Concept of Socialism under Indian Constitution: A Review

Dennis Jacob
Article By Dennis Jacob | 1st Year Law student at Bennett University, Greater Noida

The 42nd Amendment Act may have inserted the word of ‘socialist’ along with secular and sovereign, but these words were already present in spirit and working, owing to the fundamental rights and the directive principles. The Constitution makers never sought to make India a ‘capitalist’ economy right at the outset of India’s independence nor did it want to go for the ‘communist’ method of doing things; the shortcomings of a class-less society would have led to a state-less society. Taking into consideration the gross inequalities that was left behind by the colonial rule, it was felt that embracing socialism which aimed for an ‘egalitarian’ society would be the least risky path ahead. Therefore, if any development was to be forged in India’s path ahead, it would be done with the State leading the way forward and assisting its general populace to escape the clutches of poverty and disintegrate the inequalities that the ruthlessness of the colonial-capitalism had infected us with. The Preamble, before explicitly including the word of ‘socialism’ already contained the ideals of a just and equitable society; the basic doctrines that make up socialism. For a fact as per the constitutional debates, KT Shah had suggested the inclusion of socialism in the Preamble but Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru suggested to the contrary because according to him the ‘socialist’ principles were already embodied in the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy; an economy that worked democratically and aimed to be just to all. Even today, the word socialism has no definition in the Constitution, but the same has been left to scholarly and judicial interpretations. But the general meaning attached to ‘socialism’ in India is that the State will be one of a welfare-state and it will be the duty of the state to protect the lowest-strata of the society; especially women and children that face the repercussions of poverty and discrimination. Though it is criticized that socialism not being present in its full form in the Constitution, makes it lacking in its enforceability. But in the real sense this has not been the case; many instances and especially judicial precedents show that where State has to fulfil its role of welfarism i.e., provide equal opportunities and promote a just economy, this has overruled even Fundamental Rights of individuals.

Article 39 of the Directive Principles of State Policy (not enforceable) ‘directs’ the State to implement policies that provide the citizens- men, women (the current leaning also include the ‘third gender’) and children; an adequate means of livelihood, avoiding policies of economy that concentrate wealth to the common detriment and ensuring material resources of the community subserve the common good. This Article upholds the virtues of ‘socialism’ and though a little idealistic, it is still considered a legitimate goal that the State must pursue in its operation to govern its citizens. Mere absence of enforceability does not mean that it cannot be a test of the State’s function; this test is either witnessed in the courts, when State has acutely digressed from its welfare responsibilities or in the denouement of any democratic ruling; the elections, where the citizens give sanction to a government only if they feel that their welfare has been the mandate in its operations. The lack of enforceability of ‘socialistic virtues has been challenged now and again. But perhaps the founders of the Constitution foresaw that in the times ahead, this enforceability could interfere in the functioning of the State. Fundamental Rights of the citizens itself give the State a major challenge in its autonomous functioning and enforcing the ‘socialistic’ directives would mean incessant interference in its workings; even if for genuine reasons. So, if it is established that there is welfarism, the next question that arises is what exactly is ‘welfare’. Welfare for a middle-class individual would mean different from that of a below-poverty line family and perhaps for a wealthy-individual the only ‘welfare’ he might need is a security from internal and external threats. An attempt to answer this was seen in the case law of D.S. Nakara v. Union of India (1983) 1 SCC 305. The court opined here that the basic idea of socialism was to provide a decent standard of life and security to working people (no class distinction). The court also emphasised that the role of the state must be to facilitate in achieving goal of socialism i.e., the state will channel its efforts towards equitable distribution of income and solve problem of unemployment at the overall national level. Another case with a similar opinion was State of Karnataka v Shri. Ranganatha Reddy (1997) 4 SCC 471, where it was restated that ‘socialism’ requires that all material resources must be distributed in the community in such a manner that it definitely serves the common good. But the court cannot always interfere in the State’s policy decisions because it will seem as a breach into the other’s domain; often referred to as judicial overreach. Therefore, courts interfere in administrative decisions only if it seems arbitrary, discriminatory or biased (as principles of natural justice would deem).

Owing to this it will not always review the policies of the State because it itself understands that finally it is the State alone that is the best judge in matters of economic policy and governance; and it alone would be answerable and accountable for its actions (even if not always, the elections is one way of holding it accountable). So, if policies of the state have a capitalist or liberal character the court will not interfere as it concurs with the notion that changing times require a changing policy outlook. But nonetheless, basic principles of socialism are here to stay for some time. The best example for this in the current day is when the apex court questioned the Central government’s vaccine policy to inoculate the populace against the novel coronavirus; it enquired why the vaccines were differently priced for the Centre and State and why vaccines that were a ‘basic’ necessity for the fight against the pandemic were not provided for free. This polite tug from the top court was sufficient for the Vaccine to be made free and also to pace up the inoculation rate. Thus, judicial activism in this case has also reminded the State now and then, that India though has come a long way from when it started as an independent sovereign, it still has a population that is dependent on its survival in various spheres and the State must be facilitator of growth in all such spheres. Socialism and its inherent principles in the Indian Constitution must not be viewed as an obstacle or an inevitability to the policy implementation of the State but rather a ‘basic’ responsibility that must be at the heart of all its policy decisions. Times may change and applicability of principles may also change; but the spirit must not be defeated.

This article was written by Dennis Jacob, a 1st Year student at Bennett University, Greater Noida. He may be reached at The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the views and opinions of Hello Counsel.

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