“Secular” & “Socialist” The two showpieces of the Constitution
An unnecessary, unsavoury controversy has been generated by some political parties and individuals on the issue of non-appearance in the government advertisement in the Preamble marking the 66th anniversary of the coming into force of the Constitution of the words “secular” and “socialist”. These two words were added in 1976 through 42nd Amendment to the Constitution. Ironically, a similar ad had appeared in 2012 too when the UPA was in power. The words “secular” and “socialist” are just decorative showpieces. In reality of the social and political life of the country, these have failed to make their presence felt.
In one of his couplets, famous Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib said that ‘if you have no work at hand, unstitch your clothes and sew them again to keep yourself busy’. That exactly is the present Opposition seems to be doing. Bankrupt of issues to beat the NDA government with, the latest instance of the hue and cry raised over an advertisement issued on the occasion of the 66th anniversary of the Republic of India. The ad shows a watermark of the original Preamble to the Constitution which came into force on that day and is available in the Parliament of India. The ad does not contain the words “secular” and “socialist” as these were not part of the Preamble on that day.
Moreover, the occasion was the 66th anniversary of the Constitution adopted on January 26, 1950 and not of the 1976 42nd Amendment which added the two words. Condemning the add the erudite former I&B Minister Manish Tiwari anticipated that “perhaps the NDA wanted to replace the words ‘secular and socialist’ in the Preamble with ‘communal and capitalist’”. But Tiwari seems oblivious of the fact that an ad containing that very watermark of the Preamble was issued by the UPA government of which he was then a part. Will Tiwari stand by his words to say that in 2012 his UPA too was motivated by the same intention as he alleges the NDA with today?
Still more surprising is the outburst of the retired Delhi High Court chief justice Rajinder Sachar who threatened legal action against the government. As a person who knows law and justice he owes an explanation to the people why was he not shocked by the mischief and deplorable omission of the words “secular” and “socialist” from the Indian Constitution Preamble in 2012? Why did he then not see “treason to the Constitution…(and)…an unpardonable negligence”?
The insertion of the words “secular” and “socialist” in the Preamble in 1976 itself appears to be a half-hearted attempt by the then Indira government to derive political mileage and perhaps, to humour Russia which was then the only pillar of support and strength to the government which then stood isolated in the world for ‘murder of democracy’ in India. 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. That is why every leader and political party enjoys the unrestrained freedom to claim to be ‘secular’ and dub the opponent as ‘communal’. Even those political organisations whose membership is restricted to a single community claim themselves to be ‘secular’. At times when an independent or a party supports, they are honoured as ‘secular’ and the moment they quit the alliance they are condemned ‘communal’. V. P. Singh was comfortable as long as the BJP was supporting from outside his Janta Dal government at the Centre. The moment it withdrew support, overnight BJP became untouchable and ‘communal’ for Singh. Same is true of Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar.
The Constitution now does speak of ‘secularism’ but does not provide a scale with which to determine whether a person or party is ‘secular’ or not. As a result the issue of ‘secularism’ and ‘communalism’ has become a jungle raj where everybody can claim anything and charge his opponent with anything without having to prove the point.
Mentioning secularism is meaningless unless it is defined and codified. In fact, dharma is being wrongly translated in Hindi as ‘religion’ and secularism as dharmnirpekshta. Dharma is not religion. Oxford dictionary defines it as “(in Indian religion) truth or law that affects the whole universe”. The Supreme Court has given a verdict that dharma is not a religion but a way of life. That is why in the Hindi version of our Constitution secularism is mentioned as panthnirpekshta. And when was the Hindu society not secular?
The insertion of the word “socialist” without defining it is as much a misnomer as is “secular”. Socialism means different things to different people in different countries. USSR, now Russia, China, Cuba and many other countries are ‘socialist’ ones but socialism varies from country to country. Many of our political parties, like the Samajwadi Party, Janta Dal (U), JD(S), Lalu’s RJD, RSP and the communist parties claim themselves to be ‘socialist’ but none’s concept of socialism is one and the same. It changes with the person and the party. So calling the country a “socialist” republic is as vague and incomprehensible as “secular”.
Further, the father of the Indian Constitution, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, had opposed the insertion of the word “socialist” saying, “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 live in a particular form of society and government? Why should they be barred from change as per their will under the changed circumstances?
Even without these two words the various Articles virtually make the Constitution “secular” and “socialist” because it prohibits discrimination on the grounds of faith. The Constitution provides for equal opportunities and rights to all irrespective of caste, creed, sex and region.
A dharma guru some years back told in clear terms that no way of life could be more socialist than the Hindu one which says that a person has no right on more than what he can eat and the rest is for all. He further explained that there could be no equality between a horse and an ass. He said in his ashram he had men and women shishyas, cows, goats, dogs etc. and he loves them all. But his love for each is not—and cannot be—equal and similar with all. That is life and truth.
In reality the mere saying so in the Preamble does not make the Indian government, political parties and the people “secular” and “socialist”. Their mere inclusion is not a panacea for all the ills of secularism, communalism and poverty facing the country. Despite their 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”, poverty has seen just a marginal drop. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons for the 42nd Amendment that prompted the then Indira Government to incorporate the two words states that it was done “to spell out expressly the high ideals of socialism, secularism and…to make the directive principles more comprehensive”. The intention, it stated, is “to give them precedence over those fundamental rights which have been allowed…to frustrate socio-economic reforms” by specifying “the fundamental duties of the citizens and make special provisions for dealing with anti-national activities, whether by individuals or associations”. The last forty years of the Amendment to the Constitution have proved that it was nothing more than a showpiece with hardly anything to feel proud on the score of achievements of the aims and objectives for which it was passed.
By Amba Charan Vashishth