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India is a democratic country where to win recognition as a political party a vow to pursue socialism is obligatory. This bizarre situation has been in existence for nearly two decades and no one has been the wiser. A public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court drew attention to this anomaly, and the apex court was forced to ask the Central government and the Election Commission to explain why this condition should not be removed. There is no denying that the clause is fundamentally anti-democratic since, according to it, a political party not swearing by socialism is not eligible for recognition by the EC. The anti-democratic thrust of this clause is not surprising since it flows from a constitutional amendment passed during the Emergency. By the 42nd amendment passed in 1976 and effective from January 3, 1977, the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ were added to the first sentence of the Constitution of India. That sentence now reads, “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic….’’ The three words ‘socialist’, ‘secular’ and ‘democratic’ have come to represent what many jurists call the “basic feature” of the Constitution. The insertion of the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ marked a departure from the intentions of the founding fathers. The pledge to socialism demanded of political parties is actually based on that significant departure made during the Emergency.

There is another point to which attention needs to be drawn. This clause has introduced an element of hypocrisy into the political process. It has forced political parties to swear by an ideology that they do not uphold or have long abandoned. The clause has forced political parties to pay lip service to socialism and has thereby kept out those who are not willing to indulge in such hypocrisy. The preamble to the Constitution promises to secure liberty of thought and of opportunity to all its citizens. The demand to swear by socialism, in fact, contravenes the fundamental guarantee to secure liberty of thought and opportunity. While the EC and the government of India might come up with some arcane justification of the said clause, the matter is simple. A political party should have the liberty to choose its own ideology, socialism may or may not be a part of its ideological programme.

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