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Rework the agenda

Socialism has often been used to mask the growth of capitalism in India. But instead of removing socialism from the Constitution, let’s make the directive principles of State policy mandatory, writes Sitaram Yechury.

columns Updated: Jul 27, 2010 00:01 IST

A recent decision of the Supreme Court has attracted considerable attention in public discourse. The apex court refused to entertain a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the need for political parties to declare allegiance to ‘socialism’ — enshrined in the Preamble of our Constitution — to obtain recognition from the Election Commission. Noted jurist and my former Rajya Sabha colleague Fali Nariman had a point when he argued that since market forces, under neo-liberal economic reforms, have been the determining factor for over two decades, it was a dichotomy to force political parties to owe allegiance to ‘socialism’. The court, however, rejected this on the grounds that no political party has challenged this requirement so far. Such hypocrisy has been decried, if not denounced, by some columnists who entertain the so-called ‘eternality of capitalism’ and the ‘end of ideology’ predilections.

Strange as this may sound, this ruling reflects the supreme hypocrisy of our ruling classes as reflected in Solicitor General’s defence (reflecting the UPA 2 government’s view) of the existing Constitutional requirement. ‘Socialism’ was inserted in the Preamble by Indira Gandhi during Emergency in the mid-70s. The rise of authoritarianism and the large-scale curtailment of democratic rights and liberties under the Emergency was sought to be cloaked under exhortations of ‘socialism’. Very chillingly reminiscent then of the way Adolf Hitler used ‘national socialism’ to consolidate the Nazi fascist machine.

The issue of mentioning ‘socialism’ in our Constitution was a matter of debate in the Constituent Assembly itself. Moving the resolution to draw up a Constitution for India’s governance, Jawaharlal Nehru, while asserting that he stood for socialism and hoped that India will stand for socialism, didn’t use the word as ‘it may be agreeable to many and may not be agreeable to some’. He, however, went on to stress that the content of the resolution that proposed to guarantee social, economic and political equality to all sufficiently reflected a socialist character.

On a later occasion, B.R. Ambedkar rejected an amendment moved by Professor KT Shah inserting the word ‘socialism’ in the first clause of the Constitution. Ambedkar advanced two reasons on the lines similar to that of Nehru’s. He strengthened the content argument by pointing out Part IV of the Constitution, which deals with the directive principles of State policy, by saying, “If these directive principles to which I have drawn attention are not socialistic in their direction and in their content, I fail to understand what more socialism can be.” However, directive principles were never made mandatory.

Socialism, as a political slogan, had a big relevance given the powerful mass movement that resulted in our country’s freedom and the accompanied hopes for a better future. While the façade was maintained for sometime, the hypocrisy lay in the fact that, all along, independent India pursued a trajectory of capitalist development, which is the antithesis of socialism. The public sector, erroneously and sometimes deliberately described as ‘socialism’, was nothing else but the marshalling of people’s resources through the State to create the required economic infrastructure for the growth of private capitalism. Leaders of Indian monopoly capital collectively proposed the establishment of the public sector in the famous Bombay Plan that they drew up in 1944. The defence of the public sector today, as the means to resist imperialist globalisation’s assault on our economic sovereignty, in no way detracts from this class need for the creation of the public sector in the first place.

This trajectory resulted in the assets of the top 22 monopoly houses shooting up from Rs 312.63 crore in 1957 to Rs 1,58,004.72 crore in 1997, a 500-fold increase. Private capital, thus enabled, mounted pressure for the privatisation of the public sector in order to further enlarge their profits. The subsequent years of neo-liberal reforms have today produced 52 USD billionaires whose combined assets equal a fourth of our country’s GDP. On the other hand, 77 per cent of our people are living on less than Rs 20 a day.

This is accompanied by an unbridled loot of public resources and the country’s mineral wealth under what can be described as ‘crony capitalism’ at its worst. The telecom scam, the Indian Premier League scam and the illegal mining scam appear to rule the roost. Further, this is also distorting our parliamentary democracy where money power is influencing the voting pattern of the people.

The election expenses of candidates of major bourgeois parties, in the recent elections, make a mockery of the limits set by the Election Commission. Democracy is increasingly being defined not by people’s popular choices but by the capacity of political parties to spend exorbitant amounts of money to coerce the voters. Leave alone socialism, even democracy is fast losing its real meaning.

The reason why none of the political parties that embrace neo-liberal reforms, like the Congress and its allies now or the BJP and its allies earlier, have objected to the need to show allegiance to socialism, as the Supreme Court questioned, is not far to seek. The loot of our resources and the distortion of our democracy require the socialist mask (read: aam aadmi) to hide behind.

The point is not to rip the mask apart. The point is to change the reality behind this mask. Instead of seeking to remove ‘socialism’ from the Constitution, we need to work towards realising its spirit and content of providing — in the real sense — liberty, equality and fraternity to all. We can begin by making the directive principles of State policy mandatory.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP

The views expressed by the author are personal