A day after a row erupted over the ministry of information and broadcasting's Republic Day advertisement, a key constituent in the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Shiv Sena on Wednesday demanded "permanent deletion" of the words "secular" and "socialist" from the Constitution.
A war of words had broken out between political parties on Tuesday when an advertisement issued by the ministry carried a picture of the Preamble to the Constitution as it appeared before the 42nd amendment, without the words "secular" and "socialist". The controversy comes against the backdrop of President Barack Obama’s last speech in India gently nudging the government to uphold religious freedom.
"We welcome the exclusion of the (secular and socialist) words from the Republic Day advertisement. Though it might have been done inadvertently, it is like honouring the feelings of the people of India. If these words were deleted by mistake this time, they should be deleted from the Constitution permanently," Sena MP Sanjay Raut said.
The words "socialist" and "secular" became a part of the Preamble of the Constitution of India, which was adopted in 1949, only in 1976 after they were added through the 42nd amendment.
"From the time they (the words) were included in the Constitution, it is being said that this country can never be secular. Balasaheb Thackeray, and Veer Savarkar before him, had been saying that India was divided on the lines of religion. Pakistan was created for Muslims, thus, what remains is a Hindu Rashtra," Raut said.
The minority community has been used only for political gains, while "Hindus are being continuously disrespected," he alleged.
"It is nowhere written in the Constitution that you mete out such treatment to Hindus and use Muslims to garner votes," he said.
"This mistake on the part of the government has happened only because destiny wants this to happen. Modi is the Prime Minister of India, and his thoughts on Hindutva are strong," the Sena leader said.
The controversy also comes amid concerns about growing religious intolerance in the country.
Opposition parties condemned the statement and criticised the government and its ally Shiv Sena.
"This is a secular country and not a Hindu country. The word secular cannot be removed arbitrarily on its own. This is an attempt to undermine the Constitution of the country," Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyer told a TV channel.
The Nationalist Congress party (NCP) also said the Bharatiya Janata Party only wants a Hindu nation.
"The BJP does not want a socialist, secular state, they want a capitalist Hindu state," NCP leader Nawab Malik told CNN-IBN.
Congress leader Manish Tewari on Tuesday had attacked the Centre on the issue, claiming the government advertisement "deleted" the two words, which was only a prelude to their "substitution" with "communal" and "corporate".
Minister of state for information and broadcasting ministry Rajyavardhan Rathore, however, was quick to dismiss the charge saying his ministry had only used an "original" picture of the Preamble as it appeared before the amendment, to "honour" the first Preamble.
The Union minister also claimed that the same picture had been used in an advertisement by the ministry in April 2014 when Tewari headed the ministry.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has hailed the Constitution as the nation’s “holy book”.
The advertisement showed an image of the Preamble in the background with a quote from Modi and pictures of some citizens in traditional attire at the front.
( With PTI inputs)