Why the Preamble to the Constitution does not have 'in the name of God'

BR Ambedkar's suggestion prevailed over those made by HV Kamath.

 |  7-minute read |   25-11-2019
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On the eve of Constitution Day, it isn't just important to discuss how the preamble was debated and discussed, but also fascinating.

During the Constituent Assembly debate, on October 17, 1949, the last item to be debated was the preamble. The debate was presided over by Constituent Assembly president Dr Rajendra Prasad. When BR Ambedkar proposed the preamble, "We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, democratic, republic," it was vehemently opposed by Maulana Hasrat Mohani. Mohani was a leader of the Indian National Congress apart from being a noted Urdu poet and the man who coined the slogan Inquilab Zindabad.


"We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign federal republic," or "We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign independent republic," was initially opposed by many members, including B Pattabhi Sitaramayya, but Mohani went on to say, "The committee appointed for framing the Constitution was given a clear directive that the Constitution should be framed in accordance with the Objectives Resolution passed by this assembly. It is quite strange that instead of following the Objectives Resolution, Dr Ambedkar is passing anything he likes. He wants the Objectives Resolution to be in conformity with his erroneous decision. He has reversed the order and this is what I object to most because it has changed the character of the Constitution... now, I find on hearing the explanations given by Dr Ambedkar that he has reversed the whole picture and he has let the cat out of the bag."

Dr Ambedkar had said, "What will be India that is Bharat? It will be a Union of states. What does this mean? You have discarded the word 'republic'; you have discarded the word 'federation'; you have discarded the word 'independent', and my honourable friend."

Dr Ambedkar says: "Well, what does it matter? It does not matter when we say republic. It is immaterial whether you call it independent or not."

To which Mohani replied, "I say, if this is immaterial, why is he so anxious to change that word 'independent' to 'democratic'?"

The Assembly unanimously felt that the amendment was deleterious.

Once again, Mohani intervened and suggested that the words, "We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, democratic, republic" should be replaced with, "We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Union of Indian Socialistic Republics to be called UISR on the lines of USSR".

After detailed explanations around the news phrases, finally Mohani said, "With these few words, I propose my amendment and request Dr Ambedkar to accept it."

The assembly unanimously decided that this amendment too was undesirable. While the discussion was on, another honourable member of the Assembly, Purnima Banerjee (née Ganguly, former member of the UP Legislative Assembly and younger sister of Aruna Asaf Ali), said, "The matter of God is not made the subject... it is most embarrassing. To most of us, believers and non-believers, it will be difficult to affirm or deny God. Let us not try to invoke his name in vain... The name of God is invoked by every nation upon earth and God is an Impartial Entity and he should be allowed to remain so."

At this point, HV Kamath moved an amendment to the preamble, "In the name of God, we, the people of India…"

Dr Pattabhi Sitaramayya enquired with the Chair (here Dr Rajendra Prasad), "The amendment is only in the first line, you see, Sir?"

To this, Prasad said, "It is exactly the same as the preamble except that it begins with 'in the name of God'."

Another member K Santhanam said, "The amendment moved must have a meaning."

Kamath responded saying, "My amendment means, in the name of God we do this and that. No long speech is needed to commend this motion. Besides invoking the name of God, I have taken a little liberty with only one word, and that is, I have changed the word 'its' citizens to 'her' citizens."

To this, another member of the Assembly, A Thanu Pillai, said, "May I rise to a point of order, sir? If Mr Kamath's amendment is accepted - of course, I am a believer in God - would not that amount to compulsion in the matter of faith? Is it not out of order to move a motion like that? It affects the fundamental right of freedom of faith. A man has a right to believe in God or not, according to the Constitution. In that view, this amendment should be ruled out, though I am myself a staunch believer in God."

Kamath responded saying, "We are passing this in the name and on behalf of the people of India. All that we have done here in this Assembly has been in the name and on behalf of the people of India."

Another member Rohini Kumar Chaudhuri joined the debate saying, "May I move an amendment to that of Sh Kamath that instead of 'in the name of God', would he be pleased to accept 'in the name of Goddess'? Sir, we who belong to the Sakthi cult, protest against invoking the name of God alone, completely ignoring the Goddess. That is my submission. If we bring in the name of God at all, we should bring in the name of the Goddess also."

Finally, Rajendra Prasad said, "Now, I have to put the amendment moved by Mr Kamath to vote. There is no alternative left to me."

When the Chair asked Ambedkar to intervene, he said, "Kamath may be asked to withdraw it." The Chair responded saying, "I suggested to him not to move it. It rests with him to withdraw it."


Members of the Constituent Assembly during a debate. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) 

Kamath refused to withdraw the amendment.

Kamath, who was joined by Mohani and Pandit Govind Malaviya, son of Madan Mohan Malaviya and also former vice-chancellor of Banaras Hindu University, said, "I want a division because I feel that we are doing an injustice to this country and to its people and I want to know who says what on this matter."

In parliamentary procedure, a division of the Assembly, division of the house, or simply division is a way of taking a vote that physically counts members voting.

The Assembly then saw division by a show of hands. There were 41 ayes and 68 noes, which led to the proposed amendment being annulled.

So, Kamath's efforts to insert the words 'in the name of the God' into the Preamble to the Constitution failed and words proposed by Ambedkar, 'sovereign, democratic, republic' stayed, until the 42nd Amendment changed the description of India from 'sovereign, democratic, republic' to 'sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic', and also changed the words 'unity of the nation' to 'unity and integrity of the nation'. The amendment was introduced during the Emergency.

The rest is history.

By sustaining the originally proposed preamble, the Constitution clearly recognises that the sovereignty of the nation rests on the people of India and its undivided authority. It preserves the essence of such sovereignty and allows for the introduction of the term secular eventually, and becomes the bedrock of multiculturalism and diversity by ensuring that majoritarianism does not encroach into the thorny issue of God or faith.

It needs to be acknowledged that though there were a substantial number of votes in favour of introducing "in the name of God", the eventual decision augured well for the nation, its political integrity and secular ethos.

Also read: Secularism and socialism are woven into India's constitutional fabric. You can't shred that


Yagati Chinna Rao Yagati Chinna Rao @china_prof

Author is a JNU professor.

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