When India adopted its Constitution in 1950, the Preamble only described the nation as a “sovereign” and “democratic” Republic. It was only through subsequent amendments that the words “secular” and “socialist” were introduced into the political grammar of the country. Section 29A(5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, required political parties to state in an affidavit that they would adhere to the principles of the Preamble of the Constitution, including socialism, if they wished to be considered as a “recognised party”.
But is it time to throw “socialism” out of the window? On the one hand, the Marxist patriarch Jyoti Basu has admitted that socialism is a far cry: “Socialism is not achievable at this point of time. Private capital has to be used for social welfare programmes. Socialism is our political agenda and is mentioned in our party document, but capitalism will continue to be the compulsion for the future.” And the West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has gone on record that capitalism, not socialism, is the only way to industrialise the State.
On the other hand, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre and the Election Commission to explain why the vow “socialist” thrust upon every party should not be scrapped when several parties swear allegiance despite their contrary positions as evident from their manifestos, speeches and programmes. The SC is hearing a petition from a Calcutta-based NGO which says the insistence is “to deliberately tunnel the collective view in one ideological direction is… a grave breach of the liberty provisions of the Constitution.”
Questions: Is it all over for socialism in the country? Are we well and truly in the capitalist era and is there no going back? Has the insistence on “socialism” as a requirement helped or harmed our democracy? Should “socialism” be viewed through the communist prism? Or should it be interpreted as a part and parcel of democracy that takes count of the last man and woman? Will our politics—and the plight of our people—get better if socialism is not required of our parties? Is the socialism vow a “reasonable restriction” or does it limit the canvas for parties which subscribe to other ideologies?