Preamble Without God
One of the last issues vigorously debated in the Constituent Assembly in October
1949 was the framing of the Preamble. B. R. Ambedkar proposed "We, the People of
India …" as the opening statement of the Preamble.
On the contrary, a few other members, including H. V Kamath, moved an amendment
to the Preamble to include the words "In the name of God, We, the People of
India". Kamath's proposal was opposed by several other members on the ground
that a Preamble in the name of God would amount to the compulsion of faith and
infringe the fundamental right of freedom of faith.
Calling for rejection of Kamath's amendment, Rohini Kumar Chaudhuri contented
that if invocation in the name of God was to be held valid, then it should also
be amended to "In the name of the Goddess". "We, who belong to the Sakthi cult,
protest against invoking the name of God alone, completely ignoring the Goddess.
If we bring in the name of God at all, we should bring in the name of the
Goddess also," she argued.
Kamath's proposal was finally rejected by the Assembly, which stated that a
collective view should not be imposed on any individual and that the Preamble
assured liberty of thought, expression, belief and faith to every citizen. This
engendered the birth of an agnostic Constitution of the World's largest
Constitutional ProvisionsArticle 188 of the Constitution of India read with VII A & B to Third Schedule
defines that every member of the Legislative Assembly or the Legislative Council
of a State shall, before taking his seat, make and subscribe before the
Governor, or some person appointed in that behalf by him, an oath or affirmation
according to the form set out for the purpose in the Third Schedule.
What Is An Oath?
In its ordinary sense, an Oath is a "form of attestation by which a person
signifies that he/she is bound in conscience to perform an act faithfully and
truthfully". It is "a pledge by the person taking it that his/her attestation or
promise is made under an immediate sense of responsibility to God". An Oath of
allegiance or loyalty means that a person "promises and binds himself/herself to
bear true allegiance to a particular sovereign or Government and to support its
In its broadest sense, an Oath is any form of attestation by which a person
signifies that he/she is bound in conscience to perform an act faithfully and
truthfully. It involves the idea of calling in God to witness what is averred as
truth, and it is supposed to be accompanied with an invocation of His vengeance,
or a renunciation of His favour, in the event of falsehood. The word 'oath' has
been construed to include "affirmation" in cases where, by law, an affirmation
may be substituted for an Oath....
It has been said that an Oath is a solemn adjuration to God to punish the
affiant if he/she swears falsely. The sanction of the Oath is a belief that the
Supreme Being will punish falsehood, and whether that punishment is administered
by remorse of conscience, or in any other mode in this work, or is reserved for
the future state of being, cannot affect that question, for the sum of the
matter is a belief that God is the avenger of falsehood.
God? In The Constitution Of India?
Unlike many Constitutions of the world, the Constitution of India did not
mention God either. Not in its 'body'. The Constituent Assembly comprised, in
the main, of 'believers'. One might say that most of them were, in their hearts,
pious. Yet, despite their beliefs, they did not think it necessary or right to
bring the Almighty into the text. They kept God out of the formulations. We
were, after all, to be a Secular Nation. The speeches of Gandhi outside of the
Constituent Assembly and of Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in the
Constituent Assembly made it clear that the State was the State, Religion was
Religion, and the two were not to mix.
But God is God.
He is Omnipresent.
Almost in spite of the framers of the Constitution, God tiptoed ever so gently
into the Constitution of India. But what a footprint He has made! So, how does
He come into the Constitution of India? Right through the front door, right
royally. And yet invisibly. He is in a Schedule, Schedule Three. What is in a
Schedule is Scheduled. And so, like a Scheduled subject in the Union, State or
Concurrent lists of 'subjects', like a Scheduled State or a Scheduled language,
God, too, is Scheduled in Constitution of India as a Scheduled Oath. Only a
constitutional amendment can deprive him/her of that position now.
The form of Oath prescribed in the Third Schedule of the Constitution of India,
gives Members of Parliament, Members of Legislative Assemblies and a host of
functionaries and Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts entering their
High Office this option: They can either 'swear in the name of God', or
'solemnly affirm' that they will bear true faith and allegiance to the
Constitution and the law.
Despite a Secular Preamble, the Third Schedule of the Constitution of India
provides an option to either swear in "the name of God" or "solemnly affirm"
depending upon the belief of the individual undertaking the Oath.
JJS Leader Umesh Challiyil, an MLA from the Kodungallur constituency, Kerala,
had taken Oath in the name of his Guru Sri Narayana Guru. His swearing-in was
challenged in a Public Interest Litigation filed in the Kerala High Court.
Division Bench of Kerala High Court in [Haridasan Palayil Vs. The Speaker of
11th Kerala Legislative Assembly & Ors.
, AIR 2003 Kerala 328] while declaring
his Oath void, holding that he had deviated from the exact words of the
Constitution of India and taken the Oath "in the name of Sri Narayana Guru",
held as under:
"54.3. The forms of oath have been prescribed for the President, the Prime
Minister, the Chief Justice of India, the Controller and Auditor General, and
the Members of Legislatures etc. The obvious intention was to ensure that the
person concerned makes a commitment to live by the Constitutional process. He
has to owe allegiance to the Constitution. He has to uphold the sovereignty and
integrity of the country. A Member of the Legislature, Union or State,
represents a constituency.
He is the spokesman of all the people belonging to the area. He has to stand for
all, irrespective of their shade of faith and religion. He is the people's
representative. He is not free to cater to the belief of a sect or section of
the society. He does not represent the Christians, Hindus or Muslims only, but
even the Buddhists, Jains and all others. By the very nature of his office, he
is bound to inspire equal confidence and faith in the minds of all. This is
essential to ensure that he represents everyone, irrespective of the caste or
creed, faith or religion.
It is meant to help in maintaining national harmony. It is intended to foster
Unity in Diversity so as to preserve the integrity of India. That is the
apparent rationale and reason for the prescription of a 'Form' of the 'Oath' in
the Constitution. Thus, every person has to conform to the 'form' as prescribed.
The Constitution does not permit any deviation or variation. For if any
deviation were permitted, we may not know where to stop. In case, the person
chooses to take the oath, he has to swear in the name of 'God'. None else."
Subsequently, Umesh Challiyil challenged the High Court Judgment in the Supreme
Court of India submitting that his Oath should be considered valid as he
believed that Sri Narayana Guru was his God.
Clarifying the position on the use of names of Gods and God-men, the Supreme
Court Bench comprising Justices R. M. Lodha and Anil R. Dave, ruled that "Oath
should be either taken in the name of God or solemnly affirmed. It should be in
strict compliance with the wordings in the Constitution of India. The word 'God'
cannot be misconstrued or replaced with the names of any God-men", the Supreme
A politician who subscribes to the constitutional ethos and undergoes the
electoral process in a working democracy has a duty to abide by the mandates of
laws of the land. Irrespective of any person's religious belief or non-belief,
the allegiance of such person holding a constitutional position must be only to
the Constitution of India.
The Republic of India belongs to the multi-religious plural citizenry of this
Nation, and a person occupying a constitutional position must take Oath in the
Format of "solemnly affirm" or "in the name of God" to protect the ideals
enshrined in Constitution of India. Further, being a public servant and a
representative of the whole population of India, a Minister / Member of
Parliament / Member Legislative Assembly cannot take Oath in the name of a
particular God, Goddess or God-man.
As noticed above, Article 188 of the Constitution of India makes it incumbent
upon a Member of the Legislative Assembly to subscribe to the Oath or
affirmation before, taking his/her seat in the Legislature. The Constitution
makers have even prescribed the Form. The language is plain. It lays down the
choice. Either swear in the name of God or make an affirmation. Nothing more.
The words allow no variation.
India is a land of immense diversities. To some God is just a short form of
Good. To some He is Allah, Bhagwan or Father. Some of us show reverence to even
reptiles. Undoubtedly, every one of us has the freedom to act according to
his/her faith. But only in our private lives. When a person occupies a
constitutional position, he/she has to scrupulously abide by and observe the
constitutional mandate. A Member of the Legislature, Union or State, represents
He/She is the spokesman of all the people belonging to the area. He/She has to
stand for all, irrespective of their shade of faith and religion. He/She is the
people's representative. He/She is not free to cater to the belief of a sect or
section of the society. He/She does not represent the Christians, Hindus or
Muslims only. But even the Buddhists, Jains and all others. By the very nature
of his/her Office, he/she is bound to inspire equal confidence and faith in the
minds of all.
The perception of God has to be as that of the entire people. Not personal. The
society at large and not merely the 'Assembly' must get the confidence that the
legislator shall work under the fear of 'God' as understood by all and not by
him/her as An individual. This is essential to ensure that he/she represents
everyone, irrespective of the caste or creed, faith or religion, it is meant to
help in maintaining national harmony. It is intended to foster Unity in
Diversity so as to preserve the integrity of India as a country.
That is the apparent rationale and reason for the prescription of a 'Form' in
the Constitution of India. For the reason that the Constitution of India does
not permit any deviation. It insists upon a strict compliance. A deviation is
not a mere irregularity. It is a manifest illegality. Thus, every person has to
conform to the 'Form' as prescribed. Otherwise, it has to be assumed that he/she
has not taken the oath. He/She has not duly entered upon the Office.
The people who are riot punctilious in the matter of ceremonial observances are
likely to be neglectful in performing the higher duties of the Office or
observing the principles. It is to ensure this that the Constitution of India
lays down the form. The Oath is not a matter of formality. Nor a superstition.
It is not a mere ritual. It is a constitutional mandate. Just as the seven steps
around the holy fire or the tying of Mangal Sutra are essential to sanctify a
marriage, the 'Oath' to be valid, has to be subscribed in the Prescribed Form.
The person has to demonstrate his/her 'allegiance' to the Constitution of India
by scrupulously abiding by the form. Not by altering it. Otherwise, there would
be no end to the modifications or variations. The purpose of prescribing the
Form is to induce a sense of subordination to the Constitution of India in men
of all faiths. Not to submit to it is illegal and carries with it a recurring
penalty. The constitutional boundaries cannot be crossed.
The Constitution of India does not condone the violation and does not grant the
liberty to vary the words of the Oath to the holders of Constitutional Offices.
It lays down the Form. It has to be followed in letter and spirit. If any
variation were to be allowed, there would be no end to the variations. We shall
have countless versions of God. This variety might provide the proverbial spice
to some but has the danger of spelling the doom for all.
Written By: Dinesh Singh Chauhan, Advocate,
J&K High Court of Judicature,
Email: [email protected]
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