IN THE nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, many have held up the Constitution of India, saying the Act goes against it. Many of the programmes have been marked by a reading of the Preamble, which is reflective of the essence of the Constitution of India.
The original Preamble, adopted by the Constituent Assembly in 1949, declared India a “Sovereign Democratic Republic”. By the 42nd Amendment of 1976, enacted during the Emergency, the words “Socialist” and “Secular” were inserted; the Preamble now reads “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic”.
Resolution and discussion
The Preamble is based on the Objective Resolution moved by Jawaharlal Nehru in the Constituent Assembly on December 13, 1946. The Resolution was adopted on January 22, 1947.
Constituent Assembly President Rajendra Prasad told members: “The time has now arrived when you should give your solemn votes on this Resolution. Remembering the solemnity of the occasion and the greatness of the pledge and the promise which this Resolution contains, I hope every Member will stand up in his place when giving his vote in favour of it.”
The Resolution was adopted, all members standing.
On October 17, 1949, the Constituent Assembly took up the Preamble for discussion.
Hasrat Mohani proposed that India, instead of being designated as “a Sovereign Democratic Republic”, be made “a Union of Indian Socialistic Republics to be called UISR, on the lines of USSR”. This was objected to by Deshbandhu Gupta, who contended that “it is out of order because it goes counter to the Constitution we have passed”. Mohani replied that he had not said “we should go and merge in the USSR or that you should adopt the same Constitution; but what I want to say is that we should work out our Constitution along the lines and on the pattern of Soviet Russia. It is a special pattern and also republican pattern and also it is of a centrifugal pattern”.
To invoke God, or not to
After Prasad informed the Assembly that members had given notices for moving a number of amendments, H V Kamath moved a motion proposing the Preamble begin with: “In the name of God, We, the people of India…”
“Let us consecrate this Constitution by a solemn dedication to God in the spirit of the Gita: Yatkaroshi yadashnasi Yajjuhoshi dadasi yat Yattapasyasi kaunteya Tatkurushwa madarpanam.”
He said: “Whatever our shortcomings, whatever the defects and errors of this Constitution, let us pray that God will give us strength, courage and wisdom to transmute our baser metal into gold, through hard work, suffering and sacrifice for India and for her people. This has been the voice of our ancient civilisation, has been the voice through all these centuries, a voice distinctive, vital and creative, and if we, the people of India, heed that voice, all will be well with us.”
Thirumala Rao argued that “it should not be subjected to the vote of a House of 300 people whether India wants God or not. We have accepted that God should be there in the Oath, but for those who do not believe in God, there is an alternative there, but there is no possibility of a compromise which can provide for both the things in the Preamble”. He suggested Kamath withdraw his amendment.
Hriday Nath Kunzru regretted that “our most sacred feelings should have been brought into the arena of discussion”. He felt Kamath’s proposal was “inconsistent with the Preamble which promises liberty to thought, expression, belief, faith and worship to everyone”. Rohini Kumar Chaudhuri endorsed Kunzru. He cited Vande Mataram and said: “It means an invocation to a Goddess… We who belong to the Sakthi cult, protest against invoking the name of God alone, completely ignoring the Goddess… If we bring in the name of God at all, we should bring in the name of the Goddess also”.
Rejecting pleas by both Prasad and B R Ambedkar to drop his amendment, Kamath pressed his motion along with a demand for a division. A vote was taken and the motion was rejected 41-68. Kamath’s reaction was: “This, Sir, is a black day in our annals. God save India.”
Gandhi and the Preamble
Shibban Lal Saksena moved a motion proposing that the Preamble read: “In the name of God the Almighty, under whose inspiration and guidance, the Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, led the Nation from slavery into Freedom, by unique adherence to the eternal principles of Satya and Ahimsa, and who sustained the millions of our countrymen and the martyrs of the Nation in their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the Complete Independence of our Motherland..”
Brajeshwar Prasad opposed this, arguing: “I do not want that the name of Mahatma Gandhi should be incorporated in this Constitution, because it is not a Gandhian Constitution. The foundation stones of this Constitution are the decisions of the American Supreme Court. It is the Government of India Act, 1935, repeated again. If we had a Gandhian Constitution, I would have been the first to offer my support. I do not want that the name of Mahatma Gandhi should be dragged in the rotten Constitution.”
Observing that “it is not behoving us to vote on this amendment”, J B Kripalani made a request to Saksena to withdraw it. He said: “I yield to nobody in my love and respect for Gandhiji. I think it will be consistent with that respect if we do not bring him into this Constitution that may be changed and reshaped at any time.” Saksena withdrew the amendment.
Govind Malaviya had given a notice for moving an amendment, which ran: “By the grace of Parameshwar, the Supreme Being, Lord of the Universe (called by different names by different peoples of the world). From whom emanates all that is good and wise, and who is the Prime Source of all Authority, We the people of Bharata (India), Humbly acknowledging our devotion to Him, And gratefully remembering our great leader Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the innumerable sons and daughters of this land who have laboured, struggled and suffered for our freedom…”
Ambedkar and P S Deshmukh noted the Assembly had already decided on the names of God and Mahatma Gandhi. This was accepted by Rajendra Prasad and also Govind Malaviya.
‘Secular’ & ‘Sovereign’
Brajeshwar Prasad felt the word ‘Secular’ should “be incorporated in our Preamble because it will tone up the morale of the minorities…” He also wanted the word ‘Socialist’ included in the Preamble because “I believe that the future of India is in Socialism”. He was against “any undue emphasis upon this word sovereignty” because he felt that “sovereignty leads to war; sovereignty leads to imperialism”. His amendment was negatived.
Purnima Banerji proposed an amendment with “the sovereignty of the people” mentioned. Mahavir Tyagi supported her. “The sovereignty must be vested in so many words in the people as a whole,” he argued.
“Sir, you like a good host, have reserved the choicest wine for the last,” said J D Kripalani. “This Preamble should have come in the beginning of the Constitution even as it is given in the beginning of the Constitution… It would have cautioned us that we were not deviating from the basic principles which we have laid down in the Preamble…”
Kripalani added: “As we have put democracy at the basis of your Constitution, I wish Sir, that the whole country should understand the moral, the spiritual and the mystic implication of the word ‘democracy’. If we have not done that, we shall fail as they have failed in other countries. Democracy will be made into autocracy and it will be made into imperialism, and it will be made into fascism… I also say democracy is inconsistent with caste system… Then we have said that we will have liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship… All these freedoms can only be guaranteed on the basis of non-violence… Mere tolerance will not carry us far… We have to respect each other’s faith.”
He suggested that the Assembly adopt the amendment proposed by Banerji. He said: “A Minister says ‘Our Government’ not ‘The People’s Government’. The Prime Minister says ‘My Government’ not ‘The People’s Government’. Therefore, on this solemn occasion, it is necessary to lay down clearly and distinctly, that sovereignty resides in and flows from the people.” The members responded with loud applause.
‘From the people’
Ambedkar, who replied to the discussion, said the point was whether the Preamble as drafted conveyed any other meaning than what was the general intention of the House — “that this Constitution should emanate from the people and should recognise that the sovereignty to make this Constitution vests in the people”. “My contention is that what is suggested in this amendment is already contained in the draft Preamble.”
Ambedkar said: “No person in this House desires that there should be anything in this Constitution which has the remotest semblance of its having been derived from the sovereignty of the British Parliament… In fact, we wish to delete every vestige of the sovereignty of the British Parliament such as it existed before the operation of this Constitution.” He declared: “I say that this Preamble embodies what is the desire of every Member of the House that this Constitution should have its root, its authority, its sovereignty, from the people. That it has.”
Ambedkar rejected Banerji’s amendment. It was also negatived.
Thereafter, the Preamble was adopted.