The Narendra Modi government on Wednesday jumped into the controversy created by the remarks of the Shiv Sena earlier in the day that the words “socialist and secular” should be dropped from the Preamble to the Constitution.
Union Telecommunications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad indicated that the government wanted a debate on whether the words should be in the Preamble.
“We do not need these words to be a secular country; even without them we are a secular country,” Mr. Prasad said.Introduced in 1976
Pointing out that the two words were introduced in the Preamble in 1976 during the Emergency, Mr. Prasad told presspersons: “What is wrong if there is a debate on these two words. Let us see what the nation wants.”
On whether the government would continue to use the original Preamble for official purposes, he said that was the plan.
Mr. Prasad was responding to questions on the controversy over the Information and Broadcasting Ministry using a watermark of the original Preamble in two Republic Day print advertisements.
Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore had on Tuesday described the controversy as “uncalled-for,” and pointed out that the same picture had been used in official advertisements earlier also.
Underlining the fact that the founding fathers of the Constitution had not included the words “socialist and secular” in the original Preamble to the Constitution, Mr. Prasad sought to draw a distinction between Jawaharlal Nehru’s understanding of secularism and that of the Congress now.
“Was Pandit Nehru’s understanding of secularism less than that of the present-day Congress leaders,” he asked.
To this, Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala said: “No other party has a doubtful integrity clause on secularism like the Bharatiya Janata Party and that is the reason this has become an issue.”
He pointed out that the 42nd Constitution Amendment was with “retrospective” effect.
As for Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut’s remark that his party welcomed the omission of the two words — even if it was inadvertent — the Congress maintained that this only proved that the 1950 Preamble had been chosen for the advertisement with a clear agenda. “And, to test waters.’’
Describing the omission of the two words from the Preamble used in government advertisements as a “sacrilegious insult” to the ethos of the Constitution, Mr. Surjewala demanded an apology from the government and a statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his position and understanding on “secularism and socialism.”
Earlier in the day, Mr. Raut had said that India had never been secular.
“Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray and before him Sarvarkar always said that if Pakistan was carved out after Partition for Muslims, then the rest of the country is a Hindu Rashtra. The Shiv Sena has always believed in this,” he said.