August 3, 2021

The Preamble of the Constitution of India

Preamble means nothing but an introduction to a statute or a rule which was passed in the parliament or any other state legislatures. There are many definitions of Preamble by many Jurists in which the famous Black Law dictionary says, “Preamble is a clause at the beginning or a statute explanatory of the reasons for its enactment and the objectives sought to be accomplished.” Generally, a Preamble is a declaration made by the legislature of the reasons for the passage of the statute and is helpful in the interpretation of any ambiguities within the statute to which it is prefixed.

A preamble is an introductory statement in a document that explains the document’s philosophy and objectives. In a Constitution, it presents the intention of its framers, the history behind its creation, and the core values and principles of the nation. The preamble basically gives idea of the source of the Constitution, Nature of Indian State, Statement of its objectives and Date of its adoption.

The ideals behind the Preamble to India’s Constitution were laid down by Jawaharlal Nehru’s Objectives Resolution, adopted by the Constituent Assembly on January 22, 1947. Although not enforceable in court, the Preamble states the objectives of the Constitution, and acts as an aid during the interpretation of Articles when language is found ambiguous.

It is indicated by the Preamble that the source of authority of the Constitution lies with the people of India. Preamble declares India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic. The objectives stated by the Preamble are to secure justice, liberty, equality to all citizens and promote fraternity to maintain unity and integrity of the nation. The date is mentioned in the preamble when it was adopted i.e. November 26, 1949.

The Constituent Assembly debated the Preamble on 17th October 1949. The debates around the Preamble revolved around the name of India and inclusion of ‘God’ and ‘Gandhi’.

One member urged the Assembly to rename India as the ‘Union of Indian Socialistic Republics’, similar to the USSR. Members were not convinced with this suggestion as they felt that it would go against the already adopted constitutional scheme.

Another member sought to include ‘In the name of God’. Many were opposed to this suggestion – it was noted that it was unfortunate to put ‘God’ on vote. One member believed that inclusion of ‘God’ would amount to ‘compulsion of faith’ and violate the fundamental right to freedom of faith.

Another proposal was made to include Gandhi’s name in the Preamble. A member was discontent with the already adopted draft articles as he felt that the Indian constitution was based on the American Supreme Court cases and Government of India Act.  He opposed any association of Gandhi with the ‘rotten Constitution’.

 The amendments moved by the members were negatived. However, this was one of the rare instances of the Assembly proceedings wherein the members voted on the proposal to include ‘God’ by a show of hands. The Assembly was divided with 41 voting in favour and 68 voting against it. The Assembly adopted the Preamble as presented by the Drafting Committee.

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. It expresses “What we had thought or dreamt for so long.” The Constitution-makers gave to the preamble “The Place of Pride”. In Re Berubari’s case (AIR 1960 SC 845) the Supreme court has said that the preamble to the constitution is a key to open the mind of the makers, and shows the general purpose for which they made the several provisions in the constitution.

The Issue of whether the preamble a part of the constitution or not is that the Preamble is the key to open the mind of the makers. In Re Berubari’s case 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. But in Kesavananda Bharati case (AIR 1973 SC 1461) the supreme court rejected the view of the Berubari case and held that the Preamble is the part of the Constitution.

In Kesavananda Bharati case Sikri C.J. laid down the Purposes preamble serves are it indicates the source from which Constitution comes, viz., the people of India. It contains the enacting clause which brings into force the constitution. It declares the great rights and freedoms which the people of India intended to secure to all citizens and the basic tyore of government and polity which was to be established.

The Objectives of Preamble are as to give a direction and purpose to the Constitution. To outline the objectives of the whole Constitution. To secure justice, liberty, equality to all citizens and promote fraternity to maintain unity and integrity of the nation. To establish democratic, republic, sovereign, socialist and secular state. To achieve Justice- social, economic and political; Liberty of thoughts, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and opportunity; and Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation. To explain and recite certain facts which are necessary to be explained and recited before the enactment contained in an act of Parliament. To limit the scope of certain expressions. To indicate the source from which the constitution derives its authority. To state the objects which the constitution seeks to establish and promote.

The issue that whether the preamble to the constitution of India can be amended or not was raised before the Supreme Court in the famous case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, 1973. The Supreme Court has held that Preamble is the part of the constitution and it can be amended but, Parliament cannot amend the basic features of the preamble. The court observed, “The edifice of our constitution is based upon the basic element in the Preamble. If any of these elements are removed the structure will not survive and it will not be the same constitution and will not be able to maintain its identity.” The preamble to the Indian constitution was amended by the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 whereby the words Socialist, Secular, and Integrity were added to the preamble by the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976, to ensure the economic justice and elimination of inequality in income and standard of life. Secularism implies equality of all religions and religious tolerance and does not identify any state religion. The word integrity ensures one of the major aims and objectives of the preamble ensuring the fraternity and unity of the state.

The 42nd Indian Constitutional Amendment of 1976 has inserted three new words in the preamble., i.e., Secularism, Socialism and Integrity. These Concepts were already implicit in the constitution. The Amendment merely spells out clearly the concepts in the Preamble. After the judgment of the Kesavananda Bharati case, it was accepted that the preamble is part of the Constitution. As a part of the Constitution, preamble can be amended under Article 368 of the Constitution, but the basic structure of the preamble cannot be amended. Because the structure of the Constitution is based on the basic elements of the Preamble. As of now, the preamble is only amended once through the 42 Amendment Act, 1976. The term ‘Socialist’, ‘Secular’, and ‘Integrity’ were added to the preamble through 42 Amendment Act, 1976. ‘Socialist’ and ‘Secular’ were added between ‘Sovereign’ and ‘Democratic’. ‘Unity of the Nation’ was changed to ‘Unity and Integrity of the Nation’.

The Preamble of the Constitution of India reads as follows:

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

Article 394 of the Constitution states that Articles 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 60, 324, 367, 379 and 394 came into force since the adoption of the Constitution on 26th November 1949 and the rest of the provisions on 26 January 1950. The concept of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in our Preamble was adopted from the French Motto of the French Revolution.

The phrase “We the people of India” emphasises that the constitution is made by and for the Indian people and not given to them by any outside power. It also emphasizes the concept of popular sovereignty as laid down by Rousseau: All the power emanates from the people and the political system will be accountable and responsible to the people.

The Preamble proclaims that India is a Sovereign State. ‘Sovereign’ means that India has its own independent authority and it is not a dominion or dependent state of any other external power. The Legislature of India has the powers to enact laws in the country subject to certain limitations imposed by the Constitution.

The word ‘Socialist’ was added to the Preamble by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment in 1976. Socialism means the achievement of socialist ends through democratic means. India has adopted ‘Democratic Socialism’. Democratic Socialism holds faith in a mixed economy where both private and public sectors co-exist side by side. It aims to end poverty, ignorance, disease and inequality of opportunity.

The word ‘Secular’ was incorporated in the Preamble by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment in 1976. The term secular in the Constitution of India means that all the religions in India get equal respect, protection and support from the state. Articles 25 to 28 in Part III of the Constitution guarantee Freedom of Religion as a Fundamental Right.

The term ‘Democratic’ indicates that the Constitution has established a form of government that gets its authority from the will of the people expressed in an election. The Preamble resolves India to be a democratic country. That means the supreme power lies with the people. In the Preamble, the term democracy is used for political, economic and social democracy. The responsible representative government, universal adult franchise, one vote one value, an independent judiciary, etc. are the features of Indian democracy.

In a Republic, the head of the state is elected by the people directly or indirectly. In India, the President is the head of the state. The President of India is elected indirectly by the people; that means, through their representatives in the Parliament and the State Assemblies. Moreover, in a republic, political sovereignty is vested in the people rather than a monarch.

The term Justice in the Preamble embraces three distinct forms: Social, economic and political, secured through various provisions of the Fundamental and Directive Principles.Social justice in the Preamble means that the Constitution wants to create a more equitable society based on equal social status. Economic justice means equitable distribution of wealth among the individual members of the society so that wealth is not concentrated in a few hands. Political Justice means that all citizens have equal rights in political participation. Indian Constitution provides for universal adult suffrage and equal value for each vote.

Liberty implies the absence of restraints or domination on the activities of an individual such as freedom from slavery, serfdom, imprisonment, despotism, etc. The Preamble provides for the liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship.

Equality means the absence of privileges or discrimination against any section of the society. The Preamble provides for equality of status and opportunity to all the people of the country. The Constitution strives to provide social, economic and political equality in the country.

Fraternity means the feeling of brotherhood. The Preamble seeks to promote fraternity among the people assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.

In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994 SCC 1) the Supreme court held that “Secularism is the basic feature of the constitution.” And also in the case of Aruna Roy v. Union of India AIR 2003 SC 3176 the Supreme Court defined the meaning of Secularism. “Secularism has a positive meaning that is developing, understanding and respect towards different religions.”

There are such important Leading case laws which are the different types of interpretations by our Supreme Court of India and they are as follows:

  1. Beruberi Case: Berubari case was the Presidential Reference “under Article 143(1) of the Constitution of India on the implementation of the Indo-Pakistan Agreement Relating to Beruberi Union and Exchange of Enclaves which came up for consideration by a bench consisting of eight judges headed by the Chief Justice B.P. Singh. Justice Gajendragadkar delivered the unanimous opinion of the Court. The court ruled out that the Preamble to the Constitution, containing the declaration made by the people of India in exercise of their sovereign will, no doubt it is “a key to open the mind of the makers” which may show the general purposes for which they made the several provisions in the Constitution but nevertheless the Preamble is not a part of the Constitution.
  • Kesavananda Bharati: Kesavananda Bharati has created history. For the first time, a bench of 13 judges assembled and sat in its original jurisdiction hearing the writ petition. Thirteen judges placed on record 11 separate opinions. To the extent necessary for the purpose of the Preamble, it can be safely concluded that the majority in Kesavananda Bharati case leans in favour of holding, That the Preamble to the Constitution of India is a part of the Constitution; That the Preamble is not a source of power or a source of limitations or prohibitions; The Preamble has a significant role to play in the interpretation of statutes and also in the interpretation of provisions of the Constitution. Kesavanada Bharati case is a milestone and also a turning point in the constitutional history of India. D.G. Palekar, J. held that the Preamble is a part of the Constitution and, therefore, is amendable under Article 368. It can be concluded that Preamble is an introductory part of our Constitution. The Preamble is based on the Objective Resolution of Nehru. Preamble tells about the nature of state and objects that India has to achieve. There was a controversial issue whether Preamble was part of Indian Constitution there were a number of judicial interpretation but finally Kesavanada Bharati case it was held that the Preamble is a part of the Constitution.
  • A.K.Gopalan Case: In A.K Gopalan v. State of Madras, it was contended that the preamble to our constitution which seeks to give India a ‘democratic’ constitution should be the guiding start in its interpretation and hence any law made under Article 21 should be held as void if it offends the principles of natural justice, for otherwise the so-called “fundamental” rights to life and personal liberty would have no protection. The majority on the bench of the Supreme Court rejected this contention holding that ‘law’ in Article 21 refers to positive or state made law and not natural justice and that this meaning of the language of Article 21 could not be modified with reference to the preamble.

Author Details: V. Ashvath Neelakandan (Chettinad School of Law)

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