In an act of unforgivable sacrilege the Shiv Sena, a coalition partner of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra, demanded that the word ‘secular’ be ‘permanently removed from the Constitution’s Preamble. According to Sena leader Sanjay Raut, the party’s demand is justified as India is a ‘Hindu nation’. What the Sena seems to forget time and again, however, is that unlike Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, India is a secular and democratic nation. Under the basic structure of the Indian Constitution, our fundamental rights, which include Article 21 and 25, cannot be altered or destroyed through amendments by Parliament.
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states that no person can be deprived of life or personal liberty, ‘except according to procedure established by law’. Following this critical piece of legalese, the right to conscience was also enshrined our Constitution under Article 25. The basic structure doctrine, in its very essence, is the bedrock on which Indian democracy stands. Recent acts by the present dispensation, however, have brought us to this critical juncture, where we have found the need to spell out the Indian Constitution. It is critical to take note of what our Constitution says primarily because the present dispensation does not seem to believe that the word ‘secular’ forms one of its guiding purposes and principles.
In the BJP-led government’s Republic Day advertisement, which was published across various newspapers in India, an image of the preamble to the Constitution was carried that omitted the words, ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’. Even more telling, however, were the Indians that were represented on the advert. Under a quotation by Modi, which says, ‘A democracy can’t succeed without People’s participation’, you have Indians that either represent indigenous tribes or Hindus. The advert does not even have the regulation skullcap wearing Muslim or a Sikh in turban.
In their place are people with the traditional Hindu tilak marked on their heads and those in traditional tribal gear. In earlier Parliamentary debates on the same, the BJP has on more than one occasion emphasised that the word ‘secular’ was added to the Constitution after a latter amendment.
It would be pertinent to state here that the 42nd amendment to our Constitution is in strict consonance with its basic structure.
The present dispensation could have been forgiven if the omission was an honest mistake. A senior official from the Press Information Bureau, however, has stated that the advert was not incorrect and in fact is an ‘artistic depiction of the original document as it is’. Somewhere along the line, officials at the PIB, under the Government of India, seem to have suffered from selective amnesia. In fact, it took a much-maligned United States President to remind the present Indian dispensation of the secular values it must uphold by invoking our very own Constitution.
US President Barack Obama’s recent comments at Siri Fort have focussed the microscope on Prime Minister Modi’s silence over issues of religious conversions and ‘Ghar Wapsi’ programmes led by radical Hindu outfits targeting religious minorities. In the oath he took before occupying the high office of the Prime Minister, Modi swore to protect and abide by the constitution.
It is high time he acted accordingly and brought his coalition partner in tune with a basic principle of our Constitution.