“Secular”- To Be or Not To Be

A plea has been filed before the Supreme Court seeking removal of the words socialist and secular from the Preamble to the Constitution of India. The PIL mentions, inter alia, that the amendment made in 1976 was ‘antithetical to the constitutional tenets as well as the historical and cultural theme of India’. There are some serious errors and misconceptions in drawing the said conclusion.

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The Preamble of the Constitution declares India to be a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic. The terms socialist and secular were inserted in the Preamble to the Constitution, 42nd Amendment Act, 1976. However, both have been part of our constitutional philosophy since the very beginning.

Socialism has been with us even before the Constitution came into being. The first Prime Minister of India, while presenting the Objective Resolution before the members of the Constituent Assembly, clearly outlined socialism as one of the objectives sought to be achieved through the Constitution. Socialism is also implicit in the Directive Principles of State Policy. The Directive Principles, particularly Articles 39(b) and (c) of the Constitution are charters of social and economic liberties of the people. With reference to the above mentioned provisions, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar who remarked, “If these directive principles are not socialistic in their direction and in their content, I fail to understand what more socialism can be.”

One of the reasons put forward by the petitioners is that ‘communist theory of State cannot be applied in Indian context’. But who is applying it? India’s model of socialism is ‘Democratic Socialism’ and not ‘Communist Socialism’. India has chosen its own model of socialism, i.e. ‘mixed economy’.

In D.S. Nakara v. Union of India, a 5-judge bench of the Supreme Court held, “The basic framework of socialism is to provide a decent standard of life to the working people and especially provide security from cradle to grave. This amongst others on the economic side envisaged economic equality and equitable distribution of income. This is a blend of Marxism and Gandhism leaning heavily towards Gandhian Socialism. This is the type of socialism which we wish to establish in our country.”

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Now coming to the second aspect i.e. Secularism, we will be committing a very serious mistake by confusing the word secular, as used in the Preamble, with communal or religious concepts of an individual or a group of persons, whereas, the term means that the State has no religion of its own and treats all religions equally. State is not concerned with the relation of man with God. The Preamble declares the resolve of the people of India to secure to all its citizens ‘liberty of … belief, faith and worship’. Articles 25 to 28 of the Constitution give concrete shape to this concept of secularism, guaranteeing to every person the freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practice and propagate religion.

Significant manifestation of our secular outlook is also contained in various religious texts. The Yajurveda states, “May all beings look on me with the eyes of a friend. May I look on all beings with the eyes of a friend. May we look on one another with the eyes of a friend.” The Atharva Veda highlights, “Earth, which accommodates people of different persuasions and languages, as in a peaceful home – may it benefit all of us.” The Rig Veda declares, “All human beings are of one race.” All these indicate that in India we believe in ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhava’’- an approach of understanding equality of all religions.

India was and is unarguably the world’s most heterogeneous society. In the first half of the 19th Century the diversities threw up their problems. But, the Constituent Assembly showed wisdom and sagacity in tackling them by preaching the philosophy of accommodation, assimilation and tolerance. Dr Radhakrishnan once remarked, “The religious impartiality of the Indian State is not to be confused with secularism or atheism.” He also pointed out that the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly show, “Two attempts made to introduce the word ‘secular’ in the Constitution had failed.” At the same time, he asserted that nevertheless, it could not be said that the Indian State did not possess some important characteristics of a Secular State.

We see that the 42nd Amendment only made explicit what has always been implicitly ingrained in the Constitution. Consequently, the Apex Court, time and again has observed that ‘secularism’ is indispensable to constitutional philosophy. In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, the Supreme Court while declaring ‘secularism as the basic feature of the Constitution’, pointed out that saints and sufis used to spread this philosophy in earlier days and which Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of modem times advocated to maintain national unity and integrity.

Thus, the words socialist and secular are not antithetical to, but are in line with the constitutional tenets as well as the historical and cultural theme of India. It will be a killing of the Constitution by fraud to hold otherwise. These very principles are essential for the proper functioning of democracy, and growth of national unity and solidarity. We have accepted these goals not only because of our historical legacy, and a need for national unity and integrity but also as a creed of universal brotherhood and humanism. Any attempt that goes counter to the aforesaid creed should be seen as a conduct in defiance of the provisions of our Constitution.

Ms. Subodhika Sharma graduated in law from Faculty of Law, University of Allahabad. She has done her Masters in Law from National Law Institute University, Bhopal. She is currently working as an Assistant Professor at S.S. Khanna Girls’ Degree College (University of Allahabad), Prayagraj.

Mr. Rohit Rohilla graduated in law from USLLS, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University. He has done his Masters in Law from National Law Institute University, Bhopal.

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