Expunging socialism from it should matter to all those who take the Constitution seriously
Whether it was Indira Gandhi, Joan Robinson or Shashi Tharoor who first came up with the aphorism, India’s highest constitutional authorities proved it right this week.
Refusing to entertain a petition that sought the deletion of the word “socialist” to describe the Indian republic, a bench of the Supreme Court—presided over by the chief justice of India—said, “Why do you take socialism in a narrow sense defined by Communists. In broader sense, it means welfare measures for the citizens. It is a facet of democracy.” The next day India was described as the “fastest growing free market democracy” by the president. Whatever you might say about India, and its opposite, it turns out, is equally true. (Also true, perhaps, is another aphorism: that the truth is somewhere in between.)
What the president says at NRI conferences is of little import. What the Supreme Court says matters a lot. So it is rather disappointing to see the Supreme Court’s decision and justification for not entertaining the petition to restore the Preamble to the Constitution to its original state. While the bench did admit (via Lex) a petition to review the requirement that all parties swear by Socialism in order to register with the Election Commission, this is as much about principle as it is about practical matters like election rules.
Socialism, the bench said, “hasn’t got any definite meaning. It gets different meaning in different times”. It is strange that the bench should think this justifies keeping the term. If it has no definite meaning, and can mean different things at different times, then it stands to reason that such terms should be kept out of an eternal document like the Constitution. Going by the bench’s logic, would it be justified to amend the Constitution again and declare India a “sovereign, socialist, secular, generous, benevolent, popular, liberal, political, equal, fair, reasonable, indefinite, nice, happy democratic republic”? This might sound flippant, but if there are grounds to keep words that lack definite meaning then why only socialist, why not these other fine adjectives that too broadly mean welfare measures for citizens?
Indeed, the Constituent Assembly debated—and discarded—the idea of including the word “socialist” in the Constitution. And the bench’s position squarely contradicts Ambedkar’s. Socialism, the chairman of the Constituent Assembly held “cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself”, because it amounts to “destroying democracy altogether”. The meaning of the word “Socialism” has not changed since Ambedkar’s time. The Supreme Court bench has failed to give this question the attention it deserves.
The preamble is the place where India describes itself. One would think that the adjectives used there mean something definite. If they don’t, then there’s no reason to keep them there.
Related Posts: Any party you like. As long as it’s socialist. (views, views & views; and the judicial challenge)
13 thoughts on “Socialism and the Supreme Court”
Awesome commentary, Nitin.
Tks for posting.
With all due to respect to the Bench, I must say that it’s contradicting itself. If it were appropriate to challenge the provisions of the Representation of People Act (RPA), 1986, for requiring the political parties to swear by “Socialism”, how could it also be that the word lacked definitive meaning in the Constitution?
If Socialism “in broader sense meant welfare measures for the citizens and was a facet of democracy”, then what is wrong in requiring the political parties to swear by the welfare of its citizens? Why derecognise “political parties which have wrongly shown allegiance to socialism in their manifesto despite their contrary objectives”? Does a libertarian party, or any other party for that matter, that swears by socialism in its manifesto, have objectives that are contrary to the welfare of the citizens?
Correction: it’s Representation of People Act (RPA), 1989, and not 1986 as in my previous comment.
That is really sad, coming from the SC.
“the requirement that all parties swear by Socialism”
That’s horrifying even with the watered-down definition of Socialism they used. So they want India to be a Socialist Republic?? Kind of sounds like another Socialist Republic that murdered 20 million of its own citizens last century.
Socialism, or any other repression of the rights of an individual for the greater good of the government’s idea of a perfect society is truly evil and must be destroyed.
200 millions Indians will be dead soon because they did not conform.
Great post as always !
This approach of the court is also tough to reconcile with the fact that there are numerous judgments of the court wherein reliance has been placed on the preamble and more specifically that very word while interpreting the sacrosanct Part III of the Constitution. If our fundamental rights are going to be interpreted on the touchstone of that word, the citizens of this country clearly have a right to know the import of the said word which remains undefined in the Conmstitution.
What adds to this chaotic state is the fact that by its mere presence in the preamble, the word is considered to be part of the ‘basic structure’ of the constitution and thus treated on that pedestal when the fact remains that the insertion of this word was after the Keshvananda decision.
These unanswered questions must be answered sooner than later and as I’ve suggested in my post, there is no escaping from this question even in the litigation over the election rules.
Socialism, the bench said, “hasn’t got any definite meaning. It gets different meaning in different times”. It is strange that the bench should think this justifies keeping the term. If it has no definite meaning, and can mean different things at different times, then it stands to reason that such terms should be kept out of an eternal document like the Constitution.
Moreover, socialism is an ideology. The SC, I feel, erred in giving a broader meaning to socialism differentiating it from the socialism advocated by communists. Socialism is socialism – means of production in the hands of the state, “prevention” of concentration of wealth through “redistributive justice.” That is what kids learn at school about socialism.
There’s no Communist socialism or democratic socialism.
Socialism is what it is!
There is hope that challenge to tinkering preampble may come back and stand, as the issues are interlinked. Right now its preliminary hearing, no judgment is given. The glass is two-third full.
Does anyone have any idea what happened to this PIL. Last I heard is that the SC had issued notices.
How do I know what happened after this.
I believe that another petition challenging the 44th amendment might be heard next week
Both, 42nd and 44th amendmend challenges are listed for next hearing in end July. One can check the status on SC website: http://courtnic.nic.in/courtnicsc.asp
Click ‘Title’ from left menu:
Enter the flwg, for 42nd and 44th chanllenges respectively:
SANJIV KUMAR AGARWAL
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