Philosophy & Controversies

Background of the Preamble

Preamble of the Indian constitution is taken from the constitution of the USA



Amended Preamble of 1976

Source of the Constitution

We, the people of India.

The phrase “We the people of India” emphasises that the constitution is made by and for the Indian people and not given to them by any outside power.

It also emphasizes the concept of popular sovereignty as laid down by Rousseau: All the power emanates from the people and the political system will be accountable and responsible to the people.

Nature of Indian state

  1. Sovereign: India is internally and externally sovereign – externally free from the control of any foreign power and internally, it has a free government which is directly elected by the people and makes laws that govern the people. No external power can dictate the government of India.
  2. Socialist: “Socialism” as an economic philosophy where means of production and distribution are owned by the State. India adopted Mixed Economy, where apart from the state, there will be private production too. Socialism as a social philosophy stresses more on societal equality.
  3. Secular: Features of secularism as envisaged in the Preamble is to mean that the state will have no religion of its own and all persons will be equally entitled to the freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate the religion of their choice. (S R Bommai and Others v Union of India, AIR 1994 SC 1918)
  4. Democratic: Indicates that the Constitution has established a form of Government which gets its authority from the will of the people. The rulers are elected by the people and are responsible to them.
  5. Republic: As opposed to a monarchy, in which the head of state is appointed on the hereditary basis for a lifetime or until he abdicates from the throne, a democratic republic is an entity in which the head of state is elected, directly or indirectly, for a fixed tenure. The President of India is elected by an electoral college for a term of five years. The post of the President Of India is not hereditary. Every citizen of India is eligible to become the President of the country.

Objectives of Indian State

  1. Justice : Social, Economic and Political.
  2. Equality : of status and opportunity.
  3. Liberty : of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship
  4. Fraternity (=Brotherhood) : assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.

Date of its adoption

Date of adoption of the Constitution is 26th November, 1949.  But most of the articles in Constitution came into force on January 26th, 1950. Those articles which came into existence on 26th Novemeber 1949 is given by Article 394.

Article 394 states that this article (394) and articles 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 60, 324, 366, 367, 379, 380, 388, 391, 392 and 393 shall come into force at once, and the remaining provisions of this Constitution shall come into force on the twenty-sixth day of January, 1950, which day is referred to in this Constitution as the commencement of this Constitution.

26 January was selected for this purpose because it was this day in 1930 when the Declaration of Indian Independence (Purna Swaraj) was proclaimed by the Indian National Congress.

Recent Controversy ON preamble

The controversy -

Recently a rather silly controversy has been drummed up after a government advertisement displayed the original preamble of the Indian Constitution provides an apt cue to a more meaningful national debate— about whether it is time to remove various socialist distortions in the central document of the republic.

The story so far: The ministry of information and broadcasting issued at advertisement on Republic Day that showed the original preamble of 1950. A storm of protest broke out. Two holy words were missing: secular and socialist. Some vocal critics saw in this innocuous advertisement a harbinger of things to come, as India descends into a dark theocracy.

The omission would have been worth debating if mere words had power over the fate of countries. The darkness is to be found in the manner in which these words were added to the preamble: they were inserted at a time when there was no democracy in India, in 1976, when emergency prevailed. The opposition benches were empty on 28 August 1976, when law minister H.R. Gokhale moved the 42nd Constitution Amendment Bill. In the controversy over these words, conspiracy theorists have conveniently overlooked one fact: the words socialist and secular were part of this package that virtually rewrote the Constitution, tearing its original fabric.


There are three substantive points in the controversy?

  1. can the mere addition or removal of words from the preamble, distort the Constitution?
  2. how accurate is it to describe India as a socialist country?
  3. the controversy ignores the far more serious damage inflicted to the Constitution by the elimination of the fundamental rights, the right to property, for example

The preamble, as the dictionary meaning of the word suggests, is only an introduction to the Constitution. No substantive rights, powers or duties flow from it. In one of the earliest interpretations of the preamble, the Supreme Court held it not to be a part of the Constitution. This was in the matter of Berubari Union and exchange of enclaves, a 1959 presidential reference. The court was asked if the government could cede a part of the territory of India. At that time, heavy play was made of the preamble to claim that India was an indestructible union and the government had no such power. Relying on US constitutional precedents, the court vetoed this interpretation. Surely the territorial integrity of India is a far more important issue than socialism and secularism? That vital question was addressed on the basis of common sense and not emotion.

India moved away from socialism a long time ago. The economy today is dominated by the private sector. The dismantling of socialism began in 1980, four years after the word socialist was added to the preamble, when Indira Gandhi began liberalizing the economy. From this perspective, hankering for this word in the preamble is pedantic. Another example of this pedantry is the amendment to the Representation of the People Act of 1951 by the Rajiv Gandhi government. Under this amendment a new section was added, demanding allegiance to socialism on part of all political parties before they could be registered by the Election Commission. This is incongruous: if a party professes in free markets, why should it take an oath of allegiance for socialism?

The debate has ignored the much more damaging changes made to the Constitution since 1950. Perhaps the most violent being to the right to property. The original Constitution has Article 31 that guaranteed this right as a fundamental right. From 1951, within a year of the Constitution’s inauguration, the right was diluted till 1978 when it was made a mere legal right. India’s conflicts over land are in great part due to the slow killing of this right.

It is time these pernicious changes—made just before socialism began to retreat—are rolled back.

What about the other word in the controversy, secularism? Again, even if for moment, the word is eliminated from the preamble, will India become a communal country? The right to freedom of religion—under Article 25—is wide in amplitude. The Supreme Court has classed it as a basic feature of the Constitution, making it immune from any amendment, let alone elimination. The substance of secularism lies in fundamental rights and not the preamble. It is civic illiteracy to say that a change in the preamble will make India a theocratic state.

The last word in this debate goes to B.R. Ambedkar. On 15 November 1948, an amendment was moved in the Constituent Assembly to add the words secular and socialist in the Constitution. He dismissed it as superfluous. The Constitution, he said, was “merely a mechanism for the purpose of regulating the work of the various organs of the State...If you state in the Constitution that the social organisation of the State shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgment, taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organisation in which they wish to live".

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