28 Jan 15

We, the Lost People

In all the controversy stoked by the government’s R-Day ad, we forgot to stop and think what the words in the Preamble really mean.

The controversy stoked by the Republic Day government advertisement – that showed the original Preamble and not the amended one – was as needless as it was artificially generated.

It frayed tempers, instigating Facebook debates and Twitter fights and much more. But like all fleeting controversies and down-town punch-ups, it did not make us stop for a moment and think what those words in the Preamble might actually mean – words both present and extricated.

It is true: words carry a meaning best known to its creator. The pen transplants to paper the mind, its thoughts. But it is only the first step in a long journey, an unsure journey, and the journey falters when the words themselves are intangible, can be subject to multiple interpretations. What does Socialism mean? What is Secularism? And what is Democracy?

On the twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, our forefathers put their pen to paper thus:

We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN 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 of the Nation.

This was the original Preamble, written by men and women who like a comet shone and then vanished, leaving us bereft of their astounding intellect and their steadfast belief in Democracy, Justice, and Liberty.

Twenty-five years later, their labour of love was doctored by those who never believed in Democracy, Justice, and Liberty, and who hit us with the brute force of a marauding asteroid. In the dark days of the Emergency, under the auspices of our supreme leader Indira Gandhi, our Parliament deliberated on what became the 42nd amendment to our Constitution.

Like a bored child squatting before a heap of Lego bricks, Mrs Gandhi went to work. And she was ruthless. Never before, and never after, has the Constitution of any nation been changed so drastically. Insertions, deletions, corrections, additions – brick by Lego brick, a new foundation was laid, a plinth on which she desired to stand carved in granite and cast a watchful eye on her people.

The first point of attack – one we are concerned primarily with here – was the Preamble. The words, SOCIALIST, SECULAR, and INTEGRITY were added. All three are intangible, almost ethereal.

Was a nation steeped in License-quota Raj, crony capitalism, whimsical policy changes, rank coercion, unsecured bank loans, fictitious car companies, dynastic misdemeanours, SOCIALIST?


Was a nation only too willing to subjugate the Supreme Court, disregard Article 44 of our own Constitution, exploit religious vote banks, ignore religious equality and human rights, pay no attention to Holyoake’s definition of secularism, forbid a Uniform Civil Code, SECULAR?


Was a government cherry-picking state leaders, following an unsound, outdated foreign policy, propping up militant saints, instigating riots, perpetrating genocide, establishing UNITY and INTEGRITY?


During the legendary constitutional debates of 1949, when someone proposed that the word SOCIALIST be inserted in our Preamble, one man got up and addressed the parliament. What he said is worth quoting in full:

The Honourable Dr BR Ambedkar: “My objections, stated briefly, are two. In the first place the Constitution is merely a mechanism for the purpose of regulating the work of the various organs of the State. It is not a mechanism whereby particular members of particular parties are installed in office. 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. If you state in the Constitution that the social organisation of the State shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgement, taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organisation in which they wish to live. It is perfectly possible today, for the majority people to hold that the SOCIALIST organisation of society is better than the Capitalist organisation of society. But it would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organisation which might be better than the socialist organisation of today or of tomorrow. I do not see therefore why the Constitution should tie down the people to live in a particular form and not leave it to the people themselves to decide it for themselves. This is one reason why the amendment should be opposed.

The second reason is that the amendment is purely superfluous. My honourable friend does not seem to have taken into account the fact that apart from the Fundamental Rights, which we have embodied in the Constitution, we have also introduced other sections, which deal with directive principles of State policy. If my honourable friend were to read the Articles contained in Part IV, he will find that both the Legislature as well as the Executive have been placed by this Constitution under certain definite obligations as to the form of their policy. Now, to read only Article 31, which deals with this matter: It says:

The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing –

(i) That the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood;

(ii) That the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to serve the common good;

(iii) That the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment;

(iv) That there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women.

If these directive principles to which I have drawn attention are not SOCIALIST in their direction and in their content, I fail to understand what more socialism can be. Therefore my submission is that these socialist principles are already embodied in our Constitution and it is unnecessary to accept this amendment.”

There comes a time in a nation’s history when we stop following our leaders and start worshipping them. We now worship Ambedkar, his body; his soul we discarded in 1976.

For close to 200 years, the sacrosanct words of the Constitution of the United States of America carried a meaning only for the whites, not the blacks. Did this nation, one nation indivisible, and under God, hold true to what was its Preamble, that We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America?


Was Justice established, were the blessings of Liberty secured – or did that require the march of one unarmed black man and his million followers down from the vicious streets of Selma to the manicured obelisk-ridden gardens of Washington?

A frog in a well does not know of other frogs in other wells. One man’s axiom is another man’s interpretation of it.

For centuries, this nation under God glorified Atticus Finches but was silent to the croaks coming from wells afar. For centuries, it turned its head away pleased in the knowledge that it had a Constitution that guaranteed equality and justice for all. This is how easy it is to fool a nation, a people, with words.

The winds of change that brought us to where we are today, also carried with them a swarm of locusts, determined to gnaw at the fruits of our forefathers’ labour with ruthless greed and self-interest. We are now left with an orchard full of half-eaten, rotting fruit. But we still don’t get it. Words don’t mean much until they are read and understood and then followed. To embalm the Preamble is not to imbibe it. Are we the same people who get an honourable mention in our Preamble as “We”?


The Constitution is our holy book, and we deal with it like how we deal with all our holy books – we preach the good passages and practice the bad. We are neither DEMOCRATIC nor SOCIALIST; we were never SECULAR or EQUAL; we deny JUSTICE and LIBERTY in equal measure; we shun UNITY and INTEGRITY with same élan. But we worship our holy book. It is all what we have. We are a work in progress. We need time; nations need time. Our dust of thoughts must settle – it will eventually. Perhaps then we can say that we have a Constitution and a Preamble that carries any meaning, and a meaning that we understand.

Until such time, it is just that, a string of words that can be published in a newspaper ad and to which can be added or subtracted more words, like pearls in a necklace without a neck to adorn.

This article first appeared in newslaundry on Jan. 28, 2015.

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