Preamble to the Constitution of India: Introduction, Features and Significance

By | October 26, 2020
Preamble to the Constitution of India

The Preamble to the Constitution of India is a preface and an introductory statement which provides the guiding principles to the purpose and interpretation of the constitution. This article introduces readers to its salient features and significance.

I. Introduction

The preamble to the constitution reflects the ideals and aspirations of a constitution, nation and its people. It is an integral part of the constitution, as recognized in the distinguished case of Kesavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala[1].

Preamble comes from the Latin word Praeambulus which means “walking before.” And that’s what a preamble does — it “walks” before a speech, often explaining what’s coming. (See here)

It was observed that the preamble may be used to rule out the indifferences and the ambiguities in different areas where there are differing interpretations. It also indicates the source from which the constitution comes viz. the people of India.[2]

Preamble is also a legitimate aid in the interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution. Generally, for the purpose of interpretation, the preamble of the Constitution stands on equal footing as the preamble of an Act.[3]

The preamble represents the quintessence, the philosophy, the ideals, the soul or spirit of the entire constitution of India. It had the stamp of “deep deliberation”, was “marked by precision”: it was “an epitome” of the broad features of the constitution which were an amplification or concretization of the concepts set out in the preamble.[4]

Every Constitution either written or unwritten all over the world has a preamble associated with it. It generally sets the ideals and goals which the makers of the Constitution intend to achieve through that Constitution.[5]

II. History

Although it was already made in 1947, the preamble along with the constitution was adopted on 26 November 1949 by the constituent assembly and came into effect on 26 January 1950.

The preamble is based on the ‘objectives resolution’ moved in the constituent assembly on 13 December 1946 by Jawaharlal Nehru. The resolution enshrined and laid out the aspirations and values of the people of India, through the makers of the constitution. When it was enacted originally, it contained the declaration of the state as sovereign, democratic and republic. The words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ were added to the preamble by the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976. Also, “unity of the nation” was amended to read “unity and integrity of the nation”.

III. Contents And Features

The preamble describes the nature of the state, the form of the government, the ideas of the nation and its people and the objectives to be achieved. Through the words- sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, and republic, the preamble declares the philosophy of the nation and the form of the government. These are the guiding principles and the source for the government and their actions.

1. Sovereign

Sovereignty can be understood as the idea of independence and the absolute authority over the territory and the issues related to it. It reflects the idea of a government free from the control of any external foreign power and internally, a free government directly elected by people. The independent legislature and the legislative actions manifest the idea of the sovereign state. Only the legislature possesses the power to make laws to govern the people of a sovereign state.

India is a sovereign state as it has a legislature which has an absolute authority to make laws for the people without external interference. The people of India have the sovereign power to elect the government and the representatives for the parliament, state legislature and the local bodies.

2. Socialist

The word socialist refers to social and economic equality in the country. It was added by the 42nd amendment in the year 1976. The idea aims at the achievement of the socialist goals by the government through a democratic function. The notion of a welfare state has been adopted by India from the very beginning.

To attain distributive justice within society, it is pertinent to ensure that the wealth in a country must be regulated and not concentrated. For this reason, India adopts the concept of a mixed economy. It also concentrates on the eradication and elimination of any kind of discrimination within the society. The directive principles of state policy in part IV of the Constitution of India imbibe the idea of welfare and socialist state.

3. Secular

The word secular means that there will be no discrimination against anyone on the grounds of religion. The state will have no religion and every religion is equal for the state. It incorporates the idea of positive secularism. The word ‘secular’ was added in the year 1976 by the 42nd amendment. The freedom to practice, conscience, profess and propagate any religion is guaranteed to every citizen of India under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.

4. Democratic

Democracy is by the people and for the people. A democratic government is a government which is elected by the people. It conceptualizes the idea of the rule of people and by the people. The right to vote (to elect the representatives in the government) is also guaranteed to every citizen who is 18 years or older. The phrases “We the people of India” and “give to ourselves” reflect the democratic spirit of the preamble and the constitution.

5. Republic

The head of the state in India is the President, who is an elected head. A democratic republic, being opposite to the idea of monarchy, does not follow the idea of hereditary power. In a monarchy, the head of the state is not elected but acquires it through heritage. The president in a republic is elected for a fixed term. Every citizen of the country is eligible to become the head of the state, unlike monarchy.

In the middle of the preamble, objectives are laid out to be achieved. These objectives aim at “maintaining the integrity of India”, and “unity among the citizens” through securing justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.

6. Justice

Justice, including social, economic and political justice is aimed to be secured through the constitution and its preamble. Justice refers to fairness and goodness in society. Social justice focuses on the elimination of any kind of discrimination on the grounds of caste, creed, colour, religion, gender or place of birth and fair society.

Economic justice ensures no discrimination on the grounds of wealth. It also focuses on the equitable distribution of wealth and checks the concentration of wealth. Political justice ensures fair and equal opportunity to all the citizens to participate in the political process.

7. Liberty

Liberty and freedom are aimed to ensure the freedom of individuals and their activities without any unreasonable restrictions. It negates the idea of arbitrary power to control the free movement of the people and their individual actions with restraints. It also thrives to develop and create an environment and society to promote liberty and freedom of individuals. Art 19 of the constitution incorporates the idea by listing liberty and freedom with reasonable restrictions.

8. Equality

Article 14 of the constitution guarantees equality to all the citizens of India, which is aimed through the preamble and constitution. It aims at ensuring that there is an equal opportunity for every citizen. There is also the idea of reasonable classification, by which the government can reasonably discriminate to ensure equality and equal opportunities in society. Everyone is equal before the law.

9. Fraternity

To maintain the integrity, unity and harmony among people, the feeling of commonness and brotherhood is required. To ensure the dignity of every citizen of India, people must develop the idea of oneness. India is a diverse country which has to ensure the unity of it through the fraternity among its people.

IV. Significance

The preamble of the constitution is its driving force and the main source for the interpretation of the Articles of the Constitution. It embodies the core ideas, notions and principles of the nation. It also conveys the intentions and objectives of the framers of the constitution. It is an integral part of the constitution and lays out the basic features of the constitution. It further guides the lawmakers to make the laws in accordance with the preamble and by incorporating its basic features and principles. It is considered to be the soul of the constitution.

V. Amendments

The biggest question which emerges regarding the amendment of the preamble is that whether it is a part of the constitution and can be amended like the constitution under Article 368? In the Berubari case[6], which dealt with the exchange of enclaves between Bangladesh and India, it was observed that it cannot be considered to be a part of the constitution and hence, not enforceable in the court of law.

In Kesavnanda Bharti v. State of Kerala[7], it was observed, in contrast to the Berubari case, that the preamble plays a significant role in the interpretation of the constitution and its provisions and that the preamble can be considered a part of the constitution.

In 1976, through the 42nd amendment, the word ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ were added after the Kesavananda Bharti judgment. The phrase “unity of the nation” was changed to “unity and integrity of India”. The preamble can be amended under Art 368 as long as the basic features are not touched and changed. So far, the preamble has been amended only once.

[1] Keshvanand Bharti v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225

[2] Powell v. Kempton Park Race Course, 1899 AC 143 at 153

[3] Maxwell: The Interpretation of Statutes, 6-9 (12th Edn, 1969)

[4] Madholkar, J. in Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan, 1965 AIR 845

[5] “The Preamble contains, in a nutshell, its ideals and aspirations,” Subba Rao, C.J. in I.C. Golak Nath v. State of Punjab, AIR 1967 SC 1643

[6] Re Berubari v. Union and Exchange of Enclaves, Re, AIR 1960 SC 845

[7] (1973) 4 SCC 225

  1. Constitutional Law; Notes, Case Laws And Study Material

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