Is there a need to debate the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the Indian Constitution?
The Constitution of India is dedicated to the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. Any identification, beyond that of being an ‘Indian’ based on religion or community, is not secular.
There is a false belief that the word secularism came into the Constitution with the 42nd amendment (during the Emergency), that inserted the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ into the Preamble. This is fallacious because even in the Constituent Assembly debates, Ambedkar made it clear that the Constitution was entirely secular and there was no need to state the obvious.
Thus, secularism is a part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution, and this was upheld by a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court in S.R. Bommai vs The Union of India, 1994. That position has existed before and after that case.
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Moreover, the Supreme Court in 1973, in the Keshavanada Bharti case, held that the Constitution cannot be amended to a point that would destroy its basic structure. Irrespective of a party having a majority in the parliament, the basic features of the Constitution are considered sacred and cannot be altered.
The Constitution is not a matter of Ambedkar smriti, it is a living document that we all have adopted and given to ourselves. Each time the BJP has come to power at the Centre, there has been talk of constitutional amendments. During Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government, they appointed the Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah Committee to review the working of the Constitution. However, even that committee recommended that the basic structure of the Constitution must not be tampered with.
We live in a modern nation and cherish our hard-fought independence and well-rounded Constitution. Under this, we worked as a republic for over 70 years. A mere transient Hegde here and there cannot alter the essence of the Constitution.
We have always been a pluralistic, multicultural civilisation, and we continue to be so as a modern nation. Any attempt to posit a mono-cultural vision of India is doomed to failure.
Sanjay Hegde is a senior advocate at the Supreme Court.
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