Is India a secular country? It surely is, it has been, and must be so in future to carry its diverse peoples along. For millennia, Indian civilization has been the very epitome of ‘Sarvadharma Sambhava’, a beacon of religious tolerance and inclusiveness. Even the Jews, persecuted almost everywhere else, had found a safe haven in India’s southern shores ages ago. Is India a socialist country? Here we are on trickier ground. If it means the Nehruvian socialist model, then surely India has gradually strayed away from it since 1991. Opening its markets and seeking foreign investment in a globalised world, successive Indian governments are retreating from the ‘commanding heights of the economy’. To put matters into perspective, Chi is now communist only in me, but ubashedly capitalist in its ways for over three decades. Still whatever politico–economic ideology India adopts, the country needs to be socialist in the broadest possible sense. For India is still a developing country with a population that soon threatens to be the largest in the world. To do the greatest good for the greatest number is a tenet Indian governments can ignore only at their peril.
So why this sudden brouhaha over the secular and socialist character of India? It all began with a government advertisement on 26th January this year, showing the preamble of the Constitution without the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’. According to the ministry of Information and Broadcasting, since the country was celebrating the 66th anniversary of the coming into force of the Constitution, the advertisement showed the preamble to the Constitution as it origilly appeared in 1950. It was only in 1976 through the 42nd Amendment, that the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ were added to the preamble. The Congress, the Left and other Opposition parties reject this argument as specious if not mischievous, accusing the rendra Modi government of a sinister agenda to tinker with the Constitution and re–create India into a saffron, right wing State. As the political war of words hots up, it is quite likely that in the forthcoming budget session, very little business will be conducted in the Rajya Sabha where the Opposition is strong enough to slug it out with the Treasury benches. Thus what appeared to be a political move to many Constitutiol experts in 1976 is bearing bitter political fruit now. It has long been suspected that during the dark days of the Emergency, Indira Gandhi got the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ added to the preamble to send a political message to religious minorities and the poor.
When India became a sovereign democratic republic in 1950, it had been an independent country for just over three years. The ideological ferment about what contours the new–born tion should take, found eloquent expression in the Constituent Assembly debates as well as in informed public discourse throughout the country. Mahatma Gandhi had already fallen to a fatic’s bullet, but his ideals shone brighter than ever to a Constitutent Assembly filled with stalwarts like Rajendra Prasad, Vallabhbhai Patel, Alladi Krishswami Ayyar, JB Kripalani and Gopith Bordoloi. So why did not the Constitution makers put the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the preamble at that time? According to Dr BR Ambedkar, there was no need to include the term ‘secular’ as the entire Constitution was premised upon the concept of a secular Indian State treating all religions equally, and forbidding discrimition on religious or other grounds. As for including the term ‘socialist’, Dr Ambedkar said that in a democracy, there is no reason for the Constitution to tie down the people to live in a particular form, rather it should be left to them to decide for themselves. In his own words: ‘It would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organisation which might be better than the socialist organisation of today or of tomorrow”. Such was the wisdom and farsightedness of the founders of our tion, which we must appreciate to see through the machitions of political parties.