Should allegiance to socialism be mandatory for registration of political parties? A public interest petition has challenged the 42nd Amendment enacted in 1976 during the emergency that added the word "Socialist" in the Preamble to the Constitution.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan on Tuesday asked the Centre and the Election Commission to respond to the petitioner's plea to strike down the mandatory requirement under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, for any political party seeking registration to pledge allegiance to socialist ideology.
In the alternative, petitioner Good Governance India Foundation sought de-recognition of all political parties which have wrongly sworn allegiance to socialist ideals despite pursuing contrary objectives as evident from their manifestoes, political speeches, common minimum programmes and other such documents.
The petitioner contended that as the Preamble is part of the basic structure of the Constitution, the amendment was unconstitutional. It said such an insertion was also wholly inconsistent with the phrase "Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship" in the Preamble itself.
The 42nd Amendment was an attempt to create a particular ideological basis for adherence to the Constitution, which was against the principle of a multi-party democracy, it added.
The bench, however, refused to consider the challenge to Section 2(a) of the Constitution's 42nd Amendment Act that added the word "Socialist" to the Preamble, saying socialism should not be taken in a narrower sense as was construed by communists. It should be understood as a facet of democracy and a welfare state.
On behalf of the petitioner, senior counsel Fali S Nariman submitted that Section 29A(5) of the RPA, to the extent it required mandatory adherence to the policy of socialism, violated Articles 19(1)(a) (right to freedom of speech and expression) and 19(1)(c) (right to form associations of unions) as it was an unreasonable restriction on these rights. This provision was added to the RPA by an amendment in 1989.
Nariman pointed out that most political parties which pledge allegiance to socialism to get them registered, were violating it. He said in the changed political and economic scenario, the provision had no meaning.
The petitioner said the word "socialist" was not present in the original Constitution and that the Constituent Assembly took a considered decision not to include it. Terming it as a "tainted insertion" the petitioner submitted that it out to be erased to free the Constitution from the "shackles of limited ideology".
By using its power of amendment under Article 368 of the Constitution, Parliament could not have amended the Preamble which laid down the ideals and aspirations of the nation, it added.