OPINION

Is India Still Socialist?

July 14, 2010
thedailypheesh

The Supreme Court recently 'dismissed as withdrawn' a petition by an NGO challenging the insertion of the word 'socialist' in the Preamble of the Constitution of India, terming it a mere academic matter. It seems the court used the term 'academic' in the sense of nobody relevant (read political parties) having raised it at this point of time.

Now all we can do is merely speculate the relevance of the term socialism in the Preamble. Ignore the fact that India's largest company, largest bank, largest steel producer etc etc are all state-owned; one could hope that the word would be retained to at least give students a faint glimpse of the time when our national priorities seemed a bit different. But, says the NGO which filed the petition, market reforms mean that expecting political parties to swear to uphold socialism is a mere dichotomy.

This implies that a certain vision that animated the use of the word socialism is bankrupt merely because of 20 years of reforms. Would such an approach also imply that there should be no ban on child labour simply because we have failed to eradicate it over 63 years? Obviously not. Thus, the point the petition seeks to make is that socialism no longer occupies any place in the 'national consensus'; that we have reached a stage where socialism is no longer one of those goals which we aspire to, despite our innumerable failures to attain it.

The constitution of a country is not a mere rule book. True, it is a site of contestation. But one would hope the contestation is towards a greater aim, a nobler society. Socialism means a lot of things to a lot of people but no one can deny it seeks greater egalitarianism and a greater role for the collective in deciding the future of their labour. That such an aim, no matter the ways to achieve it, would not be part of a constitution seems a very blinkered way of perceiving the future of a county.

On a related note, there has long been a contention that India has lacked a conservative movement on par with those in the west. Two decades after the economic reforms it would seem that what we call civil society, comprising a variety of(though not all) NGOs have emerged as the torch-bearers of conservative ideology. Products of and truly indebted to the LPG wave, favouring the limited role of the state in economic and administrative affairs and against any radical overhaul of the economic and social foundation, they seem to best embody the limited-government principles of the conservative movement. This petition, while insignificant in its own right, is a small pointer to the solid emergence of this movement.

PS. The crowning irony of course, is that legal eagle Fali. S. Nariman, arguing the case for the NGO, cited Ambedkar's opposition to the introduction of socialism. Yes, ignore the rest of that man's voluminous and often beautifully curt writing about a host of issues including caste and pick up that bit about socialism!

thedailypheesh is a Masters Graduate and a software employee.
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