Is socialism a basic feature of Constitution of India? By Lavanya Verma

The Indian constitution was adopted on the 26th of November, 1949. Some provisions of the constitution came into effect on very day but the remaining provisions came into effect on the 26th of January, 1950. This day is referred as the “date of commencement” of constitution, and celebrated as the nation’s Republic Day. The Constitution of India is eccentric in its spirit and contents. Having been borrowed from almost every constitution across the globe, the constitution of India has varied salient features which distinguish it from the constitutions of other countries.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the chairman of the then drafting committee was the first Law Minister of the Union. He carried the crusade for social revaluation until his last breathe on the 6th December 1956. He was honoured with ‘Bharat Ratna’, the highest national honour, in April 1990. Dr. Ambedkar was affectionately known as Baba Sahib Ambedkar. On November 15, 1949, in the Constituent Assembly, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, while exploring the economic philosophy of the Constitution, felt that implicit facts of the constitution need not be repeated. He considered that the body of the constitution already had its canon, comprising secularism and socialism, woven into the fabric.

But under the prime minister-ship of Indira Gandhi, she wanted to assert parliamentary supremacy over the judiciary, and she felt it of utmost importance to amend the Constitution and make the two ideas a part of the Constitution’s preamble. During the Emergency, she sought to make duties of the state, or the directive principles of state policy, superior to fundamental or individual rights of citizens. As part of the 42nd amendment, her government had introduced two provisions in the Constitution, disallowing courts to question constitutional amendments. The Supreme Court in the 1980 case of Minerva Mills ruled that Parliament cannot use its limited power and turn it into an absolute power, and defended the basic structure doctrine. Justice Y.V. Chandrachud invalidated the provisions of the Emergency-era 42nd amendment that were not repealed by the Janata Party in its 44th amendment.

It is incorrect to think that it was only with the 42nd Amendment, which incorporated the words “socialist” and “secular” into the Preamble that these peculiar concepts were brought into the Constitution. The amendment just made explicit in the preamble provisions which were already implicit in the body. The very own sovereign democratic republic of India of 26th November, 1949, did not on 3rd January, 1977, in the Emergency, contort into a secular socialist republic. Still, simply because some government advertisements have chosen to stick to its original version of 1949, the Preamble and the Constitution have not stopped to be secular or socialist. Neither will the Constitution itself cease to be socialist nor secular, in spite of an amendment these words are ousted again at a later date. Socialism and secularism are mended into the constitutional fabric and any effort to erase these principles will fall conflicting with the basic structure doctrine that is used to override constitutional amendments.

Distinct judges have given differing definitions to the basic structure. However, the key phrases were – republican and democratic government; supremacy of the Constitution; federal and secular character of the Constitution; mandate to build a welfare state under the directive principles of state policy; maintenance of separation of powers; maintaining unity and integrity of India; essential features of individual freedoms; sovereignty of the country; provision of socio-economic justice; liberty; equality of status and opportunity; of thought, belief, expression, faith and worship.

In D. S. Nakara v. Union of India , the Apex Court has held that the chief aim of a socialist state is to eliminate inequality in status, income and standards of life. The fundamental frame work of socialism is to provide a decent standard of life to the people, mainly, security from cradle to grave. Amid there, it envisaged economic equality alongwith equitable distribution of income. This is a combination of Marxism and Gandhism, leaning basically on Gandhian socialism. From an entirely feudal exploited slave society to a lively, throbbing socialist welfare society divulges a long march, yet, during this journey, each and every state action, whensoever’s taken, must be so interpreted and directed so as to take the society one step closer towards the goal.

The Supreme Court, in Excel Wear v Union of India held that the addition of the word ‘socialist’ might enable the courts to learn about nationalisation and state ownership of an industry. Although, so long as private ownership of industries is acknowledged which governs an overwhelming large principles of social justice and socialism cannot be pushed to such an extent so as to ignore totally, or to a very large extent, the interest of another section of the society, namely undertaking of the private owners.

While upholding the amendments to the Preamble in the Minerva Mills case, the Constitution Bench of the Apex Court said: “By the aforesaid amendments, what was originally described as ‘Sovereign Democratic Republic’ became “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic” and the resolution to further the ‘unity of the nation’ was elevated into a promise to further the “unity and integrity of the nation”. These amends furnish the most eloquent example of how the amending power can be exercised invariably with the creed of the Constitution. They offer promise of more; they do not scamper a precious heritage.”

In the context of the expression ‘socialist’, another constitution bench of the Supreme Court in Delhi Transport Corporation vs. D.T.C. Mazdoor Congress and others, pointed out that the amendment only made explicit of what is manifest in the Constitutional Scheme.  Recently, on 22/11/1016 division Bench of Uttarakhand High Court, while hearing a public interest litigation seeking directions to the government to furnish infrastructure and other amenities to government aided schools has observed that socialism is a basic feature of the Indian Constitution.

Secularism and socialism are embedded in the basic structure of the national book, and are beyond the powers of ephemeral parliamentary majorities to efface or concise. Humanity is inherent in the socialist and secular framework of rights and directive principles, which have given meaning to the Constitution all these years.

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