The Preamble of the Constitution was amended by the 42nd Amendment 1976 to include secularism. The secularism is not a mere ideal in the legal order enshrined under the Constitution but the very fundamental principle governing Indian polity.
Secularism has a different connotation in each Country. In Indian context, while upholding freedom of religion, State limits its control to the extent, as provided under the Constitution particularly under Art.25 of the Constitution. The salient feature of Indian Constitution is that the State will not identify itself or will be controlled by particular religion though, vast majority of Indian citizens is deeply enmeshed in religion and custom.
The basic idea of secularism as propounded in the Indian Constitution is to retain the characteristics of heterogeneous society for the common good. It has also provided measures to uplift those communities identified as backward or minority to rise in par with majority or those with advantage.
The principle object of politics and the object of religion are different. Indian Constitution enjoins citizens to promote harmony and spirit of common brotherhood among all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversity (Art.51A). This value is the essence of every major religion in the world.
In Durga Das Basu’s Commentary on the Constitution of India, 8th edition in volume (1) it was observed as follows:
“No sane man would question the proposition that the objects of religion and politics are different and that they should not be mixed up. Obviously, the cause of both will be ruined if the one is used for achieving the purposes of the other. It may also be conceded that if ‘secularism’ be a basic feature of the Constitution, it would be impaired if the freedom of religion is subverted to achieve political purposes.”
Essence of being religious is struggle for humanity and not to work against humanity. Thus, a religion can be the medium of emancipation of the people to work in tandem with polity but not polity in tandem with religion. Every religion in India could work in collaboration with one another for common good of all under the polity and not the religion being used by the polity for the purpose of polity.
In Spirit of Laws, Volume 1, by Baron De Montesquieu at Book V, Chapter II states on what is meant by Virtue in a ‘political state’, and adds as follows:
“Virtue in a republic is a most simple thing; it is a love of the republic; it is a sensation, and not a consequence of acquired knowledge: a sensation, that may be felt by the meanest as well as by the highest person in the state. ……. The love of our Country is conducive to a purity of morals, and the latter is again conducive to the former. The less we are able to satisfy our private passions, the more we abandon ourselves to those of a general nature. ………….”
In fact, the essence of religion is to promote those values. Thus, religion can become conducive in democratic State; if religion is used for collective good of all.
The major religions in India are not averse to secularism as a concept. In fact, religion promotes such concept. Raja Dharma, the polity governed in ancient India promoted secularism. In the book ‘Raja Dharma with lessons on Raja-neeti’ by the former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Dr.M.Rama Jois, in page 16 illustrates thus:
“Narada Smriti vide Dharmakosha, P.870… King should afford protection to compacts of association of believers of veda (Naigamas) as also of disbeliever in veda (Pashandis) and of others.”
Islam is also one of the earliest proponents of secularism. The Madina Accord entered by the Prophet Mohammed with jews is the example of secular polity accepted by the Islam for common good of Muslims and Jews in general in plural society. The Jews were given the right of religious freedom along with Muslims in the Accord apart from promoting measures for common security of all. Thus, secularism as ideal is the religious concept itself.
S.R Bommai V. Union of India, AIR 1994 SC 1918
The Hon’ble Supreme Court held as follows in para 28:
“28. Notwithstanding the fact that the words “Socialist”, and ‘Secular’ were added in the Preamble of the Constitution in 1976 by the 42nd Amendment, the concept of Secularism was very much embedded in our Constitutional philosophy. The term ‘secular’ has advisely not been defined presumably because it is a very elastic term not capable of a precise definition and perhaps best left undefined. By this amendment what was implicit was made explicit.”
[The above discussion on Freedom of Press is extracted from the latest judgement of Kerala High Court in Inter Media Publishing Ltd. Vs. State of Kerala dated 23rd Day of June, 2015 authored by Justice A. Muhamed Mustaque.]