From Shantanu's Blog, Satyameva Jayate, here.
While clearing my (now very long) list of pending “To Dos”, I came across this report on the motion moved by Sharad Joshi to delete the word “socialist” from the Constitution as it was not part of its basic structure. 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.Unfortunately the source link that I had to the article is not working anymore Link found/updated above.
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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.
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It is pertinent to note that this bill was moved in 2005, when the fruits of globalization were just becoming visible – in India as well as elsewhere. In today’s environment, when “capitalism” is once again a bad word, you can imagine the plight of such a bill if it was to be introduced in Parliament today.
Interestingly, Jairam Ramesh – while defining Socialism – mentions the magic phrase – ” equality of opportunity”.
If one cannot delete the word “socialist” from the Constitution of India, can we at least define it to mean “equality of opportunity”?