On January 26, 2015, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headed NDA through a print ad declared India was no longer a socialist and secular. Though the removal of the word looked like a glaring error as it is part of the Preamble of the Constitution, the BJP tried to downplay the omission of the two words saying that it published the original preamble of 1950, which had no mention of words; “Secular, Socialist”.

India adopted the Constitution on November 26, 1949 and it came into effect on January 26, 1950. Till 1976, the Preamble of the Constitution didn’t have the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist. In 1976 the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi inserted ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ words into the Preamble, during the Emergency, through the 42nd Amendment.

The justification by the BJP government could have been accepted easily, but the fact that it happened on Republic Day, which celebrates the diversity of all Indian cultures, is significant. The issue could have been sidelined terming it just an error, but it came when the right wing organisations were raking controversial issues like Love Jihad, Ghar Wapsi creating communal rift. It was the first time when Indian Constitution was under threat from communal forces.

Secular debate:

The debate over ‘secular’ word was again sparked by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh when he said Dr Ambedkar, the principle architect of the Constitution didn’t find it necessary to insert ‘Socialist’ and ‘Secular’ words in the Preamble as he felt it’s already in our basic nature adding that secular is the most misused word in Indian politics. “Dr Ambedkar didn’t find it necessary to insert ‘Socialist’ and ‘Secular’ words in the Preamble because he felt it’s already in our basic nature. If there’s is any word which is being misused in Indian politics, that is ‘Secular’,” Rajnath said, while addressing the Lok Sabha on the first day of the Winter Session of the Parliament.

Rajnath Singh’s statement triggered a debate over the word ‘secular’ in the Preamble of the Constitution. Was the Constitution not secular before 1976? Secularism is implicit in the entire constitutional framework. Secularism, which is a constitutional value, was very much part of the Constitution even before the word ‘secular’ was added in the Preamble.

For instance, Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees equality. The Articles 15 and 16 talk about the promise of non-discrimination. The Articles 27 and 28 protects Indian people from religious taxes and religious instruction in state-funded institutions. The Constitution does not mention the word ‘God’, which means it doesn’t differentiate among believer, atheist and agnostic.

What the Consitution says:

The beauty of Indian Constitution is despite the adoption of secular values, it provides freedom to practice and preach each religion and also protects religious rights of different religion. The Constitution protects Hindu sentiments on cow slaughter in Article 44 and also allows Muslim men to have four wives. Indian Constitution doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religious identity at the same times allows citizen to practice their respective religion. Taken as whole package, the entire Constitution embodied the concept of a secular state, which meant non-discrimination on grounds of religion.

Thus, it is deceptive to say that the original Constitution, adopted on November 26, 1949, was not a secular document. The inclusion of the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ in the Preamble was an attempt to highlight what was already present in the original text of the Constitution.

In current environment where fringe elements have become part of the government, the removal of words ‘socialism’ and ‘secular’ is direct attack at Constitution of India and its secular and socialist credentials. Secularism is part of our Constitution. India is defined by secularism. If we drop the word secular from the Constitution and forget its values, India will become a mirror image of Pakistan and we cannot afford it.