include these specific words. There was no discussion on each of these words which were imposed on the Constitution, thereby altering its basic structure. Gokhale said that the two terms could not be well-defined and, in fact, added that this definitional difficulty applied even to the term democracy. Many members, like K. Hanumanthaiah, who took part in the debate, did not speak on secularism. Sardar Swaran Singh, who headed the committee on constitutional amendment, said in his speech that the dictionary meaning of the word “secular” is not the same as what we have in our perception. Referring to the conflict between the state and the Church in the West, he clarified, “… Western secular concept was not acceptable to us … secularism, as we understand, provides for equal respect for all religions”.

UPA Report CardIt is ironical that the Congress Party brought in changes in the basic structure of our Constitution when, originally, after due discussions, the intention of our lawmakers was not to have the words “socialist” and “secular”. And even when they imposed these terms, through the 42nd Amendment, they lacked clarity and commitment to their spoken words. Today, as we discuss this issue in a globally liberalised world, one wonders what is “socialist” about the way we define ourselves. A welfare state need not necessarily be a socialist state. By the same measure, wasn’t India secular before the 42nd Amendment?

People want good, accountable governments which ensure basic civic facilities, jobs, education, health and safety. The Congress knows it has failed to deliver on these. The “secular versus communal” debate is a smokescreen behind which the Congress is trying to hide. The Asian Age, 23 July 2013

»  Nirmala Sitharaman is a spokesperson for the BJP. 


 

2 Responses

  1. Excellent article that summarises the political compulsions behind the adoption of the terms, who said what etc. In this short space it was not possible to go in depth into the question of why the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ were introduced.

    Nirmala however, raises 2 questions: 1. is it necessary to be socialist to have welfare?, 2. wasn’t India secular before the 42nd amendment?

    IS is right on. Why didn’t the BJP remove the two words when they were in power? It is possible that among the many other compulsions they were not in a position to do so.

    What is inexcusable, though, is their failure to introduce the Uniform Civil Code.

    Like

  2. Never mind the Janata Party. Why didn’t the BJP remove the terms ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ from the Constitution when it was in power?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: