The Preamble: What does it say, and what does it mean to India and its Constitution?
Dr. BR Ambedkar being administered the oath of office and secrecy by President Dr. Rajendra Prasad. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru sits in front of Ambedkar.
On Wednesday, the Uddhav Thackeray-led government in Maharashtra directed rural local bodies to hold a collective reading of the Preamble to the Constitution before flag-hoisting ceremonies, starting January 26.
A day earlier, it had made it mandatory for school students across the state to read the Preamble during the morning assembly.
What is a Preamble, and what is the history of the Preamble to India’s Constitution?
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 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 objects of the Constitution, and acts as an aid during the interpretation of Articles when language is found ambiguous.
The Preamble reads:
“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:A preamble is an introductory statement in a document that explains the document’s philosophy and objectives.
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.”
What do the key words in the Preamble stand for?
The words, “We, the people of India…” indicate the ultimate sovereignty of the people of India. Sovereignty means the independent authority of the State, not being subject to the control of any other State or external power.
The text declares India to be a “Republic” — indicating a government by the people and for the people.
It states “social, economic, and political justice” as an objective.
Nehru had said in 1956, “Democracy has been spoken of chiefly in the past, as political democracy, roughly represented by every person having a vote. But a vote by itself does not represent very much to a person who is down and out, to a person, let us say, who is starving and hungry. Political democracy, by itself, is not enough except that it may be used to obtain a gradually increasing measure of economic democracy, equality and the spread of good things of life to others and removal of gross inequalities.”
“Liberty”, “equality”, and “fraternity” have also been made ideals.
Dr B R Ambedkar, in his concluding speech in the Constituent Assembly, had said, “Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity which are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality, equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity.”
The 42nd Amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1976, replaced the words “sovereign democratic republic” to “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic”. It also changed “unity of the nation” to “unity and integrity of the nation”.
What do the Preambles to the world’s other Constitutions say?
UNITED STATES (adopted 1787)
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
“In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,
We, the people of Éire,
Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,
Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation,
And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,
Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.”
“We, the Japanese people, acting through our duly elected representatives in the National Diet, determined that we shall secure for ourselves and our posterity the fruits of peaceful cooperation with all nations and the blessings of liberty throughout this land, and resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government, do proclaim that sovereign power resides with the people and do firmly establish this Constitution. Government is a sacred trust of the people, the authority for which is derived from the people, the powers of which are exercised by the representatives of the people, and the benefits of which are enjoyed by the people. This is a universal principle of mankind upon which this Constitution is founded. We reject and revoke all constitutions, laws, ordinances, and rescripts in conflict herewith.
We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship, and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world. We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace, and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance for all time from the earth. We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want.(Source: https://japan.kantei.go.jp)
We believe that no nation is responsible to itself alone, but that laws of political morality are universal; and that obedience to such laws is incumbent upon all nations who would sustain their own sovereignty and justify their sovereign relationship with other nations.
We, the Japanese people, pledge our national honor to accomplish these high ideals and purposes with all our resources.”
“Conscious of their responsibility before God and man,
Inspired by the determination to promote world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe, the German people, in the exercise of their constituent power, have adopted this Basic Law.
Germans in the Länder of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia have achieved the unity and freedom of Germany in free self-determination. This Basic Law thus applies to the entire German people.”
“The French people solemnly proclaim their attachment to the Rights of Man and the principles of national sovereignty as defined by the Declaration of 1789, confirmed and complemented by the Preamble to the Constitution of 1946, and to the rights and duties as defined in the Charter for the Environment of 2004.
By virtue of these principles and that of the self-determination of peoples, the Republic offers to the overseas territories which have expressed the will to adhere to them new institutions founded on the common ideal of liberty, equality and fraternity and conceived for the purpose of their democratic development(Source: Wikipedia)
France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs. It shall be organised on a decentralized basis.
Statutes shall promote equal access by women and men to elective offices and posts as well as to position of professional and social responsibility.”
“The Spanish Nation, desiring to establish justice, liberty, and security, and to promote the wellbeing of all its members, in the exercise of its sovereignty, proclaims its will to:
Guarantee democratic coexistence within the Constitution and the laws, in accordance with a fair economic and social order.
Consolidate a State of Law which ensures the rule of law as the expression of the popular will.
Protect all Spaniards and peoples of Spain in the exercise of human rights, of their culture and traditions, languages and institutions.
Promote the progress of culture and of the economy to ensure a dignified quality of life for all.
Establish an advanced democratic society, and Cooperate in the strengthening of peaceful relations and effective cooperation among all the peoples of the earth.
Therefore, the Cortes pass and the Spanish people ratifies the following.”
THE UN CHARTER (1945)
“WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED
— to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
— to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
— to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
— to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
AND FOR THESE ENDS(Source: un.org)
— to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
— to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
— to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
— to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,
HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS
Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.”