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We need to re-read the Constitution’s Preamble to understand what being Indian means

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We are celebrating 73rd Republic Day today. The celebrations held on 26 January every year commemorate the enforcement of the Indian Constitution. I am a proud Indian by birth. However, there is more to this identity. Let us look at the Preamble in order to know what my identity entails.

The aim of the makers of the Indian Constitution was to have a welfare state and an egalitarian society that projects the aim and aspirations of the great freedom movement. The Constitution, as postulated in Hans Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law, is the ‘Grundnorm’ of society, and id est, the ultimate norm below which derogation is not possible. After the drafting of the Constitution, Preamble was designed at the end and adopted after three readings. Kanaiyalal Meneklal Munshi calls the Preamble the “Political Horoscope” of the Constitution of India. This description highlights helps us understand that the Preamble is not just the countenance of our Constitution but also worthy of knowing and predicting past and future events respectively.

The leading architect of the Preamble, which was initially put forth as an ‘Objective Resolution’ on 13 December 1946, was Jawaharlal Nehru, which then got adopted unanimously by the Constituent Assembly on 22 January 1947. The original Preamble, that is to say, before the amendment incorporated 81 words in entirety, came into existence after the 42nd Constitutional Amendment in the year 1976. The four new words incorporated were ‘secular’, ‘socialist’, ‘and’, ‘integrity’.

It is in this setting also enthralling to anatomize the words subsumed in the Preamble, i.e., incipiently “We, the people of India”, The main point of contention with this line is that the Indian Constitution is drafted by the Constituent Assembly, not by the people of India. Is the placement of this description at the outset justified? This question, I feel, can only be answered by one line of thought that the people of India have ultimate sovereignty. As a result, when we look into the Preamble starting with the words “We the people of India,” all of the powers that the British crown once held will be restored to the people.


Also read: Central Vista, old army uniforms—why this year’s Republic Day parade is a source of pride


What the Preamble tells us

The expression ‘sovereign’ refers to the binding force of the Constitution that holds together the people’s sovereign will. As per Charles Cooley, a sovereign state is one where there resides within itself a supreme and absolute power of acknowledging no superior. However, indeed no State can be absolute sovereign as International obligations, treaties etc put restraints and erode sovereignty. India is a sovereign state; however, no sovereignty division lies within India as the States within India have no right to succeed from the Union.

The expression ‘socialist’ added in the year 1976 connotes a decent standard of living, economic equality and equitable distribution of income. Under Article 39(b) and Article 39(c) of the Directive Principles of State Policy, it is already mentioned however incorporating it in the Preamble is a mere declaration of the provision already incorporated. It is to bring about a socio-economic revolution in Indian society. A sustained one.

‘Secular’ does not mean ‘irreligious’ or ‘anti-religious” but sought to establish a rational synthesis between the function of religion and the State. The concept is to educate and train people about secular values and principles. The argument most usually raised is since the term was not incorporated in the original preamble drafted by the Constituent Assembly suggests that India was not a secular Country but was made by way of amendment. The Argument is preposterous in toto. Indian Constitution and Indian Society have always been a Secular and it is conspicuous in Article 25 till Article 30. Yet again, similar to the concept of Socialism, the incorporation through amendment was of something already incorporated.

‘Democratic’ emphasises apropos India is in the wider sense of political, economic and social democracy. The Ultimate power lies with the People as it is Government by the People irrespective of factors like caste, religion, economic standards et cetera. While the term ‘republic’ as Cooley defines it is a government by representatives chosen by the People. In a Republic State, the executive head is not a hereditary monarch but an elected representative by the people.

“Justice” means harmonising both an individual’s and society’s interests. In the book Theory of Justice by John Ross, justice is the foremost value amongst all social institutions. The Indian Constitution contains three facets of it as (i) Social Justice focuses incipiently eradicating the caste system by applying the concept of Social Engineering and bringing about a socio-economic revolution in the society (ii) Economic Justice by accomplishing the method of equal pay (iii) Political Justice by aiding the people in poverty line.

“Liberty” is a concept borrowed from the French Revolution. Most importantly, there may be some scepticism as to why liberty of thought is mentioned herein. Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, specifically, Freedom of Conscience, expresses the right to freedom of opinion. The framers of the Constitution were far ahead of their time in seeing that we could devolve into a totalitarian regime that could control not just our acts and speech, but also our thinking. If people are not given the freedom to think; there never will exist any Ideas. And if Ideas are restrained, the pillars of the Constitution will obliterate. “Equality” is the most important virtue for the Constitution to survive. If people are not prioritised equally, there will always be hostilities and as a result features of the Constitution inscribed in the Preamble would not effectuate.

“Fraternity” is also a concept borrowed from the French Revolution implying that fraternity can only be promoted when there exists the concept of sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic, justice, equality and liberty. It is the philosophy of brotherhood and sorority wherein mutual respect and care should exist for everybody. And to ensure Fraternity, ‘unity and integrity of nation’ and ‘dignity of individual’ must be achieved. Article 51A of the Constitution renders the duty of every citizen to uphold and protect sovereignty, unity and integrity as it is imperative for the nation’s social and economic development. While Article 17 of the Constitution abolishes untouchability which is an affront to Individual dignity.

Every single word embraced in the Preamble is the idiosyncrasy of the Constitution. These words in the Preamble significantly describe each feature of an Indian identity. When asked who is an Indian, these features collectively reflect our identity and individuality.

The author is a student at Faculty of Law, University of Delhi. Views are personal.

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