Saturday, February 07, 2009

India: Constitutionally Socialist

According to Sauvik here, "There should be a liberal party campaigning for Liberty, Free Trade and Free Markets – but that is not allowed by legislation." This was news to me and so I enquired with him as well as with the Freedom Team of India members if this was indeed true. And this is what I found out:

If you are a political party in India and want to be recognized by the Election Commisssion, you have to declare that you subscribe to the tenet of socialism. You do not have the right to dissent on this issue.

A liberal democratic party has been denied its right to participate in the elections because of its refusal to accept socialism, as its creed.

Sharad Joshi of the Swatantra Bharat Party swears allegiance to socialism, but under protest. Immediately upon gaining entry to Parliament, Sharad Joshi proposed a Private Members Bill in the Rajya Sabha to get this offending clause scrapped. Read his bill here. That would not have shifted the constitutional reference, but still would have been a good start. Naturally, all political parties distanced themselves from it. The full debates are here. The following are some excerpts:

"While socialism may be perfectly good, may be perfectly ideal thing to have but I must have the right to dissent. I am not taking any anti-socialist position. I am not taking a position that the preamble is wrong but I should have the right to change the preamble, if necessary. We decided to form a political party. We got a reply from the Election Commission saying that you will have to sign a register, or, have a clause in your memorandum of Association that you subscribe to the tenet of 'socialism.' Now, this is something which is alright for those with a pliable conscience. The problem is for the honest people who do not want to make a false statement."

"To oppose socialism is a very unpopular thing. The strongest point that Mr. Joshi, has made is that socialism is one of the many economic doctrines that have arisen in this world throughout the core world's economic history. To say that you are bound down to a particular economic doctrine, is to curtail the liberty of a speech, and which is inconsistent with democracy. Therefore, Mr. Sharad Joshi is absolutely right that democracy and socialism cannot be equated, because democracy itself means you are right to say things which others do not accept. In spite of all things, he has no chance of getting this Bill passed through this Parliament. But, certainly, in the Supreme Court of India, he is bound to succeed on the constitutionality of the provision."

In the Indian context, there is no role or scope for a political party, which does not have faith in socialism as reflected in the Directive Principles of State Policy."

SHRI SHARAD ANANTRAO JOSHI replying to the debate, said:
"As a liberal, I stand for democracy and secularism. All that I am saying is that as you are being pluralistic in the matter of secularism, religion and faith, why are you not becoming pluralistic even about the economic doctrine? Socialism may be right, and probably, what you are doing is right. But, do I have not the right to say that I do not believe in socialism?"
f you are socialist remain socialist. But please give me my right not to be a socialist."

The Motion moved by Shri Sharad Anantrao Joshi was negatived.


manju said...

Sagarone- I had never heard of this requirement. I googled this, and the situation does seem to be as you have described.

This seems to be particularly ironic since socialism as a guiding principle in economic policy has long been discarded in India.

Sanjeev said...

Dear Manju

It is true that there has been a modicum of economic liberalisation in India. But that, by no means marks the end of socialism in India.

Many India's policies continue to be socialist. My book, Breaking Free of Nehru' outlines many of them.

Common examples: government managed schools, central bank, subsidies of all sorts, fixed prices of agricultural products, barriers to movement of agricultural products across states, forcible land acquisition for commercial (not public) purpose e.g SEZs and private companies, the absence of a property right in the constitution, absence of merit as the only criterion for advancement in government funded bodies and organisations (ie. reservations), lack of level playing field on virtually everything one can think of, etc.

Further, socialism (or crony capitalism) has no rule of law and accountability: that is another typical characteristic of India. I could go on an on!

Yes, India is primarily socialist even today. It is by no means a free country, except in parts.

The Freedom Team is committed to bringing genuine freedom and equal opportunity to India. If you really care about freedom join FTI or spread the message of FTI's platform.


Usha Pisharody said...

Yet again one is educated on the nuances of the constitution, the laws and the requirements of being in politics.

It does seem strange however, that being a democratic country, one is hemmed in by that one word, and that no on seems to want to go around it, to give new hope to the land!

Vinod_Sharma said...

It will a party from a religious minority to do the needful. Then everyone will suddenly discover that socialism is a failed and restrictive economic philosophy which violates their religious rights, and the constitution will be amended without discussion!

manju said...

Sanjeevji- Yes, I suppose that many policies in India are still socialist in nature. But the govt. has ostensibly adopted liberalisation from the early '90s.

I will check out your book.

How do we know said...

that the bill was negatived is sad, but just another little reflection of how closed we are to real thought, or to thought of any kind. To blindly follow the people who lived in the reality of 60 years ago seems to be the best course forward for our political parties.

1conoclast said...


Very illuminating post. Possibly one your best, from among the ones I have read so far.

As is my wont, a few questions (to aid a better grasp of the issue):

1. Our Constitution also declares us as Democratic. Yet we have people clamouring for all kinds of undemocratic things. Some ask for military rule, some for something else. My question is, Why isn't there an equal amount of clamour around those issues?
Because nothing matters except being allowed to make potloads of money??

2. If Sharad Joshi argued that...

"While Democracy may be perfectly good, may be perfectly ideal thing to have but I must have the right to dissent. I am not taking any anti-Democracy position. I am not taking a position that the preamble is wrong but I should have the right to change the preamble, if necessary."

... would we STILL be invoking the eloquent Freedom of Choice argument?

3. The US Bill of Rights, which was an amendment to the US Constitution (if I'm not mistaken), guarantees the right to possess firearms.
Does that stop people from calling for Gun Control laws? Will stricter gun control laws in America not take place without violating the Bill of rights?
They will take place, and without violating the Bill of Rights totally.
Are pro-gun-control senators in the US, referred to as anti-Constitutional?

Similarly in India, Economic Liberalisation has taken place, & can continue to take place without going against our Socialist tenets.

4. And (leading from above) what is the issue with Socialism? Is it not human greed (or lack of charity?) that makes us averse to the concept?

I'd very very much like your views on these questions.


Sagarone said...

@1con: Nothing is sacred!

Our Constitution is a contract between the people and the state, which defines the powers and responsibilities of the state and the rights of the people. It is a document prepared by humans and there is nothing sacrosanct about it at all.

The Constituent assembly, when drafting the Constitution, decided on democracy as the best possible form of government. That does not take away the right of the people to demand a different form of government in the future.

Changes have been made to it previously and in the future, further changes will be made to it according to the demand of the times. But it is a contract and arbitrary changes by one party are bound to be resented by the other. In the future the people, represented by the parliament, may decide to rewrite it completely and bring it in tune with their aspirations at that time. Or perhaps in case of a coup, the government in power might suspend it and replace it with another governing law.

I hope this answers your query.

1conoclast said...

Thanks Sagarone.

This one I agree with.

Nothing is sacrosanct. Change is the only constant et all.

But we do need certain guidelines to lead our life, business, govern ourserlves by?

And this is why Constitutions, laws etc. exist. (Although I have heard some people advocate Anarchy as well!)

So yes. Everything should be challengeable. Even Democracy. It being challenged doesn't make it wrong. Nor right.

Ditto Socialism. It being challenged, doesn't make it right or wrong.

The point I want to make is just this:
Absolutes seldom work. A blend is best suited.

Therefore Socialism is nothing to be scared of. Unless of course one is a selfish profiteer to the gills.

Hopefully you agree?

1conoclast said...

Waise, don't let the right-wing hear us about changing the constitution. They'll start jumping for joy & the 81 year olds will fall terribly sick, you know...!

Anrosh said...

Sanjeev, Is there an online book shop where it is being sold ? Amazon does not have it.

Sagarone said...


The book is available at at the moment. You can also download and preview half of the book from Sanjeev's website in the meantime, which is

Sanjeev said...

Two responses:

Dear Manju
Yes, we did partially liberalise in June 1991 as a result of getting close to bankruptcy because of previous socialist policies. But except in a few areas the country’s governance policies are totally steeped in socialism even today, as my book will demonstrate.

Dear 1conoclast

1. Democracy is a necessary and critical requirement of free society. We can never have any problem with this concept. As you will note from reading my book (chapter on the constitution), we actually had a relatively liberal constitution to begin with, having more or less copied the British imposed India Act of 1935 (which was based on British liberal traditions since 1688, not India’s!).

2. While the US Bill of Rights guarantees the right to possess firearms, there is a peculiar history to this right, arising as it does from the massacres of unarmed Protestants by Catholics in Europe, many of these protestants were driven to America and vowed never to be unarmed again.

I do not agree with this particular element of the American social contract, for once a monopoly over arms is given to the state in order to protect us, we cannot (except in exceptional circumstances) demand the ‘freedom’ to hold arms which can accidentally kill, be readily used to commit suicide in a temporary moment of depression, or be readily used in the heat of the moment to kill.

3. Re: “what is the issue with Socialism?” Socialism is based on false assumptions of human nature (that we are all good, all the time – except the rich!), false outcomes (total equality), and dangerous process (theft). Please read Marx, a key writer of socialism. Socialism leads instantly to theft (rich to poor) and in many cases, to murder. It destroys property rights instantly (as they have been in India). I suggest you consider not only reading my book, ‘Breaking Free of Nehru’ but also the draft (and at this stage very bumpy) manuscript: The Discover of Freedom. Both are linked at: It will show you why socialism is a very dangerous and poisonous creed.

To have such a poisonous and hateful system listed as a mandatory part of our Constitution is a terrible thing. To demand that all parties must swear allegiance to this is far worse. The non-socialist is quite different from the socialist. He is honest, the socialist is totally dishonest. The non-socialist (capitalist, for short, or classical liberal in the longer form) cannot swear to socialism (and yet, like the socialists, do all kinds of heinous things). Why is socialism linked in your mind to ‘charity’ and freedom with ‘greed’? May I ask you any theoretical basis for such a statement? (not your ‘gut’ feel). I have only seen the worst specimens of greed in the socialists who rule India, and we should have nothing to do with ‘socialists’ – the worst specimen of human being.


Does it matter said...

This has to be another of those completely outdated and irrelevant 'laws' of this state. Every party does exactly what it wants, nothing for the people, favour the big moneyed industrialists, and none of their policies are geared for the common man - only for making personal wealth or for vote bank politics.
And then they preach socialism.
Hypocrites all.