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

Author: sabhlok

Sharad Joshi’s speech in Rajya Sabha (December 2005) against the word “socialism”

Sharad Joshi’s major speech in the Rajya Sabha of December 2005 has since been deleted from its original place on RS’s website. Luckly Shantanu Bhagwat had made a copy on his blog. I’m making a further copy of whatever is available, on FPI’s website. It is a shame that RS doesn’t maintain all speeches made in Parliament on the internet. The following is a copy of what Shantanu had extracted:

This debate happened on 9th Dec ‘05 in the Rajya Sabha. Excerpts below from this very thought-provoking debate which includes statements made by Sh Ram Jethmalani and Sh Jairam Ramesh.

*** Excerpts Begin ***

SHRI SHARAD ANANTRAO JOSHI:  By 15th August, 1947, socialism was not even a significant thought in the Indian polity.  In 1977 an amendment was made to the Preamble.  By the Forty-Second (Amendment) Act, 1976, three words, ‘Socialist’, Secular’, ‘Integrity’ were introduced in the Preamble to the Constitution.

There are some problems, which are because of addition of the word ‘Socialist’ and therefore, my Bill demands that the word ‘socialist’ be deleted from the Act.

While socialism may be perfectly good, may be perfectly ideal thing to have but I must have the right to dissent.  I am not taking any anti-socialist position.  I am not taking a position that the preamble is wrong but I should have the right to change the preamble, if necessary.  We decided to form a political party.  We got a reply from the Election Commission saying that you will have to sign a register, or, have a clause in your memorandum of Association that you subscribe to the tenet of ’socialism.’

Now, this is something which is alright for those with a pliable conscience. The problem is for the honest people who do not want to make a false statement.  There is no provision for any verification of the truth of the memoranda or regulations.  It is only used according to the convenience and both the parties play the game.  It compels an association to swear allegiance to the principle of socialism without any attempt to define or even indicate the meaning of the term ’socialism‘.  The sub-section is, therefore, illegal, unconstitutional and being arbitrary violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.  The term ’socialism’ has not been defined in the Constitution of India or in the Representation of the People Act.  This term has been applied to a large spectrum of theories over the last two centuries. Now, which particular meaning you have, is not clarified either in the Constitution or in the People’s Representation Act.

…To bear allegiance to the principles of socialism as a precondition, goes against the freedom of expression and thought..

The historic fall of the Soviet Union has put a question mark on all nations practicing socialism.  Socialistic economics have been found to be not good not only in theory but also in practice.   In most of the countries of the world, the socialist systems are collapsing under the weight of their own non-viability. Even the Government of India admitted in 1991, the errors of its socialist past and professed to be pursuing the path of market-oriented economies.  I am not trying to override socialism.

…That socialists have the possibility of organising themselves as political parties while those having problems of conscience in declaring adherence to socialism should be stopped from organising themselves in to a political party is wholly discriminatory, and hence, clearly in breach of the fundamental right of association.

…without going into the question of the precise definition of the term “socialism” the right of a non-socialist citizen to hold  his personal views and be entitled to all the privileges  enjoyed by the  socialist fellow-citizens cannot be denied.

Firstly, the dispensation of section 29(A) does not serve any particular purpose.  Secondly, you are asking the people to swear by a word “socialism” which has not been defined…I am only demanding that the legislation should be modified to remove this kind of a contradictory position.

SHRI MOOL CHAND MEENA: “Socialism” is one of our basic concept  which had been incorporated in our Constitution  after independence  but Shri Joshi ji has not understood  the basic concept in its true spiritand, therefore, purposes an amendment to it.  I do not support the amendment moved by Shri Joshi but I will rather request  him  to understand the basic concept of ‘Socialism’ and not temper such basic concept.

…Today, we are talking of socialism but the poor is getting poorer and the rich is becoming more rich.  This needs to be stopped because it is a great threat to the democracy.  If this is not stopped, the people would capture Assemblies and Parliament on the basis of money power.  Not only our Constitution, but our Independence and our Democracy has been attacked and are being attacked.  Strict Action must be taken against those  political parties which do not respect the basic spirit of the Constitution.  Therefore, I request Shri Joshi not to stress upon removing the word socialism, rather, he should emphasize for its implementation.

SHRI RAM JETHMALANI:  To oppose socialism is a very unpopular thing. The strongest point that Mr. Joshi, has made is that socialism is one of the many economic doctrines that have arisen in this world throughout the core world’s economic history.  To say that you are bound down to a particular economic doctrine, is to curtail the liberty of a speech, and which is inconsistent with democracy.  Therefore, Mr. Sharad Joshi is absolutely right that democracy and socialism cannot be equated, because democracy itself means you are right to say things which others do not accept.  In spite of all things, he has no chance of getting this Bill passed through this Parliament. But, certainly, in the Supreme Court of India, he is bound to succeed on the constitutionality of the provision.  As regards his current speech here,with a little expansion and with a little deletion here and there, it should be published in the form of a book which must be made available to every student and every teacher of political science throughout the country.Today, socialism and supporters of socialism are becoming unpopular.  There are some political parties which bravely say that they do not believe in socialism.  It is their right to say it and they should be allowed to exist.  It is not a practical wisdom to pursue this Bill here.

SHRI RAASHID ALVI:  Thebiggest evidence of this country’s democracy is that despite this preamble of the Constitution, Mr. Joshi is a Member of this House and with all his vigour , he has every right to oppose the word socialism. India is country having population of 100 crore people.  Who follow different religions, languages and ideologies etc.  But, this is not possible that the Constitution should have 100 crore ideologies. When we attained Independence, our country chose to be a democratice country inspite of the fact that Pakistan declared itself to be a Muslim country and that 90 per cent of the Members of Constituent  Assembly were Hindu.

I do not say that everyone in the country is working for secularism.  There are political parties, the leaders of which claim to be the followers of great socialist leaders like Dr. Lohia and others, but they are in politics having connection with the richest persons in India.  Mr. Joshi said that taking  oath in the name of constitution is wrong, because, we do not follow the basic spirit enshrined is its pre-amble.  It is provided in the Constitution that you can bring amendment in it and even you can amend the whole of the Constitution.  Therefore, it is not proper to state that the word socialism should be removed from the preamble.  I strongly oppose this amendment Bill.

SHRI E.M. SUDARSANA NATCHIAPPAN: ShriJoshiji is proposing this Bill despite the fact that the evolution of Indian democracy and Independence is over-based on socialism. In almost every proposal adopted by the general conferences of Congress before India got independence, a stress was laid that India would follow the path of socialistic pattern of democracy.  Therefore, we cannot say that the socialist word is borrowed from some other literature and, therefore, it may be a thing we need to hate.

…Socialism is for the distribution of economic produce which is meant for the society.  We have the Panchayati System in which any person who has crossed the age of 18 can become a person to decide about the property of the community.  This right has been given by Panchayati Raj system.  It is the unity of the people at the grass-root level and they decide their own economic welfare.  We cannot depend on the FDI alone; we cannot depend on the WTO alone;  We cannot depend on the system where we pray that foreigners come here.  No doubt, we need better infrastructure, better roads, lot of trains, and more agricultural produce.  We need employment for our unemployed people.  One day, India will be a Super Power.

Supreme Court says that the word ’socialist’ should not be removed. That is the judgement of the Supreme Court.  The same Supreme Court says that the word ’secular’ should not be removed.  India is a secular country, it is a socialist country. That is the verdict of the Supreme Court.  The ‘Socialist, Democratic Republic’, these words will give spirit to the future of India.

SHRI JAIRAM RAMESH : I think the most important charge that has been  levelled was that before 1991 the Indian Economic Policy was based on socialism which was an imported ideology. It is a gross misreading of the economic policy that this country adopted after 1947 on which there was a consensus. I would like to request Mr. Joshi to be sensitive.

Our basic political commitment was to parliamentary form of democracy. We did not adopt the Soviet model lock, stock and barrel.  India remained a country in which farms were owned by individuals but we did not introduce collectivisation of agriculture, of the type that was introduced in the Soviet Union and China with disastrous consequences. Socialism in the India context meant  equality of opportunity. Today, we are still fighting the battle of extending the benefits of education and health to a large sections of our people.  After all, even the Avadi Resolution of 1955 commits the Government to a socialistic pattern of society.  And a socialistic pattern of society means equality of opportunity, brotherhood, and education, etc. The Green Revolution was possible because of investments in irrigation and investment in Agricultural Universities.

You might argue that today that system requires reform. But to say that the entire Green Revolution in India was ‘market force’ is, a totally wrong view.  If there was no Government, there would  have been no Green Revolution.  I would request Mr.Sharad Joshi  to withdraw the Bill.

THE MINISTER OF STATE IN THE MINISTRY OF LAW AND JUSTICE (SHRI K. VENKATAPATHY) intervening  in the debate, said:  I am extremely happy that the attention of this august House has been drawn to one of the cardinal principles embodied in our Constitution by Shri Sharad Anantrao Joshi by way of the Representation of the People (Amendment)  Bill, 2004.  The hon. Member has sought omission on the word’ socialism’ from sub-section (5) of Section 29A of the Representation of the People’s Act,1951.

The hon. Member has singled out the word ‘socialism’ possibly in the background of globalisation of the national economy.  It may be stated that in view of the widespread poverty and economic disparity, socialism will always remain relevant to the Indian social condition. Any Government or political party cannot administer this country remaining oblivious to the plight of the general public.  In the Indian context, there is no role or scope for a political party, which does not have faith in socialism as reflected in the Directive Principles of State Policy.  The fact that you could make a speech against socialism is itself evidence that this right has  been conferred by the Constitution.

Our Directive Principles of State Policy also insist that socialistic pattern should be adopted.  Therefore, in adherence to that Policy, we have to follow the principle of socialism.  Hence, it may be very difficult to subscribe to the view of the hon. Member that the word ‘socialism’ should be removed from sub-section (5) of Section 29A of the Representation of the People’s Act, 1951.  Hence, it is not possible to accept the Bill in its present form or with any modifications.  In the circumstance, I appeal to the hon. Member to withdraw the Bill.

SHRI SHARAD ANANTRAO JOSHI  replying to the debate, said: I thank all the Members who have participated in the debate.  Shri  Meenaji said that at the time of Independence the general sentiment and the consensus of the people in India, was in favour of socialism that is something which was partly repeated by Mr. Natchiappan and Mr. Jairam Ramesh also.  I stoutly deny that.  Pt. Nehru himself had admitted that this was not the majority view in the Congress.  That was only his personal view.  So, to say that in 1947 the general sentiment in India was for having a socialist country is incorrect.

At that time, the entire freedom movement was fought under Gandhian ideals.  Pt. Nehru is on record, as saying that he does not subscribe to the economic policies of Mahatma Gandhi.  Gandhiji necessarily stood for predominance of the primordial importance of villages, agriculture, farmer and the individual.  After Independence and after Gandhiji was gone, Pt. Nehru tried to turn to a socialistic pattern in which not the villages but the cities became important, not the agriculture but the heavy industries became important, and not the individual and the freedom but the public sector became paramount.  This was change the which happened without debate.  I never said that Pt. Nehru’s taking the country to socialism was wrong.  At a given point of time, there were decisions that had to be taken, and that were taken.  But, to say that the socialism was the general consensus and sentiment at the time of Independence, is wrong.

I have never objected to the concept of a democratic and secular India.  As a liberal, I stand for democracy and secularism.    All that I am saying is that as you are being pluralistic in the matter of secularism, religion and faith, why are you not becoming pluralistic even about the economic doctrine?Socialism may be right, and probably, what you are doing is right.  But, do I have not the right to say that I do not believe in socialism?  Therefore, what I am saying is, consistent with the glorious history of the Congress Party, which is essentially pluralistic, you may believe in socialism, you carry out your socialist programme, but, permit me the right to not to be socialist.  That is all that my Bill was about.  Who would have believed that by 1980 we would have come to a time where socialism would be considered a ridiculous doctrine world over.  The important thing is my time is still to come.  I said that the word ‘socialism’ does not have any meaning and if that is so, then, asking anybody to swear by it is wrong.  If you are socialist remain socialist. But please give me my right not to be a socialist.

The Motion moved by Shri Sharad Anantrao Joshi was negatived.


Sharad Joshi’s Freedom Bill Negated

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A time to Party!

By Barun Mitra. First published in Pragati, here.

Recently, the Supreme Court dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) that questioned the validity of the 42nd amendment to the Indian Constitution, which among many other things, added the terms “socialist, secular” to qualify the democratic republic in the Preamble. The amendment dates back to 1976, to the dark days of Emergency. Later, the Representation of the People Act, the law governing political parties and elections, was further amended to include the section 29A, making it mandatory for all political parties in India to affirm to “socialism” if they were to be registered by the Election Commission of India for the purpose of participating in the electoral process

The courts always dismiss petitions before them once they pronounce a particular judgment. In this case, however, the Supreme Court acknowledged the “academic” question raised in the petition, but felt that since no political party has so far objected to it, there are perhaps no really aggrieved parties. So it allowed the petitioner to “withdraw” the petition. This withdrawal, however, means that the Court has not ruled against the issue, but considers it to be valid, and has kept it open for a future occasion.

The champions of individual freedom in economic and political spheres have long bemoaned the fact that there is no political platform in India that truly reflects their aspirations. No doubt there are liberals of different shades in almost all political parties, but still there are no avowedly liberal political parties.

Political parties are plentiful, with around 50 parties represented in the national parliament, and hundreds of parties operating at state and local levels. They represent a diverse range of interests: national, state, regional or local. They claim to represent varied sections of society based on national, ethnic, linguistic, religious, caste, and other identities. Yet, the political ideals on offer are very limited, as all parties are bound by socialism if they are to participate in electoral politics. Incidentally, independent candidates are not required to affirm to socialism, and if elected have only to take oath to uphold the Constitution. One of the reasons for this limited range of political options in the largest and the most vibrant democracy in the world, is the law that requires affirmation to socialism.

By legally restricting the political ideology to “socialism”, a couple of serious anomalies have been created. Having introduced “socialism” through the political and constitutional process, it is now being implied that “socialism” cannot be opposed and removed by the very same constitutional process. How can one mount a political campaign calling for the removal of “socialism” in the election law or in the Constitution, after having affirmed to “socialism” as a political ideal?

Secondly, what does socialism mean? The Constitution does not define it. The judges hearing the PIL commented that the meaning could vary. But could “socialism” include feudalism, imperialism, fascism, Nazism (national socialism), communism, capitalism, and everything else? If it does have such a wide range of meanings, why have it at all? The judiciary spends a lot of effort on interpreting the law by trying to precisely define the words in it. Justice would come to an end if words were given such variable meanings.

The Supreme Court has seen this as an “academic” exercise. But the impact of “socialism” in the Constitution and in the election law raises questions about possible violation of fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and basic structure doctrine. If democracy is among the sacrosanct elements articulated in the judgments on basic structure, then what good is democracy where political discourse is limited exclusively to one political ideology?

Political ideologies matter in shaping public opinion and policies. The stated goal of all political action may be to improve general welfare; but, it is the ideology that provides the vision, and determines the direction and nature of the policies that are designed. Policy decisions whether to nationalise an industry or economic sector, or to privatise it, are shaped much more by political ideologies, than by hard core technical analysis of the merits of the proposed policy measures. In a democracy, people and leaders are not experts in all fields. Political ideologies come as a simple tool by which people decide on the general direction they think society ought to take, and the merits of specific public policies.

There is no functioning democracy in the world which restrains the space for peacefully competing political ideologies, except perhaps Germany, where there is some restriction on propagation of Nazi ideology. In every major democracy, the political ideology that is most successful in reflecting the aspirations of the large number of people at any given time, changes the political dynamics during elections. From Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair, the fortunes of political leaders and their parties have swung with the popular perception of the political ideologies of the time. This is what makes democracy such a potent political tool, and ensures the political survival of the society through the various competing ideologies.

The Constituent Assembly had deliberated at length on this very question of “socialism” in 1949. Even while acknowledging that there are many provisions in the Constitution that are socialistic in nature, the constitution makers had decided not to tie the hands of the future generations to a particular political idea. No less a person than Dr B R Ambedkar, the chairman of the drafting committee had then said,

“What should be the policy of the state, how society should be organised 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 democracy is one of the basic features of the Constitution, then restricting it to on political ideology, is clearly a violation of the basic feature doctrine. What would be a democracy, where political parties are not free to fly their particular ideologies, and compete with each other in an attempt to peacefully persuade the citizens to one vision or another?

Swatantra Party Maharashtra—the inheritors of the mantle of the Swatantra Party, founded by stalwarts like C Rajagopalachari, Minoo Masani and others in 1959—had written to the Election Commission of India in 1994, noting their opposition to the ideas of socialism, and their inability to affirm to socialist ideals. The Commission had replied by pointing at the amendment to the section 29A of the Representation of the People Act which mandates affirmation to socialism. It thus acknowledged that its role is to implement the law as it stands, not to change or reinterpret it.

By acknowledging the “academic” nature of the question in the PIL, the Supreme Court has actually opened a door for the political liberals to come out of the woodwork. Now is the time for the liberals to come together and form a political party, with the sole objective of registering their opposition to the affirmation to socialist ideal. After forming the political party, an application to the Election Commission for registration needs to be filed, even though it is likely to be rejected for not meeting the legal requirement. That would enable the party to go to the Supreme Court and seek redressal of a legitimate and real grievance.

Liberals may not yet be a political force to have an electoral impact in India, but by forming a party with this narrow objective, can leave a permanent imprint on the political future of democratic republic of India. This is a not an exclusively liberal cause, though, and it is open to all shades of political opinion. If one ideology enjoys legal sanction today, then tomorrow another could very easily be banned. Putting democracy in a straitjacket will signal the end of political freedom.

All are welcome to the Party of the free and the brave! If the political space can be legitimately opened up, then the political agenda would have to change too, and then the electoral space will inevitably follow.

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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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