The Constitution of a country provides the basis for the governance of the country. The Constitution contains the law and principles according to which a State is governed. A Government which is controlled or limited by a Constitution, is called a Constitutional Government. ‘Constitutionalism’ means belief in a constitutional Government or belief in constitutional principles.
The Constitution of India begins with a Preamble. The Preamble contains the ideals objectives and basic principles of the Constitution. The Preamble to the Constitution has played a predominant role in shaping the destiny of the country. The Preamble is of great utility as a guide to the interpretation of the constitutional provisions of the Constitution.
The document containing laws and rules which determine and describe the form of the government, the relationship between the citizens and the government, is called a ‘Constitution’.
As such, a Constitution is concerned with two main aspects i.e. the relation between different organs and different levels of government and between the government and the citizens. The Constitution of a country provides the basis for governance of the country. A Constitution contains basic or fundamental laws of the land and established rule of law.
In short, Constitution contains law and principles according to which a State is governed.
A government which is controlled or ruled or limited by a Constitution, is called a constitutional government.
‘Constitutionalism’ means belief in a constitutional government or belief in constitutional principles. Constitutionalism establishes a constitutional government which is controlled or ruled by a Writen Constistitution.The development of Judicial system can be traced to the growth of ‘Constitutionalism'.
The Constitution of India begins with a ‘Preamble’. The ‘Preamble’ contains the ideals, objectives and the basic principles of the Constitution. The Preamble reads :
We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens.
JUSTICE, Social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all.
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.
The Preamble, in brief, explains the objectives of the Constitution in two ways; one, about the structure of governance and the other, about the ideals to be achieved by India. It is because of this, that the Preamble is considered to be the key of the Constitution.
The ‘objectives’ specified in the ‘Preamble’ contains the basic structure of the Constitution which cannot be amended in exercise of the power under Article- 368 of the Constitution.
The following judgements of the Supreme Court relates to the theory of basic structure of the Constitution.
The ‘Preamble’ has been amended by the Constitutions, 42nd Amendment Act of 1976. It is important to note that in ‘Keshvanand Bharti’, case the Supreme Court held that the Preamble is the basic structure of the Constitution whereas the same Court held in the famous ‘Berubari case’ that the Preamble is not the basic structure of the Constitution.
The preamble reveals four ingrediants of components:
It is interesting to note that the Preamble, though the Constitution opens with it, was not the first to come into existence. It was the last piece of drafting adopted by the Constituent Assembly at the end of the first reading of the Constitution and then mentioned in the beginning of the Constitution. The motion to adopt the Preamble was moved on 17th October, 1949. The President of the Drafting Committee moved the motion — “That the Preamble stands part of the Constitution.” The motion was adopted on November 2, 1949. The Preamble was added to the Constitution. The vexed question whether the Preamble is a part of the Constitution or not was dealt with in two leading cases on the subject:
On the answer to the primary question — whether the Preamble is a part of the Constitution, would depend on the resolution of the next question, which follows as a corollary – whether the Preamble can be amended, if at all.
Berubari Case was the main Reference “under Article 143(1) of the Constitution of India on the implementation of the Indo-Pakistan Agreement relating to Berubari Union and Exchange of Enclaves” which came up for consideration by a Bench consisting of eight Judges headed by the Chief Justice B.P. Sinha. Justice Gajendragadkar delivered the unanimous opinion of the Court. The Court ruled that the Preamble to the Constitution, containing the declaration made by the people of India in exercise of their sovereign will, no doubt is “a key to open the mind of the makers” which may show the general purpose for which they made the several provisions in the Constitution but nevertheless the Preamble is not a part of the Constitution.
The holding in ‘Berubari case’ has been summed up later by Justice Shelat and Justice Grover. in Kesavanand case (vide para 534) as under:
Berubari case was relied on in Golak Nath case Justice Wanchoo, said: “On a parity of reasoning we are of the opinion that the Preamble cannot prohibit or control in any way or impose any implied prohibitions or limitations on the bar to amend the Constitution contained in Article 368”.
Justice Bachawat, observed: “Moreover the Preamble cannot control the unambiguous language of the Articles of the Constitution.”
It is a matter of regret, yet a matter of record, that constitutional history was overlooked by the eminent Judges constituting the Bench answering the Presidential Reference in ‘Berubari case’. The motion adopted by the Constituent Assembly stated in so many words that the Preamble stands as a part of the Constitution. The error came to be corrected in ‘Kesavananda case’ where the majority specifically ruled that the Preamble was as much a part of the Constitution as any other provision therein. Kesavananda Bharti case has thus created history.
It would be interesting to note what some out of the thirteen Judges constituting the Bench which decided ‘Kesavananda Bharati’ case had to say about the Preamble, For the first time, a Bench of thirteen Judges assembled and sat in its original jurisdiction hearing the writ petition. Thirteen Judges placed on record 11 separate opinions. It is not an easy task to find out the ratio of the holding of the Court in Kesavananda Bharati case. To the extent necessary for the purpose of the Preamble, it can be safely concluded that the majority in Kesavananda Bharati case leans in favour of holding, (i) that the Preamble to the Constitution of India is a part of the Constitution; (ii) that the Preamble is not a source of power nor a source of limitations or prohibitions; and (iii) the Preamble has a significant role to play in the interpreatation of statutes also in the interpretation of provisions of the Constitution. When it is necessary to determine the width or reach of any provision or when there is any ambiguity or obscurity in the provision which needs to be clarified or when the language admits of meanings more than one the Preamble may be relied on. However, the Preamble cannot be utilised as an aid to interpretation when the language is plain and unambiguous.
An interesting argument advanced in Kesavananda casehas been noted by Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, that the Preamble may be a part of the Constitution but is not a provision of the Constitution and therefore, you cannot amend the Constitution so as to destroy the Preamble. Discarding the submissions Chandrachud, J. held that it was impossible to accept the contention that the Preamble is not a provision of the Constitution; it is a part of the Constitution and is not outside the reach of the amending power under Article 368. The record of the Constituent Assembly leaves no scope for this contention. It is transparent from the proceedings that the Preamble was put to vote and was actually voted upon to form a part of the Constitution. The Preamble records, like a sunbeam, certain glowing thoughts and concepts of history and the argument is that in its very nature it is unamendable because no present or future, however mighty, can assume the power to amend the true facts of past history. Though the true facts of past history cannot be changed yet the Preamble in other parts can be amended.
Keesavananda Bharati case is a milestone and also a turning point in the constitutional history of India. The divergence in judicial opinion on issues of grave constitutional significance which arose for decision in the case is amazing and interesting to any student of constitutional law. Each of the learned Judges recording his opinion has chosen the choicest words and has been at his best while translating into words the dreams of our Founding Fathers and of “We, the people of India.”
Justice D.G. Palekar, held that the Preamble is a part of the Constitution and, therefore, is amendable under Article 368. He termed the submission that the Fundamental Rights are an elaboration of the Preamble, as “an overstatement and a half-truth”.
In the opinion of Justice H.R. Khanna, the Preamble is a part of the Constitution. He developed a concept of natural rights linked with cherished values like liberty, equality and democracy as enthroned in the Preamble. He agreed that such rights are inalienable and cannot be affected by an amendment of the Constitution for these are cherished values and representative of those ideals for which men have striven through the ages.
Justice Khanna, also rejected the submission that the Preamble is not a part of the Constitution but “walks before the Constitution”. In his opinion, the Preamble was as much a part of the Constitution as its other provisions and hence amenable to constitutional amendment excepting those provisions which relate to the basic structure or framework of the Constitution, and therefore to the extent to which the Preamble itself is amendable, its provisions other than those relating to basic structure cannot be read as imposing any implied limitations on the power of amendment.
Justice S.N. Dwivedi, expressing his concurrence with the conclusion arrived at by Justice A.N. Ray, held that the Preamble was a part of the Constitution. It is noteworthy that Justice Dwivedi held the Preamble to be a part of the Constitution and then also referred to it as a provision of the Constitution.
In conclusion, Justice Beg, held that there was no limitation on the powers of constitutional amendment found in Article 368.