Preliminary work by Sanjeev Sabhlok. Now, of course, we have Swarna Bharat Party.

Month: July 2010

We’re All (Still) Socialists in India

By Barun Mitra. First published in Wall Street Journal.

India's politicians love to talk about "reform," but if the recent past is any indication, most of them like spending money more. There's the $22 billion annual bill for food and fertilizer subsidies; the billions spent every year on the rural employment guarantee scheme; plentiful government-subsidized loans; and on, and on. The lack of debate over the virtues of these wasteful policies is striking in the world's most vibrant democracy. A big reason is because all Indian politicians are—officially—socialists.
That's not a typo. During the height of Indira Gandhi's Emergency Rule in 1976, policy makers passed the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution, which added the words "socialist" and "secular" to the preamble. Then in 1989, the Representation of People Act, the law which governs elections and political parties, was amended to make it mandatory for all political parties seeking registration with the Election Commission to affirm not only the general constitution but also socialism. Since then all political parties have sworn to socialism without any hesitation, without bothering to define what it means.
These are more than just semantics. Political parties are plentiful in India, with around 50 parties represented in the national parliament, and hundreds of parties operating at state and local levels. Yet, the political ideals on offer are very limited, and there are no avowedly liberal political parties. The "socialist" pledge, as it turns out, has created a serious legal anomaly and a damaging precedent.
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Indira Gandhi: A voluntary socialist.
Look no further than the recent case of Sanjiv Agarwal, the head of the Good Governance India Foundation in Calcutta. In 2007, Mr. Agarwal, whose nongovernment organization fights for property rights and the rule of law, filed a public-interest petition to the Supreme Court questioning the validity of the 42nd Amendment and the relevant section of the Representation of People Act. The petition argued both provisions violated the basic premise of democracy and political freedom enshrined in the Constitution.
Two years later, the Election Commission filed a response and acknowledged that the 1989 law required all parties to affirm their loyalty to socialism. In other words, although the word "socialism" was included in the Constitution through the political and constitutional process, it cannot be opposed and removed by the very same process. The Government of India did not file a reply.
When the petition was first heard by the Supreme Court in January 2008, Mr. Agarwal's lawyer pointed out that the anomaly in the election law had been questioned in 1995 by the Swatantra Party Maharashtra, a small political party located in Maharashtra State. Unfortunately the Mumbai High Court still has not heard the petition—even though 15 years have passed since its filing.
Mr. Agarwal couldn't legally substantiate the details of the old case, and the judges on the bench observed that while it was a valid point, it was also an "academic" one, since no political party in the country had actually opposed it. So the petition was withdrawn on July 12.
The fight isn't over, however. The Supreme Court did not reject the petition outright. Instead, the three-judge bench implied the court would prefer to deal with it when a political party actually is aggrieved, or refused registration because of its refusal to affirm socialist beliefs. The Court's statement also implies there is merit in Mr. Agarwal's arguments.
As it should: India's founders debated the question of socialism at length in 1949. The chairman of the constitutional drafting committee, B.R. Ambedkar, said: "What should be the policy of the state, how society should be organized in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether."
Fixing India's foray into socialism will take time. None of the serious political parties engaged in the electoral fray in the past 20 years has objected to the socialism clause, including nominally conservative parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena. All see great political benefits from large public-spending programs that cement political patronage, even if those policies ultimately create more dependence, higher unemployment and lower future economic growth.
Yet India is changing slowly but surely since the "big bang" economic reform of the early 1990s. Today, the economy is poised to enter into a 10% annual GDP growth phase. Foreign multinationals have purchased two of the biggest Indian pharmaceutical companies at record prices, and rather than raising fear, many Indians feel proud that Indian assets could fetch such high values in the global marketplace. The recent auction of third-generation telecommunication spectrum raised a phenomenal $20 billion.
All political parties need to take up this cause. If the political space is legitimately opened up, then the political agenda would have to change too—and then the electorate may inevitably follow. India's free-market liberals then might find their rightful place in the political mosaic of the country. Just as India's diversity has sustained her democracy, political diversity will only strengthen the foundation of the republic.
Mr. Mitra is director of the Liberty Institute in New Delhi and a columnist for
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Our Socialistic Constitution

By Shanu Athiparambath, from his blog here. Also published here.

A writ petition by an NGO challenging the insertion of the word “socialism” in the Preamble to the Constitution was rejected by the Supreme Court on Monday. Section 29 A (5) of the Representation of the People Act makes it mandatory that every political party in India should swear allegiance to socialism. It came into effect through the Constitution (42nd) Amendment Act, 1976. The preamble reads as follows: “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic.” A political party which fails or refuses to do so will be rejected at outset. Senior counsel Fali Nariman argued that the 42nd Amendment had evolved during the Emergency period, and that it violated the basic structure of the Constitution. Nariman had said before that “It is contrary to the Constitution and to its democratic foundations that political parties be called upon to swear allegiance only to a particular mindset or ideology.” Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had opposed the inclusion of the word socialism in the constitution.

Surprisingly, Justice Kapadia said that till now, no political party had challenged the constitution, and that the Supreme Court will consider it when the time comes. Facts don’t support this statement. S V Raju of the Swatantra party applied for the registration of a political party vehemently opposed to Socialism, and his application was rejected. “Socialism is a form of economic engineering. The grievance in our petition was that the country did not allow us to participate in the electoral process without telling a lie and we did not want to lie.” he said. So much for the claim that the Indian constitution allows liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship! Whatever one thinks of democracy, it should be evident that this decree of the Supreme Court in not compatible with it. In the words of Ambedkar, “What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organized in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether. If you state in the Constitution that the social organization of the State shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgment, taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organization in which they wish to live. It is perfectly possible today, for the majority people to hold that the socialist organization of society is better than the capitalist organization of society. But it would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organization which might be better than the socialist organization of today or of tomorrow. I do not see therefore why the Constitution should tie down the people to live in a particular form and not leave it to the people themselves to decide it for themselves.”
The chief justice said this while rejecting a petition in the past: “Why do you take socialism in a narrow sense defined by the Communists? In a broader sense, socialism means welfare measures for the citizens. It is a facet of democracy. It hasn’t got any definite meaning. It gets different meaning in different times.” All this is nonsense. The word socialism has a specific meaning. It is a political system in which all property is owned by the state.  It has always been so. We should take terms in its precise sense, and see it for what it is. If the Supreme Court finds the problem purely academic, they would have no reason to include it in the constitution. The last resort of people who want to debase liberty and freedom of expression is that people no longer believes it these days! If so, why insist that people swear allegiance to it?
The Indian constitution guarantees justice and equality before law. Socialism fails on both counts. If the society should collectively own all property, it would mean that some are slaves, at least partially. It doesn’t mean equality before law, and hence fails the universalization test.
Let us look at the policies of the present Indian Government. It has accepted the major proposals of the communist manifesto like “A heavy progressive or graduated income tax”, “Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly” and “Free education for all children in public schools” lock, stock and barrel. They have implemented almost all the other demands too, to some extent at many points in its history. The Government had confiscated property of emigrants, partially centralized communication and transportation and imposed several such monstrous legislations without any qualms. Mines, banks and wholesale grain trade were nationalized during the period of Indira Gandhi. There is no point in fooling ourselves. India has a long history of socialistic policies which kept most of its population poor for six decades. This has to change if we are to achieve progress and a re-look at our constitution would be a right move towards it.
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Petition against term “socialist” in Constitution rejected

(By J. VENKATESAN, The Hindu)

The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed as withdrawn a writ petition challenging the validity of Section 2 of the Constitution (42nd Amendment) by virtue of which the word ‘socialist’ was inserted in the Preamble to the Constitution.

The petition, filed by the Good Governance India Foundation, also challenged the validity of Section 29 A (5) of the Representation of the People Act, which was inserted by way of Section 6 of the RP (Amendment) Act, 1989 making it incumbent upon every political party registered in India to pledge allegiance to the socialist ideal, failing which such a party would be rejected from registration.

A three-Judge Bench comprising Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia and Justices K.S. Radhakrishan and Swatanter Kumar, after hearing senior counsel Fali Nariman, Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam for the Centre and counsel Meenakshi Arora for the Election Commission permitted the petitioner to withdraw the petition saying that the issues raised would be left open and decided as and when the situation arose.

Mr. Nariman submitted that the 42nd Amendment, evolved in the climate of national Emergency, violated the basic structure of the Constitution. Prior to the amendment, the Preamble read as follows “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign democratic republic.” After the amendment, the Preamble read: “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic.”


Mr. Nariman read out debates in the Constituent Assembly to drive home the point that Dr. Ambedkar had opposed the inclusion of word ‘socialist’ in the Constitution. He said the court should go into the question whether the powers under Article 368 to amend the provisions would include the power to amend even the Preamble. Justice Kapadia, however, told Mr. Nariman that so far no political party had challenged this and every one had subscribed to it. The court would consider it when the Commission faced challenge from any political party.

The NGO, in its petition, contended that the 42nd Amendment altered the Preamble, which was impermissible as it contained the ideals and aspirations or the objects which the Constitution-makers intended to be realised by its enacting provisions. It said that such an insertion was wholly inconsistent with the phrase ‘liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship,’ in the Preamble itself.

The petitioner submitted that the 42nd Amendment attempted to create a particular ideological basis for adherence to the Constitution, which was against the principles of a multi-party democracy and which breached the unity and integrity of the nation. The ingestion of the socialist principle was antithetical to the principle of democracy, which was considered a basic structure of the Constitution.

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