The Preamble derives its authority from the people of India and is not only the key to understand the lengthiest written constitution in the world but also forms its backbone, describing the nature of the objectives the constitution seeks to achieve. It is viewed as the manifestation of the makers of the constitution and embodies the philosophy of democracy, socialism, and secularism in the constitution.
The preamble to the constitution of India sets out different objects and the necessary background to understand the nature of the constitution. Although it does not grant any power, it acts as a guide to the state and its organs, which shall function in commensuration with the preamble to realize the goals and the ideals set out in the preamble. It is a miniature reflection of the constitution. It embodies the philosophy and fundamental values upon which the Constitution is founded. It visualizes certain ideals to be realized in time, setting the task before the state and declaring by delineating an area to function and by declaring the nature of the state and the constitution.
If we are to look at the history of the preamble, we find that although it appears at the beginning of the constitution, it was passed and adopted at last only after the draft articles of the constitution were adopted. The preamble was drafted and adopted after much mature deliberation and carefully chosen words to give full effect to the entire thought and content of the constitution. The form, content, and length of the preamble differ from constitution to constitution. Irrespective of these differences, the Preamble generally sets the ideals and goals which the makers of the constitution intended to achieve.
The freedom movement of India had a very clear objective, which was to establish a sovereign India with a Constitution of its own based on democratic tradition to establish just social and economic order free from exploitation of any kind. After attaining independence, the foremost task before the constituent assembly was to formulate the objectives and the guiding principles which were to form the basis of the constitution of India and such objectives were formulated based on Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru’s “Objective Resolution”, which was later accommodated in the spirit in the preamble with minor modification.
Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru said, “Laws are made of words but this resolution is something higher than law”. In his words, the resolution was “an undertaking with ourselves and with millions of brothers and sisters who live in this great country. If it is passed, it will be a sort of pledge that we shall carry out”. After several meetings, the drafting committee felt the preamble should be restricted to defining the essential features of the new state and its basic socio-political objectives.
The deliberation on the historical aspect of the Preamble reveals that the establishment of a sovereign democratic republic was the sole object of the founding fathers to realize the goal of just social and economic order based on justice, equality, and freedom. The intent and purposes contained in the preamble, in the light of its history, are of immense significance, but it received a raw deal at the hand of the judiciary in the Berubari Union and Exchange of Enclaves case. In this case, the court observed:
“There is no doubt that declaration made by the people of India in the exercise of their sovereign will in the Preamble to the constitution is, in the words of Story, ‘a key to open the mind of the makers’ which may show the general purpose for which they made the several provisions in the constitution; but nevertheless the Preamble is not a part of the Constitution…”
This observation made by the court grossly overlooked and neglected the history of Preamble, which establish that the Constituent Assembly accepted the Preamble as a part of the constitution.
In Behram Khushed Pesikaka v. The State of Bombay, which was relied upon by Sikri C.J. in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerela, Mahajan C.J. referring to part III of the constitution observed that the rights deserved as fundamental rights are a necessary consequence of the declaration in the preamble that the people of India having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign democratic republic. The significance of Preamble was also observed in the case of Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan although with a belief that it is not a part of the Constitution. Hidayatullah J. observed that although it does not make any grant of power, it gives a direction and purpose to the constitution which is reflected in parts III and IV of the constitution.
The importance of Preamble became clear in the landmark judgement of Kesavananda Bharati case. Sikri C.J. observed that the Preamble to the constitution of India is of extreme importance and the constitution should be read and interpreted in the light of grand and noble vision expressed in the preamble. On the same grounds, Shelat and Grover J.J. observed that the Preamble was meant to embody in a very few and well-defined words the key to the understanding of the constitution. After this decision, which made Preamble a part of the constitution of India, it became clear that as a part of the constitution it could be amended as well under section 368 of the constitution. This power was duly exercised by adding the words ‘Socialist’ and ‘Secular’ by the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976. The addition of ‘Socialist’ in the Preamble, indicates the incorporation of the philosophy of socialism, which aims at the elimination of inequality in income, status, and standard of life. The insertion of the term ‘Secular’ reflected the unbiased nature of the constitution towards all religions. The state does not follow any particular religion but at the same time respects all of them.
The makers of the constitution made it clear that the constitution emanates from the people of India and not from any external source which would make it question its authority. A statute is enacted by the parliament, i.e., by the representatives of the people. The Preamble to the constitution says “WE, PEOPLE OF INDIA… give to ourselves this Constitution”. The Preamble to the U.S. constitution says, “WE THE PEOPLE of the United States…do ordain and establish this CONSTITUTION”. Neither of these constitutions was written by the people but the representatives of the people. The constituent assembly deliberately chose to make the people of India and not their representatives, the authors of the constitution. A preamble is said to be the key to understand a statute or a constitution. A fortiori, the words “WE THE PEOPLE” are a key to understanding not only the constitution but also the preamble itself. This makes the Preamble even more important in the interpretation of the constitution as without it the constitution would lose its authority as the highest source of law in the country.The importance of Preamble cannot be stressed enough and authors of the constitution demonstrated this during the Anti-CAA protest. The people of India believe in the spirit of the constitution and the ideals of a democratic, socialist, and a secular country. The reading of the preamble during the protests against government policies not only demonstrates people’s belief in the vision of the makers of the constitution but also demonstrates that the true meaning of the constitution lies in the Preamble itself.
The above discussion and the changed attitude of the judiciary established that the Preamble is of utmost importance in the Indian constitutional set up, representing the wishes and aspirations of the people of India and mirroring the conceptual framework of the constitution. It serves as the compass to navigate the constitutional ocean based on egalitarianism and of creating a free and dignified citizenry based on libertarianism. There can be no doubt about the fact that the Preamble and its aspirations which set the constitutional goals to be achieved in the future is of utmost relevance in the interpretation of the Indian Constitution. Preamble espouses certain national values upon which it aims to build a free and vibrant nation, which is democratic, socialistic, and secular in nature.
 Golak Nath v. State of Punjab, AIR 1967 SC 1643, 1655L1967) 2 SCR 762
 CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY DEBATES, December 13, 1946 speech by PANDIT JAWAHARLAL NEHRU 60 available at https://www.constitutionofindia.net/constitution_assembly_debates/volume/1/1946-12-13 (Last visited 22nd April 21, 2020).
 B. Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution: A Study (Indian Institute of Public Administration 1968) 122
 Berubari Union (1), re, AIR 1960 SC 845: (1960) 3 SCR 250
 AIR 1955 SC 123
 (1973) 4 SCC 225: AIR 1973 SC 1461
 AIR 1965 SC 845
 Ibid at 861
 Kesavananda Bharati (n8)
 Ibid at 1506
 Ibid at 1577
 D.S. Nakara v. Union of India, (1983) 1 SCC 305
 St. Xaviers College v. State of Gujarat, (1974) AIR 1389
 A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27; Union of India v. Madan Gopal Kabra, AIR 1954 SC 158
 V.S. Deshpande, People and the Constitution (1st edn, vol. 16, Journal of the Indian Law Institute 1974) 9
Author Details: Shrey Aggarwal (O.P. Jindal Global University)
The views of the author are personal only. (if any)