Battle over ‘Preamble’

Right-wing forces who are now solidly in the saddle in Delhi, are repeatedly trying to put constitutional democracy on trial, hopefully to test the waters. But the battle over ‘Preamble’ makes little sense to ordinary Indians who hardly bother about how the Republic is being defined. After all it is neither ‘secular’ nor ‘socialist’. Constitutional experts are visibly worried about the way the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the centre are destroying constitutional niceties even by utilising an innocuous official occasion to project a different India. So Justice Rajinder Sachar was shocked by the mischievous and deliberate omission of the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ from the Indian Constitution’s Preamble used in the customary government advertisement on the Republic Day. How the secularists implemented the much talked about Sachar Committee Report dealing with the plight of the minority community people is not unknown to Justice Sachar. Politicians of all hues just mention about it during election seasons. Communalists were not in power and yet, secularists failed to deliver. No doubt the BJP is saffronising the bureaucracy very fast before it is too late to address their die-hard supporters. Having no compulsion to please coalition partners of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as it was the case during Vajpayee’s times the saffronties seem to have decided to get things done as per their ‘world vision’ as quickly as possible without directly involving the party. A mere legal action by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) as suggested by Justice Sachar, against the Information and Broadcasting (IB) Ministry—the issuing authority of the controversial advertisement—is unlikely to thwart BJP’s silent march towards majoritarian assertion in an obnoxious manner. The line of argument as put forward by the persons in power is not that unconvincing to a large number of people who are ready to subscribe to whatever the saffron house is dishing out as policy of change for the better. That the original ‘Preamble’ didn’t contain the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ is a fact. That they were inserted after the 42nd amendment to the Constitution during Emergency is also a fact. Pledging allegiance to the Constitution is one thing, standardising equal opportunities for all as guaranteed under the Constitution is quite another.

These days ‘socialism’, not to speak of ‘communism’ because ruling communists are identified with tyrants everywhere, not excluding India, is a dirty word even in those countries where actually existing socialism once inspired millions of downtrodden people across the world. The Modis won’t have much problem in garnering support from the people, both nationally and internationally, who are against anything socialist or communist even by name. ‘Socialism’ is more like a decorative ornament to make the Indian Constitution attractive to the poor and the gullible leftists.

Strong opposition to I&B ministry’s ‘motivated’ exercise came from civil libertarians. Barring the communist left, no political outfit, regional or casteist, came forward to defend the indefensible—‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ India. Even when the change was effected in the ‘Preamble’ nobody read much between the lines. Only Muscovties who had moral obligation to champion Moscow’s foreign policy interests in India and elsewhere hailed the outcome of the 42nd amendment as historic and victory of progressive forces. For one thing Nehru practised his ludicrous idea of ‘socialistic pattern of society’ without a socialist ‘Preamble’. The pro-Moscow left saw in Indira Gandhi’s emergency a permanent break of Indian economy from the western orbit which it was not. They had to reap the bitter fruit of their politics of opportunism and ideological subservience to CPSU(B) in no time during general elections held immediately after the lifting of Emergency.

As for ‘secular’ India, one of the BJP stalwarts looks more pragmatic than the registered secularists. While talking to reporters the other day against the backdrop of Republic Day controversy, the Union Housing and Poverty Alleviation Minister M Venkaiah Naidu went a bit philosophic as he would go on record as saying ‘secularism is there in the blood of Indian people’. He went a step further by assuring the ‘worried citizens’ like Sachar that his government had no plan to revert to the original ‘Preamble’. The Centre’s advertisement carried a picture of a ‘Preamble’ to the Constitution as it appeared before the 42nd Amendment without the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’! Not that Congress Party, otherwise ‘widely’ believed as a secular outfit, even after its dubious role in the demolition of Babri mosque was unanimous over the change as some senior leaders in the party allegedly reserved their opinion but didn’t oppose it openly apprehending backlash from the authoritarian Indira Gandhi.

Meanwhile, one of the junior allies of BJP, PMK of Tamil Nadu, however, opposed the idea of removing those words from ‘Preamble’ as demanded by the Shiv Sena. They are planning to initiate a debate over the ‘Preamble’ controversy. And BJP’s Union Minister Ravi-shankar Prasad is one of the strong votaries of such a debate.

All are focusing on how a party that had only 31 percent vote share in the last parliamentary polls, has legitimised itself to have the right to debate over the principles of the Constitution. This is the main line of reasoning of the Marxist left, CPM to be precise. But the very insertion of the words—‘secular’ and ‘socialist’—didn’t come in the wake of better vote share by the Indira Congress. This is a sticky wicket—the left seems to have been trapped by the logic of vote share percentage as if vote reflects the true strength and support base of a party that wins. Faced with the saffron onslaught, left parties are trying to come closer to Gandhi and so-called secular outfits even by marking Gandhi’s martyrdom this year for the first time.

The hard reality is that BJP without RSS—Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—is at worst a paper tiger. Congress cannot oppose it in principle because they are in the same boat when it is the question of ‘economic reforms’ and ‘opening up’ to foreign investors. Endless talking about communal danger emanating from BJP doesn’t really make the left and its secular allies more secular. Communalism has its very own economic base as socialism has. But they—the left and not so left forces—are in no position to attack the BJP’s economic base. All their efforts to project themselves as ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ over the years have failed to check the growth of communal virus. And the battle over ‘Preamble’ may turn out to be another high-sounding exercise with very little impact on the population. But one thing is certain—BJP’s ascent to power has deepened Indian reactionary direction.

Vol. 47, No. 32, Feb 15 -21, 2015