This Article is written by Dev Agarwal, a student of Heritage Law College (Calcutta University). this article defines socialism meaning and the socialist construct in light of the preamble of the Indian constitution
In Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, Justice Jaganmohan Reddy who was one of the seven judges who upheld that Parliament’s power of amending the Constitution vested to it in Article 368 is not an absolute one and is subjected to certain limitations. The parliament, therefore cannot amend certain ‘inalterable’ parts of the Constitution, this inalterable part is known as the Basic Structure of the Constitution. While delivering the judgement of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, the judges listed some of the features which come under the Basic Structure of Constitution. Justice Jaganmohan Reddy in his judgement said that the Basic feature of the Constitution is to be found in the Preamble of the Constitution. The Preamble in 1973, the year when this judgement was delivered did not have the words ‘Secular and Socialist’. These amendments were later added by the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution in 1976.
However, in S.R. Bommai vs Union Of India, held that although secularism was added after almost 2 decades since the Constitution came into being, it has been the part of basic structure since the beginning. However, no such remarks were made for the word Socialist.
In the Constituent Assembly Debate, it was debated whether the word ‘Socialist’ should be added in the Preamble of Indian Constitution. In November 1949, Professor K.T. Shah representing Bihar proposed that “India shall be a Secular, Federal, Socialist Union of States”. Dr. BR Ambedkar opposed this proposal saying that Secularism is present in the essence of Constitution and thus adding it to Preamble would be needless and for the word Socialist he argued that “What should be the policy of the State, how the 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.” These were indeed wise words from the Father of the Indian Constitution as the economic pattern was changed in 1991 because the circumstances demanded so.
Moreover, quite interestingly, India decided to adopt a system of Mixed Economy and did not side with conventional capitalism or socialism. In the second five year plan in 1956 the government expressly adopted the system of mixed economy, thereby allowing both private and public sector to exist.
Socialism and the Contemporary India
In 1991, when India was facing a very severe economic crisis and could only pay off trade payable for two days, at that time the government decided to open up the Indian economy for the first time since its independence, this resulted in the shift of the country from a closed economy to an open economy, it resulted in the inflow and outflow of foreign exchange, Multinational Companies coming and investing here and indigenous companies going global.The shift was also in terms of statutes, the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1974 which viewed Foreign Exchange as ‘scarce resource’ was repealed and the Foreign Exchange Management Act of 1999 came into existence which viewed Foreign Exchange as an ‘asset’. The Government which functioned as a regulator in the FERA started functioning as just a manager of foreign exchange in FEMA, clearly adopting the policy of Laissez-Faire which literally means lesser government intervention in the economic activity and ever since this was done, the nation has prospered even more. This was the perfect time for India to bid adieu to this word.
In India today, we hardly see a sector which has a monopoly of only the Government be it banking sector, mining sector, defense industry, civil aviation or even sectors like railways and space technology which traditionally since the beginning always had the government monopoly. Therefore, the concept of the word socialism becomes a little vague as there is not a single industry which has only government presence and no private player is allowed to function in that.
It may be argued that if the word Socialist is omitted, then how do the underprivileged safeguard their rights, which is a very valid argument to make. However, the Constitution itself has the provisions which will safeguard the interests of these people. Article 14, Article 16, Article 19, Article 38 and Article 41 of the Constitution aims for an egalitarian society where no discrimination or abuse of power is done and also the existence of labour laws prohibit the companies to treat the workers as mere chattels.
The word Socialist might even act as an obstacle in the future. Hypothetically, the Government brings a law which makes it compulsory for all the companies regardless of their turnover and profit or loss to engage a significant percentage of their proceeds for Corporate Social Responsibility as per section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013. Now, if the government shields behind the idea of socialism, it will be a huge task for small and medium companies to implement the same.
Gone are the days when companies would only be associated with crony capitalists and also the days when the cronies could use the hard work of its employees and labourers and extract profits. Today, both in a harmonious way compliment each other for the development of the nation.
- Sanjiv Shankaran, Ambedkar did turn down proposals to include ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ in Constitution’s preamble, THE TIMES OF INDIA. November 27, 2015 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/cash-flow/ambedkar-did-turn-down-proposals-to-include-socialist-and-secular-in-constitutions-preamble
- Venkatesh Nayak, The Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution, CONSTITUTION NET, http://constitutionnet.org/vl/item/basic-structure-indian-constitution
- Constituent Assembly of India Debates (Proceedings) – Volume VII https://www.constitutionofindia.net/constitution_assembly_debates/volume/7/1948-11-15
- Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973) 4 SCC 225 : AIR 1973 SC 1461
- R.Bommai v. Union of India ( 2 SCR 644 : AIR 1994 SC 1918 : (1994)3 SCC1)