Quote 14: Our ‘Constitutional Socialism’: Historical Perspective

What led Mrs Gandhi to go in for the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976, inserting specifically the idea of ‘socialism’ into the Preamble to the Constitution operative from 3.1.1977, has been much speculated upon mainly in the phase when the creeping ideas of capitalism tend to capture the thought process of the wielders of our political power. What has led to this is not far to seek though its realities are evaded even by the experts. The mission of our Constitution’s ‘socialism’ was never appreciated by the capitalists. Even the word ‘socialism’ seems to them like a red rag to a bull. I remember to have participated, whilst I was a student at my school and college at Darbhanga, in the frequently organized processions, meetings and peace marches for our Constitution’s ‘socialist’ mission. In doing so I had in one of my cousins a role model, though he was just a petty socialist leader but with great verve and conviction.

But only in the 1990s, I could become conscious that the conspirators against our Constitution’s mission had much succeeded in subverting our system to serve the interests of the growing capitalists of all brands, national or international. Even whilst Mrs. Gandhi was at the helm of our political affairs, it was obvious that such forces had exercised their ultima ratio through the strategies of ‘money power’ and ‘deception’ slowly at work to turn India into a ‘Sponsored State’. As a student of history, I am of the firm conviction that ‘capitalism’ triumphs only through the conjoint operation of Mammon’s Power of wealth and Mephistopheles’ power of allurement through deception. The scope of this Chapter does not permit me to go deep and wide into such matters, but I would mention the trends which even Mrs. Gandhi must have marked emerging in our country and elsewhere.

Anybody who has critically studied the history of our times would have marked that the real victor in World War II was America in which politics works under the dense shadow of the Big Business. The trends to subjugate political institutions to the economic realm have been at the heart of the neoliberal paradigm. Even when Mrs Gandhi was in power, massive efforts had been made by the US Government, big corporations, and their alter-ego, the institutions set up at the international plane, to promote their interests. The strategy of providing ‘aid’ was used even in the late 1960s and in 1970s to crowbar for the intrusion of the American corporate interests. How this sort of system worked over the years find a graphic description in the words of Noam Chomsky:

“Within the nation-state, the effective “national purpose”, will be articulated, by and large, by those who control the central economic institutions, while the rhetoric to disguise it is the province of the intelligentsia.”

I would show in Chapter 24 (‘Our world-view and the trends of our times’) of my Memoir how adroitly the imperialists had worked to establish in our country a Sponsored State to promote the interests of the British in India. The East India Company ensured that the key-functionaries in the Nawab’s Government remained loyal to the Company Bahadur, and promoted that Company’s interests showing only ostensible loyalty to the Nawab. In my Judicial Role in Globalised Economy, I examined their strategy, and stated:”

“Clive pursued this objective with a stroke of stealth by securing for Rida Khan, who was Clive’s deputy diwan, the post of the nawab’s deputy. The inevitable consequence was the emergence of powerful coterie of bureaucrats and self-seekers who worked for the Company whilst swore loyalty to the nawab.”

The lobbyists, the corporations and the vested interests brought about similar situations in our country. How such things happened has been well described by Noam Chomsky with whose conclusion I wholly agree. Chomsky quotes8 Mr. Meagher :“If it was possible, India would probably prefer to import technicians and know-how rather than foreign corporations. Such is not possible; therefore India accepts foreign capital as a necessary evil.” Even by 1966, enough had been done indicating that the American Government and the World Bank ‘arrogated to themselves the right to lay down the framework in which our economy must function.” Chomsky quotes a dispatch of that year which reveals how our mission of constitutional socialism was lost. He quotes the dispatch:

‘There are signs of change. The Government has granted easy terms to private foreign investors in the fertilizer industry, is thinking about decontrolling several more industries and is ready to liberalize import policy if it gets sufficient foreign aid… Much of what is happening now is a result of steady pressure from the United States and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which for the last year have been urging a ubstantial freeing of the Indian economy and a greater scope for private enterprise. The United States provides by far the largest part of foreign exchange needed to finance India’s development and keep the wheels of the industry turning. Call them “strings,” call them “conditions” or whatever one likes, India has little choice now but to agree to many of the terms that the United States, through the World Bank, is putting on its aid. For India simply has nowhere else to turn’

Commenting on this, Chomsky writes aptly, what was becoming evident to all: “The heading of the article refers to this development as India’s “drift from socialism to pragmatism.”

Such developments must have jolted Mrs Gandhi, as she had an unswerving faith in our ‘constitutional socialism’. A lot of domestic and international distractions and challenges had drained her out. It was humanly impossible for her to gauze all the implications of the economic structure being devised by the vested interests. Besides, after the Emergency, she developed some fatigue and had grown lonely and indifferent. It was natural But it is not far to seek that the 42nd Amendment, operative from 3.1.1977, had inserted the idea of ‘socialism’ into the Preamble to our Constitution to forestall the trends of the neo-imperialism of corporatocracy, growing fast in the post-Yom Kipper (1973)-phase. It was to make explicit what was at the heart of the constitutional provisions, and also to emphasize certain norms and values at the heart of our Constitution. M.P. Jain rightly says:

“the concept of ‘socialism’ has been made explicit and India’s commitment to this ideal has been underlined and strengthened.”

Just a year before the 42nd Constitutional Amendment, a powerful book had come out: Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism highlighting the irreconcilable contradictions of the neo-liberal capitalist society producing the sinister trends evidencing the gruesome, to quote Peter Watson, “separation of law from morality, ‘especially since the market has become the arbiter of all economic and even social relations (as in corporate obligations to employees) and the priority of the legal rights of ownership and property over all other claims, even of moral nature.’” It was natural that, on reading the trends of the time, she thought it appropriate to underscore our Constitution’s prime mission. But most graphic account of the fundamentals of our Constitutional Socialism is found in some of the celebrated decisions of our Supreme Court: to quote from two widely known judgments. In Excel Wear v. Unionof India (AIR 1983 SC 130 (para 33), the our Supreme Court explained the concept of Socialism comprehensively. But the classic exposition of, Socialism, under our Constitution, was made by Justice Chinnappa Reddy in a Constitution Bench decision in D. S. Nakara v. Union of India AIR 1983 S.C. 130: to quote in extenso –

“The principal aim of a socialist State is to eliminate inequality in income and status and standards of life. The basic framework of socialism is to provide a decent standard of life to the working people and especially provide security from cradle to grave. This amongst others on economic side envisaged economic equality and equitable distribution of income.”

(b) The collective consciousness of the Constituent Assembly

On the examination of the broad profile of our Constituent Assembly the following points emerge:

(i) The Constituent Assembly was virtually a microcosm of India. Most of the leading lights of our Freedom Movement were assembled there. They had in their marrow, the fire that burnt to inspire us in waging struggle for our freedom. We must not forget their noble ideas in running our polity for socio-economic management. Art. 51A of our Constitution wants every citizen of this Republic to “cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom” .

(ii) The Constituent Assembly was never under the hangover of Karl Marx. Neither the Communist Party nor the Socialist Party had their representatives in the Constituent Assembly. Glanville Austin says: the “absence of a formal Socialist group meant little, however, for most members of the Assembly thought themselves as Socialists, and with few exceptions the members believed that the best and perhaps only way to the social and economic goals that India sought was by the road of government initiative of industry and commerce.’

The members of the Constituent Assembly were well versed in oriental cultural ideas, and most of them were distinguished masters in humanities and jurisprudence. On a close scanning of the career and thoughts of many of them, I concluded that the Bhagavad-Gita had the greatest impact on their thoughts which found expressions in our Constitution. It is really tragic to note that our jurists have not appreciated this fact. Certain points are obvious:

(a) The Bhagavad-Gita and our Constitution contemplate no class conflict, or class struggle. We have rejected Marx’s dictum: “The [written] history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle”. Our society has always believed in co-existence and harmony of all.

(b) The driving force in the cosmic affairs for Hegel is Spirit. For Marx the driving force is ‘matter’, which means that for him “the driving force is really man’s relations to matter, of which the most important part is the mode of production”, in effect, his ‘materialism, in practice, becomes economics.’ In the Bhagavad-Gita (and our Constitution) the driving force is lokmangal, welfare of all. The great poet ‘Dinkar’ had felicitously described in his epic Kurukshetra that peace cannot last long unless it is based on the just socio-economic arrangements of the affairs in a given society.

(c) The Bhagavad-Gita and our Constitution contemplate Rights and Duties for the development and happiness of all. The Utilitarians are satisfied with the happiness of a few, thereby facilitating the emergence of Capitalism, Fascism, and now neo-liberalism. Their arch-priest Bentham cared little for the weal of all. He thought of the liberty only for a few dear to Adam Smith’s ‘Invisible Hand’. The rights of man, he said, were plain nonsense. When the French revolutionaries made their ‘ Declaration des droits de l’homme,’ Bentham called it ‘a meta-physical work—the ne plus ultra of metaphysics’. Our Constitution posits an over-arching social vision for the Free India: in short, it rejects Adam Smith’s unfair assertions.

(c) ‘Socialism’ under our philosophy

I have always believed that our Constitution’s attitudes towards ‘property’ are socialistic. H. G. Wells has very perceptively observed:

“Essentially Socialism is no more and no less than a criticism of the idea of property in the light of public good….A steady, continuous criticism of the permissible scope of property seems to have been going on for the last twenty-five centuries.”

The socialist vision expressed in the Constitution can be called ‘Constitutional Socialism’. It is not ‘socialism’ as understood by Marx. The neoliberal philosophers of the West sought to promote capitalism by rejecting ‘social justice’ and ‘equality’. The philosopher, whose influence is writ large in the Constitution and the political economy of the United States, was John Locke (1633-1704). The system of checks and balances in the structure of constitutional polity is a mere adjunct to his view of political economy. Bertrand Russell insightfully points out that the proponents of capitalism tend to believe that the glory of the West is on account of capitalism. Bertrand Russell draws up this spectacle of this alluring illusion in these words:

“No doubt he was impressed, as all men of his time were, by the gains to civilization that were due to the rich men, chiefly as patrons of art and letters. The same attitude exists in modern America, where science and art are largely dependent upon the benefactions of the very rich. To some extent, civilization is furthered by social injustice.”

The objectives set under our Constitution, as also in the Bhagavad-Gita, are not “greatest good for the greatest number”; but the welfare of all. We are free to earn, but not to turn robbers. This is the principle of lokamangal suggested in the Gita. This view provides right alternative to the Lockean view of property.

Our Constitution’s Socialism is an expanded metaphor. It has an activist content of Justice. It exfoliates itself in the Preamble to the Constitution, and also in the harmony and synergy of the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles prescribed under our Constitution. Under our ‘Constitutional Socialism’ the State has a positive role to play. It represents the people of the country.

(d) Dimensions of our constitutional socialism

In course of my reflections over years, and whilst assisting the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court in deciding certain constitutional issues, I analysed and articulated some important dimensions of our constitutional socialism’. I would summarize them thus:

[A] Philosophical dimension:

  1. Driving force in human history, according to Hegel, is ‘Spirit’; but it is ‘Matter’ according to Karl Marx, but for Marx ‘it is a matter …, not the wholly dehumanized matter of the atomists, hence, in effect, it turns out ‘ really man’s relation to matter, of which the most important part is his mode of production: in short economics.14 This is the philosophical foundation of the Hegelian dialectics utilized by Marx to interpret history. We have not shared this view. Our spiritual vision of the universe is not simplistic Besides, we believe in the welfare of all. Our history has developed in a trajectory much different from the West’s. Our Constitution commits our polity to an egalitarian vision for everyone’s welfare: it, thus, reflects our philosophical tradition.
  1. Hegel, Darwin and Marx believed in the inevitability of progress as universal law, which made them impervious to ethical considerations. The norms set forth in the Preamble, the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles stress on the karma and kartavya both towards the individuals and the State. This philosophical dimensions of our ‘constitutional socialism’ would again come up for reflections in Chapter 24.

[B] Political Dimension

  1. Our Constitution reflects the ethos of our Struggle for Freedom in which our nation had participated as a whole: the sacrifice made by the poor was surely more than that of others who had reasons to calculate their profits. Democracy is not just a system to set up a political structure which can be allowed to be captured by vested interests through art or craft; it is, in fact, a system to provide a mechanism to realize the welfare of all, without riding roughshod over the fair and legitimate interests of individuals whatever be the segments to which they belong.
  1. The Political Realm is not to be made subservient to the Economic Realm, where the Rule of Corporations and the Market ( Pax Mercatus) prevails. The State, under our Constitution, cannot roll back its activities as that would be a gross constitutional dereliction. Even the policy changes must conform to the constitutional policies, and our Constitution’s principles and provisions.
  1. There must not be an opaque system, as darkness is never conducive to promote the ideas and the ideals of our Preamble, the Fundamental Right, and the Directive Principles of our Constitution.
  1. Our ‘Constitutional Socialism’ is founded on the fundamental principle of our Constitution’s supremacy, and the inevitable subservience of all the organs of the State to the Constitution. As I have already said, this supremacy operates both in the domestic sphere, and at international plane.

[C] Social Dimension

  1. Our Constitution is committed to bring about a social revolution to change the unjust stratification of our society which trapped us over the centuries, but this objective cannot be realized if wealth and power get polarized in our country.
  1. It is this over-arching egalitarian constitutional vision which conditions the content of such seminal concepts as ‘liberty, ‘equality’, ‘fraternity’, ‘dignity’, ‘unity’….. ‘Liberty’ cannot be reduced to a mere license to exploit and loot; and ‘equality’ cannot exist in grossly unfair and unequal society. ‘Fraternity’ and ‘dignity’ cannot be achieved in plutocratic and oligarchic tyrannies of the vested interests.
  1. ‘Social Justice’ is the very purpose of our polity, and the very heart of our Constitution. This requires creation of conditions for all so that quality of life improves.

[D] Economic Dimension

  1. Our constitutional socialism contemplates no class struggle: it believes in the welfare of all.
  1. Our constitutional socialism does not permit greedy acquisitiveness of capitalism, and believes in an equitable distribution of social resources so that even the so-called ‘last man’ is not without the basic amenities for existence, and is not excluded from the conditions needed for dignity, and for the fruition of his natural faculties.
  1. The Government is a trustee to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting a social order “in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all institutions of national life”.
  1. The State must ensure that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment.
  1. The natural resources should be managed wholly with egalitarian ideas, and to the exclusion of the gross commercial motives of the market economy.
  1. The standard for decision-making in our public spheres should be judged on the talisman given by Mahatma Gandhi15 , so that justice is done even to our ‘last man’.
  1. The State must ensure that the integrity of our society is not subverted by consumerism, and the deceit of the vested interests. The State must preserve our value system, education and health so that they are not degraded, polluted, or subverted under this neo-liberal craze generated by the high pressure advertisement.
  1. To ensure that we can build our socialist society under the aspect of justice, we must work for peace so that our limited resources are not wasted for the benefit of capitalists, who need wars to sell their armaments, and need an opaque rogue system of ethereal finance; to amass their extractively acquired wealth in dark corners away from people’s gaze, to be laundered back as and when considered expedient.
  1. Consumerism is sin till the last man receives just treatment, and is well provided for to live as a human being. Human beings must not be treated as commodities for trade.
  1. As planning and market help economic management, these tools be used, but under the critical gaze and supervision of the State ensuring public accountability. The real questions pertain to what sort of Market, and what sort of State (or government) we must have.
  1. The State preserves the sovereign space of socio-economic management free from the imperialistic, crypto-imperialistic, and the neo-liberal gladiators and intruders.
  1. The government, which is no more than people’s agent, must be under effective popular control and accountability. There must be a system to enforce continuous accountability of all the organs of the State to our people.

(e) Attitudes towards ‘PROPERTY’ under our ‘Constitutional Socialism’

The framers of Constitution had inherited the tradition of our culture which had developed a very mature and discreet view about property. The Western thinking about ‘property’ oscillates between two extremes : the rejection of ‘property’, as we get in the thought of Jesus; and the greedy attachment to property as we see amongst the neoliberals of our day. Even those who strove to further only their ‘enlightened self-interests’, promote, in effect, only their selfish interests. The history of our culture shows that we never looked down upon wealth. Under our pantheon the deity representing ‘wealth’ is Goddess Laxmi. You will find nowhere in our culture anything going near to Mathew (6.24) which says:“You cannot serve God and mammon”.The Bhagavad-Gita (III.20) requires everyone to work for public benefit (Lokasamgraha). ‘The words ‘welfare of a nation’ have been used in the same sense in the Manu Smriti (7.44). In the light of what I learnt about our cultural tradition I would spell out the two distinct ways of working, and earning wealth, in the following tabular form,

Subject Relation inter se Subject & Object Vector and dynamice Object
The unwise Working with ‘attachment’ to the fruits of work With a sense of full involvement to further one’s desires Work for own welfare
The wise Working with a sense of duty With a sense of full involvement in one’s kartavya-karma (duty) Lokasamgraha (which involves the welfare of all, humans, animals and environment)

(f) The criticism of our Constitution’s ‘socialist mission’ is unwarranted

I was surprised when a Writ Petition against insertion of the word ‘socialism’ was filed before our Supreme Court [ Good Governance India Foundation v. Union of India [W.P.(C.) No. 679 of 2007] on the ground that Section 2(a) of the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 violated of the basic structure of the Constitution. I preferred before the Supreme Court my ‘Intervention Petition’. It was good that the Supreme Court saw no good reasons to proceed with the Writ Petition.

It was surprising to find Justice B.N. Srikrishna, who spoke for the Supreme Court in Azadi Bachao Andolan16, suggested in his article, while still on the Bench, that the era, when the ‘Preamble’ of our Constitution mattered, had gone ‘due to the liberalization policy adopted by the Central Government from the early nineties’. He even quoted the dictum of Sinha, J. (dissenting) in State of Punjab v. Devans Modern Breweries Ltd., who had shocked us by observing:

“Socialism might have been a catchword from our history. It may be present in the preamble of our Constitution. However, due to the liberalisation policy adopted by the Central Government from the early nineties, this view that the Indian society is essentially wedded to socialism is definitely withering away.”

But Good Governance had raised an important point which deserves to be considered by the Election Commission of India. When it registers political

parties only when they swear by ‘socialism’, as required by Section 29A(5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, it becomes its duty to derecognize the political parties which “have wrongly sworn allegiance to the socialist ideal despite their contrary objectives as evident from Manifestoes, political speeches, Common Minimum Programmes and other such documents.” If the Election Commission finds later that the declaration by a political party was fraudulent, it must cancel the registration granted to it. As the Election Commission grants certain statutory benefit, it has an inherent power to withdraw that grant on good grounds. Besides, there should be no reason why this Commission cannot reconsider the permission granted to political parties if there is a culpable hiatus between their sworn statements and their public acts.

Shiva Kant Jha’s ON THE LOOM OF TIME The Portrait of My Life and Times Chapt. 20 at pp. 286- 294


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