Socialist Polity: Interpreting the Preamble

Chandra Shekher Mishra

The outbreak of COVID-19 has forced the entire world into an emergency-like situation. In India, the crisis deepened as around 40 million migrant laborers faced displacement at the heart of this pandemic, as stated by the World Bank. The nationwide lockdown, and problems like unemployment, want of food, and other necessities had spawned a massive exodus of these laborers and the working class from the towns. Despite the migrant labor crisis, multiple states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Odisha, have formulated ordinances tweaking the application of labor laws to boost economic activities. BJP-led Uttar Pradesh government took the most drastic step as it suspended most labor laws for the next three years in their application to the State. Experts had labeled this move detrimental to the interests of the laborer, with many articulating it as a disengagement of the State from the principle of socialism. This description leads to the question this author has attempted to answer through this article: what implications does the term ‘socialism’ have in the Indian polity?

During the Constituent Assembly debates, Dr. Ambedkar opposed K.T. Shah’s proposal of describing India, under Article 1, as socialist. According to time and circumstances, he viewed the same as an impediment to the people’s liberty to choose the socio-economic structure they favored to live in. He argued that Draft Article 31 (Article 39) and several other cognate provisions manifested the socialist side of the Indian polity. In 1976, the expression ‘socialist’ was inserted into the Preamble of the Indian Constitution by the 42nd Amendment Act. It was a verbal change as the mode of realization of the said term was detailed through various provisions of Part III & IV of the Constitution, as pointed out by Dr. Ambedkar. Nevertheless, the said insertion did not bring any significant change to the economic policies of India, a testament to which are the instances of nationalization of the banks before 1976 and liberalization of the economy post-1976.

The description of socialism changes significantly according to different angles of approaches, from thinkers to thinkers, country to country. It has often been described as a hat that has lost shape since everyone wears it. One of those descriptions, the Marxist version of socialism, suggests an irreconcilable conflict between the proprietaries and the proletariats, leading to the latter’s exploitation, which would not end but for the proletariats to seize political power through violent revolution. Further, the ill-gotten wealth of the proprietors need to be confiscated, and the means of production have to be socialized. The Marxist version of socialism advocates for strict proletarian dictatorship until a stage arrives when there will be no need for force and socialization of means of production, thus causing the State to wither. Therefore, the abovementioned version of socialism acts as a precursor to communism. Though this prognostication remains metaphysical, the transition above into communism has failed significantly in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Principally, there has never been a communist nation-State. Even in a country like Finland, which remains an ideal manifestation of a socialist State, the arrival of a model like communism seems far from reality. Indian Constitution, however, envisages a different version of socialism, viz., Democratic Socialism. The Indian economy is a mixed economy marked by the co-existence of public and private entities. The means of production can be socialized, or there can be collaborative or competitive partnerships between public and private entities. Democratic socialism suggests that socialism and democracy must go hand-in-hand. The socio-economic administration must be done democratically to mitigate income inequality and exploitation, thus setting up a welfare state.

In D.S. Nakara v. Union of India, the Supreme court described Indian socialism as a synthesis of Gandhism and Marxism that gravitated heavily towards Gandhism. Desai J. observed: “The principal aim of a socialist state is to eliminate inequality in income and status and standards of life. The basic framework of socialism is to provide a decent standard of life to the working people and especially provide security from the cradle to the grave. This, amongst others on the economic side, envisaged economic equality and equitable income distribution. This blends Marxism and Gandhism leaning heavily towards Gandhian socialism”.

To conclude briefly, socialism, in the context of Indian polity, seeks to reduce income disparity and exploitation and ensure economic equality. It provides a fillip to Gandhi’s economic constitution, which suggested that no one under it should suffer from wanting food, cloth, and other necessities. Thus, in the wake of labor law suspensions and the abovementioned implications- when a huge population of workers has been forced to the streets- may not it be valid to ask whether the State is evincing its intention to unsubscribe itself from the principle of socialism?


 1. Udai Raj Rai, Constitutional Law-I, Chap. 3

 2. C.E. Joad, Introduction to Modern Political Theory, Chaps. 3-6

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