The winter session of Lok Sabha on Thursday began with an animated debate on the Constitution during which the government said the word 'secularism' mentioned in it had been "misused" while the opposition, led by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, raked up the issue of 'intolerance'.
Initiating discussion on 'Commitment to India's Constitution as part of 125th birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the architect of the Constitution had never thought of putting the term 'secularism' in the Preamble but it was incorporated through an amendment in 1976.
"The words 'socialist' and 'secular' were incorporated in the Preamble through the 42nd amendment of the Constitution. We have no objection. Let bygone be bygone. B R Ambedkar had never thought the necessity to incorporate it in the Preamble as these two words were part of the Constitution. It is inbuilt in the Indian system," he said amidst protests from Congress.
Singh objected to the use of Hindi word 'Dharma Nirpekshta', saying the literal translation of the secularism should be 'Panth Nirpekshta' and it should be regularly used as it is the official Hindi translation of secularism.
"Secularism is the most misused word in the country. Its misuse should come to an end. Because of the rampant misuse of the word, there have been instances of tension in the society," he said in the packed House where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi were present.
Singh said it was difficult to maintain social harmony because of the "rampant misuse" of the word secularism.
Gandhi, in turn, targetted the government over the issue of intolerance, alleging that ideals and principles of the Constitution are under threat and being attacked deliberately.
Several other opposition parties also raked up the intolerance issue, saying the untoward incidents witnessed in the recent past should be condemned as they send out "negative messages" and asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address the matter.
Gandhi hit out at the Bharatiya Janata Party government for organising the debate, saying "People who never had faith in the Constitution nor had they participated in its drafting, are now swearing by it and are laying claim to it. They are now having a discussion on commitment to it. There cannot be a bigger joke than this."
Insisting that whatever being witnessed over the past few months was "totally against the principles" of the Constitution, she recalled Ambedkar's warning to hit out at the ruling dispensation, as she sought to highlight the contribution of the Congress in the drafting of the Constitution and in the freedom struggle. 3
The Congress President said Ambedkar had observed that howsoever good a Constitution may be, if those implementing it were bad people, then the utlimate effect would only be bad.
At a time when the BJP is seeking to appropriate the legacy of Ambedkar, Gandhi also utilised Ambedkar's praise of the Congress for its contribution in the drafting of the Constitution, indicating that the Congress could lay the rightful claim on the document.
Contending that the issue of reservation has been politicised, the home minister made it clear that quota was a constitutional provision and there was "no scope" for any further debate on the issue.
"Reservation is a socio-political necessity. Hence, there is a constitutional provision for it," he said.
The remarks came weeks after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat favoured a review of the reservation system. Top BJP leaders, during Bihar assembly polls, repeatedly assured that the government would not do away with the present quota system.
Asserting Modi government's commitment for safety and security of every Indian, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, Singh said everyone born in India is Indian and all are brothers.
He also appared to take a jibe at actor Aamir Khan as he said Ambedkar had never thought of leaving the country despite being subjected to insult and discrimination.
He said India was the only country where all 72 sects of Muslims lived and communities like Zoroastrian and Jews felt safe while facing persecution elsewhere.
Besides paying glowing tributes to Ambedkar, Singh remembered the contribution of late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and late Home Minister Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel in nation building.
Singh described Lord Ram as the greatest democrat as he had asked his wife Sita to take 'Agni Pariksha' (test of fire) after someone raised some issue regarding her.
He said Modi was inspired by the philosophy of Ambedkar and Constitution and launched schemes like 'Jan Dhan Yojana', 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan', 'Beti Badhao, Beti Padho'.
His remarks linking the projects with Ambedkar's vision invited strong reactions and jibes from opposition benches.
When Singh said the government is working for 33 per cent reservation of jobs for women in paramilitary and state police forces, a member from the Congress asked why the Modi government was delaying the Constitution amendment bill to provide for one-third reservation for women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
In his tributes to Ambedkar, Singh said he was also the brain behind the establishment of the RBI, Finance Commission and several waterways projects across the country.
Gandhi said there was no doubt that the Constitution gave equal voice to the poor and secular values to the country, made democracy more representative and government more accountable.
Hailing the greatness of the Constitution, she said it happens very rarely in the world that a galaxy of stalwarts work in unison to produce a document of such magnitude.
Gandhi said the Constitution had proved to be flexible and had witessed more than 100 amendments in view of the changing circumstances.
She said it was the Congress party which had spotted the "unique talent and capability" of Ambedkar who had returned after higher studies in US, UK and Germany on political theory and economics and was passionately fighting for the cause of the scheduled castes and the oppressed.
The Congress chief said Ambedkar had said at that time "I was surprised when I was chosen as the chairman. There were more learned and better people than me in the Committee. It was the discipline of the Congress party that enabled the Drafting Committee to give full information about every Act in the Constitution".
She said on the morning of 26 November 1949, when the Constitution was formally adopted, Dr Rajendra Prasad complimented Ambedkar by saying, there could not have been a better chief for the Drafting Committee.
At a time when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's legacy is under attack, the Congress President underlined that Nehru was among the four stalwarts that guided the Drafting Committee. The others being Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad and Maulana Azad.
She said of the eight committees of the Drafting Committee, the chairman of these were either Nehru, Patel or Prasad. Azad was a prominent member of five of these committees.
The history of the Constitution is very old and linked to the country's freedom struggle and that it why it is interlinked with the Congress.
She recalled that it was under Nehru, the Congress in its Karachi session in March 1931, had brought a resolution on fundamental rights and economic rights.
When some BJP members sought to protest, she pointed out to them that what she is saying is history to which no one could have any objection.
Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay, while talking about 'intolerance' issue, said every such incident should be condemned and that it should be looked at as to why dignified artistes, including Aamir Khan, are feeling uneasy in their own country.
Few incidents of intolerance are sending "negative messages" and the prime minister should rise to the occasion in addressing the issue, he said.
"Why sometimes we find incidents of intolerance happening?.... Intolerance from every corner should be condemned," the Trinamool Congress member said.
The prime minister has spoken against such incidents but he did not do it in the country but abroad, he said, adding when the prime minister rises to the occasion, it would give a positive signal to the country. Modi was in the House.
The Biju Janata Dal's Tathagata Satpathy said incidents of intolerance should not be tolerated. "Let's be totally intolerant towards intolerance (incidents)," he said, adding that just by speaking about the issues would not help address the problems.
"The onus lies on us (the House) to prove that we mean what we speak," he noted.