A constitution is a fundamental law of a country, either written or unwritten, which is a framework of rules for the establishment of governmental institutions, their powers & functions, and their mechanisms. A Constitution in a democratic nation is protected by the values of constitutionalism, which means freedom from arbitrary governmental action, citizens are guaranteed with fundamental rights, and the Constitution is safeguarded by judicial interventions and reviews. Almost every modern Constitution of the world inaugurates with a preamble. A preamble is a preliminary statement that embodies the underlying purpose or objective of the statute. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines Preamble as “an opening statement, explaining the purpose of the book, document, lecture, and so on that, it follows”. According to Chamber’s Twentieth Century Dictionary, a Preamble means “preface, introduction, especially that of an Act of Parliament, giving its reason and purpose -- a prelude”.
The Preamble of the Indian Constitution, which epitomises the aspirations of the people provides for securing socio, economic, and political justice for its people. Socio-economic justice is the spirit of the Indian Constitution. The Preamble is the cornerstone of the people’s edifice of their destiny and hope. Without any doubt, the Constitutional edifice is built on the pillars of these promises laid down in the Preamble.
The Constituent Assembly was formed in November 1946 after an election with a total number of 210 members. The Assembly derived its legislative power to draft a constitution from Section 8(1) of the Indian Independence Act, 1947. The framing of the Indian Constitution took three years after considerable discussions on each Article. Dr. Rajendra Prasad was the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly. The Objective Resolution moved by Jawaharlal Nehru on December 13th, 1946 closely followed the draft declaration framed by the Committee. The Objective Resolution was finally adopted on January 22nd, 1947, after many debates and discussions. On July 4th, 1947, the final draft of Preamble settled by B.N Rao was produced in its Constituent Assembly report with a tacit recognition at that stage that finally Preamble would be drafted on the basis of objective resolution.
The making of the Preamble passed through stages. The text of the draft Constitution October 1947 has provided for the Preamble of the proposed federation. The process of modification of the draft Preamble had been made on 9th, 10th and 21st February 1948. Amendments have been suggested by L.N Saha, Sitaramayya, A.C Guha, Upendra Nath Burman, and K.T Shah. Later on, it has been adopted after the third reading on 17th October 1949. The Constituent Assembly had accepted the amended draft Preamble dated May 1948.
In the 1948 draft Constitution, the word federation has been dropped, and the Country was conceived as a Union of States. The Committee had adopted the expression ‘Sovereign Democratic Republic’ apart from the phrase ‘Sovereign Independent Republic’ which was used in objective resolution justifying that the word sovereign implies independence. The Committee also adopted the term ‘fraternity’ which is understood as the spirit of common brotherhood which is an essential feature of our country with a diverse population. The draft of the Preamble was considered by the Assembly in the last part of the debate after considering other provisions of the Draft Constitution to see that it was in conformity with the Constitution. The Preamble stands as a part of the Constitution. The text of the final draft has been adopted as follows-
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 opportunity;
and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the Nation;
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.
In 1976 by the 42nd Amendment, the words Socialist, Secular & Unity were added to the Indian Constitution.
The Preamble of Indian Constitution is a prelude that describes the source, nature, and objectives of the whole Indian Constitution, the lengthiest Constitution of the world. The phrase ‘we the people of India’ indicates the source of all authority of the Constitution. It surmises that it is the people of India who author the Constitution. The terms Sovereign, socialist, secular, and democratic republic indicates the nature of our Indian Constitution. Sovereign denotes supreme and ultimate power to adopt a Constitution or a system of government, or to change its government, to control its private affairs, to regulate the rights of its citizens, and to govern their relation with each other without interference or control of any other state or political community. The term socialist is to mean a republic in which there is freedom from social, political, and economic exploitation. The socialism envisaged in India does not mean the abolition of private property or nationalisation of all means of production, but the concept is laid in Part III and Part IV of the Constitution which seeks to reduce inequalities in income and status and to provide equality of opportunity and facilities. India’s secularism means everyone is free to profess to promote and propagate any religion of their choice, and the state shall have respect towards all the religions.
The words Justice, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity connote the core objectives to be achieved, which are enshrined under the Constitution. Justice here refers to socio-economic and political justice as detailed under the Fundamental Rights in Part III and Directive Principles of the State Policy under Part IV of the Constitution. The word liberty connotes the freedom enjoyed by people of India whose essence can be traced in Part III of the Constitution under Article 19, Article 25- 28. Equality is a significant term that connotes equality of status and opportunity. Fraternity means a spirit of common brotherhood which would lead to Nation’s unity and integrity.
Emphasizing upon the significance of the three concepts of liberty, equality, and fraternity used in the Preamble, Dr. Ambedkar observed in his closing speech in the constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949. “The principle of liberty, equality, and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in the trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from another is to defeat the purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality; equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of a few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill the individual initiative”.
Supreme Court held that ordinarily Preamble is not regarded as a part of the statute and the Preamble does not form part of the Constitution.
The majority of judges laid down that Preamble does form part of the Constitution. These judges have bestowed great respect to the Preamble of the Constitution. SIKRI, CJ has observed in Kesavananda Bharati v Union of India “It seems to me that Preamble of our Constitution is of extreme importance and the Constitution should be read and interpreted in light of grand and noble vision expressed in the Preamble”. SHELAT & GROVER, J.J., have observed that “Our Court has consistently looked to preamble for guidance and given it a transcendental position while interpreting the Constitution or other laws.”
The Supreme Court has emphasized that the words “fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual have special relevance in the Indian consent because of the social backwardness of certain sections of the community who had in the past been looked down upon”.
The Preamble of the Constitution is an integral part of the Constitution, and the democratic form of government, federal structure, unity, and integrity of the Nation, secularism, socialism, social justice, and judicial review are basic features of the Constitution.
The fine words of the Preamble are the essence of the Constitutional goals and objectives. The efforts and intention of the Constituent Assembly behind the framing of the Preamble was incredible. The Preamble in our Constitution is the soul and spirit of a real democracy. However, it is heartbreaking that today on many occasions, the basic features like fraternity, unity, and integrity, secularism, and justice get threatened because of political agendas and thus threatening the overall Constitutional goals and objectives. In order to protect the democratic nature of our Country, it is important for the people to be aware, abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions.
Disclaimer: Kindly note that the views and opinions expressed are of the author, and not Law Colloquy.
i. Jain, M.P. (1962), Indian Constitutional Law, 7th Edition, LexisNexis, 2014
ii. Baruah, Aparajita (2007), Preamble of the Constitution of India: An Insight and Comparison with Other Constitutions, 1st Edition, Deep & Deep, 2007