Preamble to the Constitution of India
- The preamble to the Constitution of India is a brief introductory statement that sets out the guiding purpose and principles of the document. The preamble can be referred to as the preface which highlights the essence of the entire Constitution. It was adopted on 26 November 1949 by the Constituent Assembly.
- The American Constitution was the first to begin with a Preamble. Many countries, including India, followed this practice. US Constitution start with We The People like Indian Constitution.
- It is based on the Objectives Resolution which was drafted and moved in the Constituent Assembly by Jawaharlal Nehru on 13 December 1946.
- The motion on Draft Constitution was declared as passed on November 26, 1949, and received the signatures of the members and the president. This is also the date mentioned in the Preamble as the date on which the people of India in the Constituent Assembly adopted, enacted and gave to themselves this Constitution. The Constitution as adopted on November 26, 1949, contained a Preamble, 395 Articles and 8 Schedules. The Preamble was enacted after the entire Constitution was already enacted.
Text of Preamble:
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.
- Note: Preamble has been amended by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act (1976), which added three new words—socialist, secular and integrity.
Meaning of key words of the Constitution:
- The Preamble reflects the philosophy as well as fundamental values of Indian Constitution. It clarifies four important aspects
- It mentions that the Constitution derives its Authority from the people of India
- It declares India to be Sovereign, Socialist, secular, Democratic and Republican country.
- It clarifies the objectives of the Constitution are Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
- It states the date of Adoption i.e., 26 November 1949
- The enacting words, “We, the people of India …in our constituent assembly …do here by adopt, enact and give to ourselves this constitution“, signify the democratic principle that power is ultimately rested in the hands of the people. It also emphasises that the constitution is made by and for the Indian people and not given to them by any outside power.
- The phrase “we the people” emphasises the concept of popular sovereignty as laid down by French Philosopher Rousseau: “All the power emanates from the people and the political system will be accountable and responsible to the people.”
- The word sovereign means supreme. Sovereignty is understood in jurisprudence as the full right and power of a governing body to govern itself without any interference from outside sources or bodies.It is a basic principle underlying the dominant Westphalian model of state foundation.
- The term could also be understood in four different ways:
- Domestic sovereignty – actual control over a state exercised by an authority organized within this state,
- Interdependence sovereignty – actual control of movement across state’s borders, assuming the borders exist.
- International legal sovereignty – formal recognition by other sovereign states.
- Westphalian sovereignty: Westphalian sovereignty is the principle of international law that each nation state has sovereignty over its territory and domestic affairs, to the exclusion of all external powers, on the principle of non-interference in another country’s domestic affairs, and that each state is equal in international law.
- The word ‘sovereign’ implies that India is neither a dependency nor a dominion of any other nation, but an independent state.(Till the passage of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, India was a dependency of the British Empire. From August 15, 1947 to January 26, 1950, India’s political status was that of a dominion in the British Commonwealth of Nations. India ceased to be a British dominion on January 26, 1950, by declaring herself a sovereign republic. However, Pakistan continued to be a British Dominion until 1956. )
- India is internally and externally sovereign – externally free from the control of any foreign power and internally, it has a free government which is directly elected by the people and makes laws that govern the people. She allies in peace and war.
- Internally, the Popular sovereignty is also one of the basic structure of constitution of India. Hence, Citizens of India also enjoy sovereign power to elect their representatives in elections held for parliament, state legislature and local bodies as well. People have supreme right to make decisions on internal as well as external matters. No external power can dictate the government of India.
- India’s membership of the commonwealth or of the United Nations does not impose any external limit on her sovereignty. The Commonwealth is a free association of sovereign Nations. It is no longer British Commonwealth. India does not accept the British Queen as the head of state. Also nations are free to leave the organization. To dispel the fears of some members of the Constituent Assembly regarding joining Commonwealth or other International Organization, Nehru said in 1949 thus: ‘We took pledge long ago to achieve Purna Swaraj. We have achieved it. Does a nation lose its independence by an alliance with another country? Alliance normally means commitments. The free association of the sovereign Commonwealth of Nations does not involve such commitments. Its very strength lies in its flexibility and its complete freedom. It is well-known that it is open to any member-nation to go out of the commonwealth if it so chooses’. He further stated, ‘It is an agreement by free will, to be terminated by free will’.
- The sovereignty empowers India to either acquire a foreign territory or cede a part of its territory in favour of a foreign state.
- The term socialist was added to the Preamble by the Forty-second Amendment in 1976.Even before the addition of term, the socialist essence could be found in the Directive Principles of State Policy. The term implies social and economic equality among the people.
- Social equality in this context means the absence of discrimination on the grounds only of caste, colour, creed, sex, religion, or language. Under social equality, everyone has equal status and opportunities.
- Economic equality in this context means that the government will endeavor to make the distribution of wealth more equal and provide a decent standard of living for all. This is in effect emphasized a commitment towards the formation of a welfare state. India has adopted a socialistic and mixed economy and the government has framed many laws to achieve the aim.
- Congress party itself adopted a resolution to establish a ‘socialistic pattern of society’ in its Avadi session as early as in 1955. The Resolution said: ‘In order realise the object of Congress and to further the objectives stated in the Preamble and Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution of India, planning should take place with a view to the establishment of a socialistic pattern of society, where the principal means of production are under social ownership or control, production is progressively speeded up and there is equaitable distribution of the national wealth’.
- Indian type socialism is a ‘democratic socialism’ ( and not a ‘communistic socialism’ which involves the nationalisation of all means of production and distribution and the abolition of private property.). Democratic socialism holds faith in a ‘mixed economy’ where both public and private sectors co-exist side by side. Indira Gandhi had said, ‘We have always said that we have our own brand of socialism. We will nationalise the sectors where we feel the necessity. Just nationalisation is not our type of socialism’.
- As the Supreme Court says, ‘Democratic socialism aims to end poverty, ignorance, disease and inequality of opportunity.
- In Excel Wear v.Union of India, the S.C. considered the effect of the word ‘socialist’ in the Preamble. The Court held that addition of the word “Socialist” might enable the courts to lean more. in favor of nationalization and state ownership of an industry. In D.S. Nakara v.Union of India, the S.C. held that the basic framework of socialism is to provide a decent standard of life to the working people and especially provide security form cradle to grave. This amongst others are on economic side envisaged economic equality and equitable distribution of income.
- It is said that the introduction of liberalization policies from 1991 which ushered the Privatization and Globalization has diluted the socialist credentials of Indian state. But in fact the purpose of doing liberalization is wealth creation which could be used for the welfare of common citizen. Indian socialism ha evolved over time like of other places like China.
- Secularism, is the principle that government institutions and their representatives should remain separate from religious institutions, their beliefs, and their dignitaries. Unlike the Western concept of secularism which envisions a separation of religion and state, the concept of secularism in India envisions equal treatment of all religions by the state and equal participation of state in different religions. Positively, Indian secularism guarantees equal freedom to all religion. In this sense, western concept of secularism is negative, that means against all religion in state affairs.
- In the context of secularism in India, it is said that ‘India is neither religious, nor irreligious nor antireligious.’ It implies that in India there will be no ‘State’ religion – the ‘State’ will not support any particular religion out of public fund.
This has two implications,
a) every individual is free to believe in, and practice, any religion he/ she belongs to, and,
b) State will not discriminate against any individual or group on the basis of religion.
- By the 42nd Amendment, the term “Secular” was also incorporated in the Preamble.But, from its inceptions, Constitution had already had several provisions of Secularism. In St. Xaviers College v. State of Gujarat, the SC had held, “although the words ‘SECULAR STATE’ are not expressly mentioned in the Constitution but there can be no doubt that Constitution-makers wanted to establish such a state” and accordingly Articles 25 to 28 have been included in the Constitution.
- Secularism is the basic structure of the Indian constitution. The Government respects all religions. It does not uplift or degrade any particular religion. There is no such thing as a state religion for India. In S.R. Bommai vs UOI (1994) The SC of India held “A state which does not recognise any religion as the state religion, it treats all religions equally”. In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India the supreme court held that “secularism is the basic feature of the Constitution.”
- In Aruna Roy v.Union of India, the Supreme Court has said that Secularism has a positive meaning that is developing, understanding and respect towards different religions.
- Democracy is “a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity … are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly.” The term ‘democracy’ is derived from two Greek words, namely, Demos and Kratia meaning ‘People’ and ‘rule’ respectively.
- The first part of the preamble “We, the people of India” and, its last part “give to ourselves this Constitution” clearly indicate the democratic spirit involved even in the Constitution. India is a democracy. The people of India elect their governments at all levels (Union, State and local) by a system of universal adult franchise; popularly known as “one man one vote”. Every citizen of India, who is 18 years of age and above and not otherwise debarred by law, is entitled to vote. Every citizen enjoys this right without any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, colour, sex, Religious intolerance or education. The word ‘democratic’ not only refer to political but also to social & economic democracy.
- India has indirect democracy or representative democracy. Representative democracy (also indirect democracy) is a variety of democracy founded on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people, as opposed to direct democracy.
- Direct democracy (also known as pure democracy) is a form of democracy in which people decide (e.g. vote on, form consensus on) policy initiatives directly. Most countries that are representative democracies allow for three forms of political action that provide limited direct democracy: referendum , plebiscite, initiative, and recall
- Referendum (in some countries synonymous with plebiscite) is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to vote on a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, or a law.
- Plebiscite is a method of obtaining the opinion of people on any issue of public importance. It is generally used to solve the territorial disputes. There are minor differences in definitions. Australia defines ‘referendum’ as a vote to change the constitution and ‘plebiscite’ as a vote that does not affect the constitution. In contrast, Ireland has only ever held one ‘plebiscite’ which was the vote to adopt its constitution and each other similar vote has been styled a ‘referendum’.
- Recall election (also called a recall referendum) is a procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote before his or her term has ended.
- Initiative is a means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can force a public vote. In a direct initiative, a measure is put directly to a vote after being submitted by a petition. In an indirect initiative, a measure is first referred to the legislature, and then put to a popular vote only if not enacted by the legislature.
- Republic state is a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.
- A democratic polity can be classified into two categories—monarchy and republic. In a monarchy, the head of the state (usually king or queen) enjoys a hereditary position, that is, he comes into office through succession, eg, Britain. As opposed to a monarchy, in which the head of state is appointed on hereditary basis for a lifetime or until he abdicates from the throne, a democratic republic is an entity in which the head of state is elected, directly or indirectly, for a fixed tenure., eg, USA. Therefore, the term ‘republic’ in our Preamble indicates that India has an elected head called the president.
- The President of India is elected by an electoral college for a term of five years. The post of the President of India is not hereditary. Every citizen of India is eligible to become the President of the country.
- A constitutional monarchy, limited monarchy, parliamentary monarchy or crowned republic is a form of monarchy where the governing powers of the monarch are restricted by the terms of a constitution. Ex: Britain. The most recent country to transition from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy was Bhutan, in 2007–08.
- Three states – Malaysia, Cambodia and the Holy See (Vetican) – employ true elective monarchies, where the ruler is periodically selected by a small, aristocratic electoral college.
- The term ‘justice’ in the preamble refers to three varying aspects – Political, Social and Economic which are secured through different provisions of the Constitution like Fundamental Rights & Directive Principles of State Policy.
- Social justice denotes the equal treatment of all citizens without any social distinction based on caste, colour, race, religion, sex and so on. It means absence of privileges being extended to any section of the society, and improvement in the conditions of backward social classes (SCs, STs and OBCs) and women through positive discriminations. Justice ensures that individuals both fulfilled their societal roles, and received what was due from society.
- Economic justice denotes the non-discrimination between people on the basis of economic factors. It involves the elimination of glaring inequalities in wealth, income and property. It is also principle of fairness where the consequence of official policies should be the equal allocation of benefits among participants in an economy.
- A combination of social justice and economic justice denotes what is known as ‘distributive justice’. Distributive justice concerns the nature of a socially just allocation of goods in a society. A society in which incidental inequalities in outcome do not arise would be considered a society guided by the principles of distributive justice.
- Political justice implies that all citizens should have equal political rights, equal access to all political offices and equal voice in the government. Political justice also refers to the use of the judicial process for the purpose of gaining (or upholding or enlarging) or limiting (or destroying) political power or influence.
- The ideal of justice—social, economic and political—has been taken from the Russian Revolution (1917).
- ‘Liberty’ means the absence of restraints on the activities of individuals, and at the same time, providing opportunities for the development of individual personalities. Liberalism is “the belief that it is the aim of politics to preserve individual rights and to maximize freedom of choice”
- This is found to be an important tool in ensuring democratic framework. As per the Preamble, all the citizens are secured with liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith & worship through the Fundamental Rights which are justiciable in nature. However, liberty does not mean freedom to do anything, and it must be exercised within the constitutional limits so reasonable restrictions have also been provided in the Constitution. The liberty conceived by the Preamble or fundamental rights is not absolute but qualified.
- The importance of the judiciary in India in liberty must also be highlighted in this country. In this connection reference may be made to two decisions of the Supreme Court viz., Govt of A.P. and others vs.P. Laxmi Devi and Deepak Bajaj vs.State of Maharashtra and others. In these cases, the Supreme Court has emphasized the importance of liberty for progress, and has observed that the judiciary must act as guardians of the liberties of the people, protecting them against executive, or even legislative arbitrariness or despotism. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity are not to be treated as separate entities but a trinity. They form a union in that and to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of Democracy.
- The ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity in our Preamble have been taken from the French Revolution (1789–1799).
- This envisages that no section of the society enjoys special privileges and individuals are provided with adequate opportunities without any discrimination. Again, there are three dimensions of Equality – Political, Economic & Civic.
- Equality is considered to be the essence of modern democratic ideology. The Constitution makers placed the ideals of equality in a place of pride in the Preamble. All kinds of inequality based on the concept of rulers and the ruled or on the basis of caste and gender, were to be eliminated. All citizens of India should be treated equally and extended equal protection of law without any discrimination based on caste, creed, birth, religion, sex etc.
- Similarly equality of opportunities implies that regardless of the socio-economic situations into which one is born, he/she will have the same chanceas everybody else to develop his/ her talents and choose means of livelihood.
Fraternity , Dignity:
- This refers to a feeling of brotherhood & a sense of belonging with the country among its people. It embraces psychological as well as territorial dimensions of National Integration. It leaves no room for regionalism, communalism, casteism etc. which hinders the Unity of the State.
- Also, the Fundamental Duties (Article 51-A) say that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic, regional or sectional diversities.The Preamble declares that fraternity has to assure two things—the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.
- Fraternity provides emotional unity and a sense of feeling of Indianness.
Importance of Preamble:
- Imagine reading a beautifully written book without an introduction or preface or say without an Index, obviously it would create a mess or ambiguity in the mind of a reader who would pick up that book for the first time. Similarly, the Preamble to a Constitution embodies the fundamental values and the philosophy, on which the Constitution is based, and the aims and objectives, which the founding fathers of the Constitution enjoined the polity to strive to achieve. The importance and utility of the Preamble has been pointed out in several decisions of the Supreme Court of India.
- The preamble to an Act sets out the main objectives which the legislation is intended to achieve.It is a sort of introduction to the statute and many a times very helpful to understand the policy and legislative intent.
- Preamble being unenforceable in the court of law, but it successfully brings out and states the objects which Constitution seeks to establish and promote and also aids the legal interpretation wherever ambiguousness tend to appear.
- Preamble is widely accepted as the quintessence or soul and spirit of a constitution, as it embodies the fundamentals and the basic of the constitution as well as the vision and commitment of a newly liberated nation or people after its passing through the inevitable birth pangs of national independence from an oppressive and colonial regime.
Is Preamble part of Indian Constitution? and How far is preamble useful in interpreting the Constitution?
- In Beruberi’s case in 1960 the Supreme Court held that the Preamble was not a part of the Constitution and therefore it could never be regarded as a source of any substantive powers. Such powers are expressly granted in the body of Constitution. What is true about the powers is equally true about the prohibitions. It has limited application and can be resorted to where there is any ambiguity in the statute. If the terms used in the Constitution are ambiguous or capable of two meanings in interpreting them some assistance may be taken from the objectives enshrined in the Constitution.
- But in Kesavananda Bharati’s case in 1973, the Supreme Court rejected the above view and held that the Preamble is the part of Constitution. Though in any ordinary statute not much importance is attached to the Preamble, all importance has to be attached to the Preamble in a Constitution Statute. Silri, C.J., observed, “It seems to me that the Preamble of our Constitution is of extreme importance and the Constitution should be read and interpreted in the light of the grand and noble vision expressed in the Preamble.”
- Supreme Court of India has, in the Kesavananda case recognised that the preamble may be used to interpret ambiguous areas of the constitution where differing interpretations present themselves. In fact, the Preamble was relied on in imposing implied limitations on the amending power of Parliament under Article 368 of the Constitution. In that case it was held that the “basic elements” in the Preamble cannot be amended under Article 368 of Constitution. In Randhir Singh v Union of India the Supreme Court relying on the Preamble and Article 14 and 16 held that Article 39(a) envisages a constitutional right of “equal pay for equal work” for both men and women.
- In the 1995 case of Union Government Vs LIC of India also, the Supreme Court has once again held that Preamble is the integral part of the Constitution. However it is not enforceable in a court of law.
- Like any other part of the Constitution, the Preamble was also enacted by the Constituent Assembly, but, after the rest of the Constitution was already enacted. The reason for inserting the Preamble at the end was to ensure that it was in conformity with the Constitution as adopted by the Constituent Assembly. While forwarding the Preamble for votes, the president of the Constituent Assembly said, ‘The question is that Preamble stands part of the Constitution’. The motion was then adopted. Hence, the current opinion held by the Supreme Court that the Preamble is a part of the Constitution, is in consonance with the opinion of the founding fathers of the Constitution.
- However, in Keavananda Case, SC clarified that:
- The Preamble is neither a source of power to legislature nor a prohibition upon the powers of legislature.
- It is non-justiciable, that is, its provisions are not enforceable in courts of law.
- the Preamble has a significant role to play in the interpretation of statutes, also in the interpretation of provisions of the Constitution.
Amendablity of Preamble:
- This question was raised for the first time before the Supreme Court in the historic case of Kesavanada Bharati v. State of Kerala. In that case the Attorney-General argued that by virtue of the amending power in Article 368 even the Preamble can be amended. It was said that since the Preamble was a part of the Constitution it could be amended like any other provisions of the Constitution. The petitioners, however, contended that the amending power in Article 368 is limited. Preamble creates an implied limitation on the power of amendment. The Preamble contains the basic elements or the fundamental features of our Constitution. Consequently, amending power cannot be used so as to destroy or damage these basic features mentioned in the Preamble. It was urged that Preamble cannot be amended as it is not a part of the Constitution. The Supreme Court however held that the Preamble is a part of the Constitution and, therefore, on this point the Beruberi opinion was wrong.
- On the question whether the Preamble can be amended the majority held that since the Preamble is the part of the Constitution it can be amended but subject to this condition that the “basic feature” in the Preamble cannot be amended. The Court said, “The edifice of our Constitution is based upon the basic elements mentioned in the Preamble. If any of these elements are removed the structure will not survive and it will not
- It has been clarified by the Supreme Court of India that being a part of Constitution, the Preamble can be subjected to Constitutional Amendments exercised under article 368, however, the basic structure cannot be altered. be same Constitution or it cannot maintain its identity. The Preamble declares that the people of India resolved to constitute their country into a Sovereign Democratic Republic. No one can suggest that these words and expressions are ambiguous in any manner. An amending power cannot be interpreted so as to confer power on the Parliament to take away any of these fundamental and basic characteristics of policy.”
Preamble’s Amendment in Forty-second Amendment, 1976:
- The preamble has been amended only once so far. On 18 December 1976, during the Emergency in India, the Indira Gandhi government pushed through several changes in the Forty-second Amendment of the constitution.
- A committee under the chairmanship of Sardar Swaran Singh recommended that this amendment be enacted after being constituted to study the question of amending the constitution in the light of past experience.
- Through this amendment the words “socialist” and “secular” were added between the words “sovereign” and “democratic” and the words “unity of the Nation” were changed to “unity and integrity of the Nation”.
- The preamble-page, along with other pages of the original Constitution of India, was designed and decorated solely by renowned painter Beohar Rammanohar Sinha of Jabalpur who was at Shantiniketan with acharya Nandalal Bose at that time. As such, the page bears Beohar Rammanohar Sinha’s short signature Ram in Devanagari lower-right corner.