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|May 4, 1998||
No question of changing Constitution's secular nature, says BJP
Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Gandhinagar
Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have sought to dispel fears that the party is keen on removing the word 'secular' from the preamble to the Constitution.
Misgivings have been expressed in this connection ever since the BJP declared its intention to set up a Constitutional review commission.
BJP vice-president K R Malkani told Rediff On The NeT at Gandhinagar, venue of the party's national council meeting, "By definition India is secular. Even the Vedas say that in this land, there are a variety of races and tribes, and equal protection is given to all of them. So nobody has to teach us secularism. It is in our blood and genes."
"A person is secular mentally and by conviction, and not because somebody has put the word 'secular' in our Constitution," Malkani added. "The Constitution has been amended from time to time in bits and pieces. The idea is to put the amendments together after this committee brings out a report."
Defending the move, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Madan Lal Khurana said, "Those who say we will change the secular character of the Constitution are the ones who did not allow B R Ambedkar in Parliament, and they have no right to say that the BJP will remove the word 'secular' from the preamble."
According to BJP vice-president O Rajagopal, "The proposed review will not be in violation of the basic characteristics of the Constitution. In fact, after the review, there will be improvements."
Despite such reassurances, BJP leaders are unclear when the commission will be set up, or who will head it, apart from stating that it will comprise eminent jurists. Even here, there are no names forthcoming. Details of the proposed commission may be finalised at the meeting of the 14-party coordination committee on May 9.
According to BJP leaders, the commission will also focus on improvement in Centre-state relations, through active decentralisation of power.
"The basic structure of the Constitution will remain the same, but we have to understand why we failed these last 50 years," says BJP general secretary K N Govindacharya. "The Congress imposed the Emergency, and the CPI-M supported it. So these parties have no right to tell us that democratic norms in India will be threatened by this commission."
BJP leaders also reiterate their party's faith in the Constitution by reminding this correspondent that the Vajpayee administration has not dismissed any state government by invoking Article 356, in spite of immense pressure from some of its regional allies in Tamil Nadu and Bihar.
"Our opponents have unconstitutionally dismissed BJP-led governments in Gujarat and UP in the past, and now they are telling us that democracy is in danger," Govindacharya said.
That the BJP is a long way from implementing the recommendations of the proposed Commission is obvious from the statement of another party vice-president; K L Sharma told Rediff On The NeT: "No recommendation can be passed unless we have a two-thirds majority in Parliament. So our opponents need not worry about the setting up of the Constitutional review commission."
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