India’s socialist mandate to be challenged in Supreme Court

India’s socialist mandate to be challenged in Supreme Court

Some 31 years after India rewrote its Constitution to call itself a sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic, this amendment has been challenged in the Supreme Court by a not-for-profit organization that is questioning the validity of introducing the word ‘socialist’.

The same group, the Good Governance India Foundation (GGIF), is also challenging an 18-year-old amendment to an Act, which ensures that only parties that declare themselves socialist can contest elections in the country.

The legal challenge is yet to be admitted by the apex court, which is expected to take it up in January.

“Even during the constituent assembly debates, though some socialist members demanded an inclusion of the word socialism, it was not used in the preamble (to the Constitution).

“Nehru himself said that it would not be right to impose one’s political views on other citizens of India," says Sanjiv Kumar Agarwal, member of GGIF.

“Calling India a socialist democratic state is an oxymoron. Besides this, majority of the Indian people or political factions do not subscribe to socialism," he adds.

The petition also states that B.R. Ambedkar, the person who wrote much of India’s Constitution, specifically explained that socialism “cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself", because it amounts to “destroying democracy altogether".

Today is the 51st death anniversary of Ambedkar.

The amendment to the preamble was made through the Constitution (42nd) Amendment Act, 1976, during Indira Gandhi’s tenure as prime minister and in the backdrop of the national emergency that was declared in June 1975 and lasted till March 1977.

The Act also introduced the word secular into the preamble, but this is not being challenged by GGIF.

The 1989 amendment to the Representation of the People Act (RPA) was made during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as prime minister.

Rajiv Gandhi, whose Congress party had an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, had said in Parliament when the amendment was being discussed that any party not willing to “submit itself" to the Constitution of India “does not deserve to be recognized as a political party".

In 1994, the Swatantra Party, set up in 1959 to oppose Nehruvian socialism, filed a writ petition before the Bombay high court challenging the amendment to the Act.

On 28 June, Mint profiled the saga noting that the case has been pending since then.

“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," says S.V. Raju, member of the Swatantra Party, who is still awaiting the court’s ruling.

If the court rules in his favour, Raju will be able to register the Swatantra Party and contest elections.

GGIF’s writ petition contends the amendment that introduced the word socialist, violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution that guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression, and Article 19(1)(c) that guarantees the right to form associations or unions.

“In the light of rapid economic development, subscribing to socialism is an impediment.

“Earlier, socialism was taking from the rich and giving to the poor; now socialism is the reverse of what was intended," claims Agarwal.

Says sociologist Ashis Nandy, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, an independent think tank based in New Delhi: “We have moved away from socialism long ago.

“Today, I don’t think whether the word socialist is in the Constitution or not makes a difference," he adds.