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India a socialist nation? SC says keep the tag

Jan 08, 2008 09:06 PM IST India India

New Delhi: A liberalised economy, 9-percent growth and a flux of foreign investors—that is India in the 21st century. But are we still socialist?

The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, shot down a PIL that sought the removal of the word 'socialist' from the Preamble of India's Constitution.

The PIL, filed by Sanjiv Agarwal of the Kolkatta-based NGO Good Governance India Foundation, wished the word be struck off the Constitution, saying that it was not a part of the original Constitution that had been drafted by Dr B R Ambedkar.

The petition also sought to strike down the RPA (Representation of People Act), according to which political parties were forced to swear fealty to socialism in order to be recognised.

Agarwal said, "The position now is that any party that does not subscribe to socialism cannot be registered. We have challenged this."

The petition also claimed that the addition of the word during the Emergency was tantamount to re-writing the Constitution.

Senior Advocate Fali S Nariman, who represented the petitioner, told the court: "It is contrary to the Constitution and to its democratic foundations that political parties be called upon to swear allegiance only to a particular mindset or ideology."

"Introducing the word 'socialist' in the Preamble breaches the basic structure and it is wholly inconsistent," said Nariman.

"The attempt to deliberately tunnel the collective view in one ideological direction is also a grave breach of the liberty provisions of the Constitution," Nariman added.

The Supreme Court rejected Agarwal's petition on the grounds that socialism is defined as a means of achieving public welfare.

Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, who headed the three-judge bench, observed: "Why do you take socialism in a narrow sense defined by communists? In broader sense, it means welfare measures for the citizens. It is a facet of democracy."

"It hasn't got any definite meaning. It gets different meanings in different times," PTI quoted the the Bench, as saying.
The Bench, which also consisted of Justices R V Raveendran and J M Panchal, however added that that they would consider derecognising those political parties which wrongly feature socialism in their manifesto.

The Preamble to the Constitution says, "We, the people of India, constitute ourselves as a sovereign, secular, socialist, democratic republic."

But as the Indian economy globalises and as Indian businesses and business people make their marks world-wide, and Leftists like Jyoti Basu say they do not think the socialist economy can work, the question was raised - are we still a socialist country?

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has asked the Centre and the Election Commission to explain why political parties should swear allegiance to the 'socialist' clause.

The word 'socialist' exists in Section 2 of the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act of 1976. incidentally, it was not there in the original Constitution drafted by Dr B R Ambedkar, which described India only as a 'sovereign secular republic'. The insertion was done during Indira Gandhi's Emergency rule.

For many, the word 'socialist' has now come to denote political gimmickry, to demonstrate political parties' commitment to the poor - a way to get the common man's vote.

But the ruling party, forever true to the ruling dynasty does not think there is anything wrong.

Congress Spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi insists, "Socialism is an inherent part of the Indian constitution."

Most Indians feel that 'socialist' is a symbol of India's enduring hypocrisy, a word that hardly anyone believes in anymore. But the Supreme Court has cautioned against any narrow construction of the term and has declared that socialism means the larger good of its citizens.

(With reporting by CNN-IBN Correspondent Ashok Bagariya)