With all the fuss about Obama this Republic Day, the other ‘big’ news didn’t receive its due attention. The news I’m referring to is the advertisement taken out by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry of India, with a picture of the preamble, without the words socialist and secular.
I’m a child of the 90s and when I studied civics in school, the words “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic” were drilled into my head so it was only after the first shock had gone seeing that ad, that it came to me that the “original” preamble from 1950 actually didn’t have the words socialist and secular. It was only Indira Gandhi’s cabinet, in 1976-77, during the emergency, who added these words to the preamble, through the 42nd Amendment Act of the Constitution.
The Modi government claimed that the picture was just that of the original preamble as that is what they were celebrating, and pointed out that the Congress had used the same picture in their own advertisement last year but that didn’t stop social activists, the Congress Party and social media enthusiasts from attacking this move of the government, with activist Kavita Krishnan even starting a signature campaign against this-many believing that this is the first in a series of moves by the government to establish a non-secular, corporate state.
But this news grabbed more eyeballs when a Shiv Sena leader claimed that this omission should be permanent and the words removed from the preamble altogether. Mr. Sanjay Raut declared that India was a Hindu nation and the word ‘secular’ needed to go. He has been quoted in leading national newspapers saying, “If printing the old preamble was a mistake, then it should happen regularly. India was never a secular country. It is a Hindu rashtra.” He went on to add that since these words were never meant to be in the preamble to begin with, they should be removed now.
(Sanjay Raut, the Shiv Sena leader, who believes that the word secular should be removed from the preamble of the constitution)
In this scenario, it is important to remember that Dr. Ambedkar and the other founding fathers of the constitution deliberately chose to leave out the words secular and socialist from the preamble, believing that the policy of the future state could not be laid down by them and they had no right to dictate the social and economic workings of future societies and that they must be decided by the people themselves according to time and place. He also believed that socialist principles characterized the constitution itself and didn’t need a mention in the preamble. And when the Indira Gandhi government modified the preamble, it received much criticism from the media and certain sections of the society. Yet the changes remained intact and for almost 40 years now have helped define the character of our nation.
The Ghar Wapasi movement, sparking off earlier debate and controversy, gave rise to a great fear of moving towards a non-secular state, where Hinduism is being encouraged as a way of life. While vote banks have to be maintained and therefore appeased in any democracy, it has to be remembered that in a country like India, with all its diversity, religion becomes not just a reason for celebration and festivals, more often than not, it is the reason for bloodshed and violence. In the wake of the Ghar Wapasi controversy, and forced conversions to Hinduism, the removal of the word secular from the preamble, much like suggestions to make the Gita a national book, will only add to the panic and chaos in the nation. It has to be remembered that the BJP and the Shiv Sena, both traditionally Right-wing and traditionally Hindu parties, were involved in and have supported this.
Of course it’s easy to dismiss the whole debate by saying that the government didn’t mean anything by the omission, that it was just a “mistake”. But in this day and age, when every move of the government is scrutinised under a microscope by a constantly-growing media, and when fears of conversion, and of a gradual move to a religious (read: Hindu) nation seems inevitable, it is probably the duty of the government to be more careful of the message they are sending.
It is also important that the government works to uphold the spirit of the constitution and that I believe, should be the true message of the Republic Day gala.
By Shreemayee Das