1,17,369 Words. 234 Pages. Over 2,000 Amendments before the final draft was passed.
The Indian Constitution is the world’s longest written Constitution. With only 104 Amendments made over a period of 70 years, it is arguably one of the most comprehensive documents in the world.
This feat could only be achieved by constructive channelizing of energies. And right at the core of the Constitution stands the Preamble. The Preamble is often seen as an introduction to the Constitution. While to a large extent that is true, in this piece, I would like to highlight how in fact it is more than just that and encapsulates the most important decisions taken by the drafters of the Constitution in less than 100 words.
Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru had introduced the Objectives Resolution in the First Session of the Constituent Assembly in 1946. It laid down the aims of the Constituent Assembly. More importantly, it laid down the aims and expectations from the Constitution that was going to be drafted over nearly three years. At this point, representatives of the Muslim League and Princely States had not joined the Assembly. Thus, discussions were postponed in order to ensure a truly inclusive process. When the Assembly convened the following year, these representatives were still not present, but it was made clear that they were still welcome, and the Resolution was adopted. This Resolution is widely seen as the predecessor of the Preamble.
The Preamble begins with the words “We, the people”, vesting all authority in the “general public”. The inspiration behind these words is the American constitution. In a way, this phrase provides for protection of universal adult franchise and the Right to Equality by not discriminating between people based on financial condition or gender or class or race or religion. Taking a “Solemn” resolution indicates unity and oneness to come together despite differences. It is indicative of a free will to come together to effect change. Moreover, the unity is for what was, at the time, a revolutionary path-breaking cause. Democracy itself. And not just any democracy but a “Sovereign, Democratic Republic”. One which would over the years become the largest democracy in the world. This was a landmark in Indian history. Members of the Constituent Assembly did represent all walks of life, but it is often regarded as an elitist organization of educated citizens, who may have begun their journey with hardships but were not acquainted with the difficulties and challenges of the ordinary person of the day. However, by vesting all power and authority in the commoner, the forefathers of our nation humanized and emboldened their vision of India.
The words “Socialist, Secular” as modifiers of the “Democratic Republic” in this line were added by the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976. The addition of these words symbolized a commitment towards social welfare. It was the mark of a legislative acknowledgement of the fact that the Preamble is part of the Constitution. This was upheld in the case of Kesavananda Bharati, and these two words were held to be a part of the “Basic Structure” of the Constitution. The Right to Freedom of Religion provides a Freedom to not only have a faith but also the Right to not follow any particular faith or religion. When the word “Secular” was added as an Amendment, it showed the incumbent government’s vision for the role that religion would play in India.
The following line of the Preamble secures Justice, Liberty and Equality. This covers Part III of the Indian Constitution, that is, Fundamental Rights. The Fundamental Rights guaranteed include the Right to Equality (articles 14-18), Right to Freedom (Articles 19-22), Right Against Exploitation (Articles 23-24), Right to Freedom of Religion (Articles 25-28), Cultural and Educational Rights (Articles 29-30) and Right to Constitutional Remedies (Article 32). All of these are covered under one of the three heads. At the time, the introduction of these values was seen as pioneering to the extent that some Members thought it was too optimistic. At the time when the British left the country, estimates show that the poverty rate was at 70%. Ascribed status occupied a much more prominent role compared to achieved status. The wounds of Partition were still fresh. Against a background of inequality and differential treatment, the Constitution was advocating and introducing a wide spectrum of values for equal treatment of all. There lay a challenge ahead of the Courts of the country to be able to enforce equality in a country where inequality prevailed. However, guaranteeing these rights was a bold first step in empowering the people and in the direction of social equality and justice.
During the debates of the Assembly, the addition of the word “Gandhi” was widely debated. The rejection of this proposal reflected the progressive ideologies of the leadership of the time. Gandhiji played a vital role in the freedom movement and also in bringing villages and the peasantry to the center of the Indian stage. However, he had not succeeded in convincing the leaders of the Constituent Assembly and the Congress of his view of how Indians should live and govern themselves. Gandhiji believed that the village should be the nucleus of representative government because India resided in villages. However, other leaders, through the years, had been convinced of the representative government of the top-down model. Since the 1909 Government of India Act, Indians had been part of the election process and over the generations gained an experience in running an efficient government. There were various different drafts of the constitution – Left, Centre, Right, Marxist, Socialist Party and even the Hindu Mahasabha – all advocating for centralized, parliamentary institutions. Moreover, Gandhiji was an influential person in the Congress but he was not part of the Constituent Assembly and neither the Congress nor the Assembly was really “Gandhian”.
The next line talks about fraternity. This is unique because the State also has a role to play in bringing its citizens together. One can think of a bigger picture only when immediate interests are secured. This is clearly taken care of in this part. The State is assuring “Dignity of the Individual” and when one is secure and safe, the big picture narrative of “Unity and Integrity of the Nation” comes into play. When one is secure about one’s life and livelihood. The aim of adding “Fraternity” was to transcend not only physical territorial and geographical boundaries but also psychological dimensions including casteism, regionalism and communalism. This negative discrimination was bound to hinder unity and progress of the country. So, the founding fathers ensured the elimination of negative discrimination through this clause.
The last part of the Preamble is arguably the most assertive part of the Preamble. The Constitution and therefore also the Preamble was signed in the Constituent Assembly by 284 members on 26th November 1949, after an arduous process that spanned over 2 years, 11 months, and 18 days. The Constitution was self-made and self-imposed. Although it was based on multiple documents and customs, including the preceding Government of India Act, 1935. The Irish, Weimar, South African, British, Australian, and American constitutions among others, it was a document in itself. With its own unique identity. It was a like a gift given to its own people. It was made by the people, agreed to be implemented by, endorsed by and to be applied upon and be used by the people.
The Constitution and thus also the Preamble serves as the perfect portal for providing an insight into the approach and mindset of the leadership of the time. The vision for India at the time was a bold, authoritative and proactive one. The Preamble is clearly a reflection of all these values and gives the perfect glimpse of what the Constitution holds in store. Thus, more than an introduction, it is a manifestation of important decisions and key considerations.
This article is written by Ira Srivastava, a first-year student from National Law University, Delhi.