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Preamble of Indian Constitution and its Significance

Author: Aditya Singh, Research Associate

The Preamble to the Constitution is the lodestar and guides those who find themselves in a grey dealing with its provision.

According to the canons of statutory interpretation, the proper function of a Preamble is to explain certain facts which are necessary to be explained before the enactments contained in the Act can be understood. In short it contains a recital of the facts or state of the law for which it is proposed to legislate by the statute, the object and policy of the legislation and evils or inconveniences it seeks to remedy1. But though it is a recital of some inconveniences, it does not exclude others, for which remedy is given by the enacting parts of the statute. Hence, where the language of the enacting section is clear and unambiguous,2the terms of the Preamble cannot qualify or cut down the enactment.

Hence the court may look into the object as recited in the Preamble when a doubt arises in its mind as to whether the narrower or the liberal interpretation ought to be placed on the language used in an enacting provision of the Constitution, which is capable of bearing both the meanings3. The preamble provides a key to unlock and explore the spirit of our Constitution4. Without it, a proper appreciation of the objectives and values that find place in our Constitution seems a remote possibility. Therefore, it is essential to turn to the various expressions contained in the Preamble for a better understanding and interpretation of the Indian Constitution5.

In sum, the Preamble shows the general purpose behind the several provisions of the Constitution but, nevertheless, it is never regarded as a source of any substantive power6or limitation7.

We, the People of India

It is the resolve of the people if India to constitute India into Sovereign, Democratic, Republic. From the Preamble of the Constitution it is clear that the framers attached importance to the sovereignty of the people8. The ideas reassert the sovereignty and paramountcy of the people’s will over everything. The idea of republic indicates the representative character of its sovereign democracy. It means that the absolute power vested in the people of India under the Constitution is to be exercised by them through their duly elected representative in the various union and states legislatures9.

Sovereignty

Sovereignty means the independence authority of a State. It has two aspects, external and internal.

The external sovereignty of India means that it is not subject to the control of any other State or external power; and secondly, that it can acquire foreign territory and also cede any part of the Indian territory, subject to limitations (if any) imposed by the constitution10. From the internal standpoint it means that is has the power to legislate on any subject only to the federal division of legislative powers and other limitations imposed by the Constitution, e.g., the fundamental rights11.

One of the corollaries emanating from the doctrine of sovereignty is that of parens partiae. It means that it has the power and obligation of the sovereign to protect the rights and privileges of its citizens. The doctrine can be invoked both in international as well as domestic courts, in order to vindicate the rights of the aggrieved citizens who are unable to enforce their rights12. In India, though the doctrine of parens partiae is not embodied in any express provision of the constitution, it has been derived from the Preamble, read with the Directive Principles in Articles 38, 39 and 39A13. The only limits to the exercise of this power by the legislature are the fundamentals rights and other constitutional limitations14.

Liberty, Equality and Fraternity

Liberty should be coupled with social restraint and subordinated to the liberty of the greatest number for common happiness15. Our constitution attempts to strike a balance between individual liberty and social control16. Under the Indian Constitution, while basic liberties are guaranteed and individual initiative is encouraged, the state has got the role of ensuring that no class prospers at the cost of other class and no person suffers because of drawbacks which are not his, but social17.

Equality is considered to be the essence of modern democratic ideology. The Constitution makers placed the ideals of equality in a place of pride in the Preamble. All kinds of inequality based on the concept of rulers and the ruled or on the basis of caste and gender, were to be eliminated. All citizens of India should be treated equally and extended equal protection of law without any discrimination based on caste, creed, birth, religion, sex etc.

Similarly equality of opportunities implies that regardless of the socio-economic situations into which one is born, he/she will have the same chance as everybody else to develop his/ her talents and choose means of livelihood.

Fraternity assures the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation. Finally, it is the spirit of brotherhood that is emphasised by the use of the term “fraternity” in the Preamble. India being a multilingual and multi-religious state, the unity and integrity of the nation can be preserved only through a spirit of brotherhood that pervades the entire country, among all its citizens, irrespective of their differences.

Secular

The word secular was inserted into the Preamble by the 42nd amendment act of 1976, during the Emergency. It implies equality of all religions and [religious tolerance]. India therefore does not have an official state religion. Every person has the right to preach, practice and propagate any religion they choose. The government must not favor or discriminate against any religion. It must treat all religions with equal respect. All citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs are equal in the eyes of law. No religious instruction is imparted in government or government-aided schools. Nevertheless, general information about all established world religions is imparted as part of the course in Sociology, without giving any importance to any one religion or the others. The content presents the basic/fundamental information with regards to the fundamental beliefs, social values and main practices and festivals of each established world religions. The Supreme Court in S.R Bommai v. Union of India held that secularism was an integral part of the basic structure of the constitution.

Democratic

India is a democracy. The people of India elect their governments at all levels (Union, State and local) by a system of universal adult franchise; popularly known as ‘One man one vote’18. Every citizen of India, who is 18 years of age and above and not otherwise debarred by law, is entitled to vote. Every citizen enjoys this right without any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, colour, sex, religion or education.

Republic

As opposed to a monarchy, in which the head of state is appointed on hereditary basis for a lifetime or until he abdicates from the throne, a democratic republic is an entity in which the head of state is elected, directly or indirectly, for a fixed tenure19. The President of India is elected by an electoral college for a term of five years. The post of the President of India is not hereditary. Every citizen of India is eligible to become the President of the country.

Conclusion

The Preamble of the Constitution of India is one of the best of its kind ever drafted. Both in ideas and expression it is a unique one. It embodies the spirit of the constitution to build up an independent nation which will ensure the triumph of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. One of the members of the Constituent Assembly (Pundit Thakur Das Bhargav) rose to poetic heights when he said, “The Preamble is the most precious part of the Constitution. It is the soul of the Constitution. It is a key to the Constitution. It is a jewel set in the Constitution.”

  1. Re Berubari Union, AIR 1960 SC 845 []
  2. Bhim Singhji v. Union AIR 1981 SC 234 []
  3. Id []
  4. Dr. Anil Kumar Mohapatra, Basic Objectives and Values of Indian Constitution, available at: http://orissa.gov.in/e-magazine/Orissareview/2011/Jan/engpdf/31-37.pdf []
  5. Supra 4 []
  6. Re Berubari Union, AIR 1960 SC 845 []
  7. Id []
  8. Motilal v Uttar Pradesh Government AIR 1951 ALL 257 []
  9. Ram Nandan v State AIR 1959 ALL 101 []
  10. Maganbhai v. Union of India (1970) 3 SCC 400 []
  11. Synthetics and Chemical Ltd. v. State of U.P., (1990) 1 SCC 109 []
  12. Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India (1990) 1 SCC 613 []
  13. Id []
  14. Id []
  15. S.S. Bola v. B.D. Sardana (1997) 8 SCC 522 []
  16. Commissioner of Police v. Acharya Jagdishwasananda Avadhuta, (2004) 12 SCC 770 []
  17. M. Nagraj  v. Union of India (2006) 8 SCC 212 []
  18. Available  at: http://download.nos.org/srsec317newE/317EL17.pdf []
  19. Available at: http://www.csmantra.com/Polity/preamble-to-the-constitution/Republic.html []

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