Initial Draft of the Preamble

In the earliest draft the Preamble was something formal and read:

“We, the people of India, seeking to promote the common good, do hereby, through our chosen representatives, enact, adopt and give to ourselves this Constitution[1].”

Impact of Political Changes

After the plan of June 3, 1947, which led to the decision to partition the country and to set up two independent Dominions of India and Pakistan, on June 8, 1947, a joint sub- committee of the Union Constitution and Provincial Constitution Committees, took note that the objective resolution would require amendment in view of the latest announcement of the British Government.

The announcement of June 3 had made it clear that full independence, in the form of Dominion Status, would be conferred on India as from August 15, 1947. After examining the implications of partition the sub-committee thought that the question of making changes in the Objectives Resolution could appropriately be considered only when effect had actually been given to the June 3 Plan.[2]

The Union Constitution Committee provisionally accepted the Preamble as drafted by B.N. Rao and reproduced it in its report of July 4, 1947 without any change, with the tacit recognition at that stage that the Preamble would be finally based on the Objectives Resolution.

Acceptance of the Preamble

In a statement circulated to members of the Assembly on July 18, 1947 Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru inter alia, observed that the Preamble was covered more or less by the Objectives Resolution which it was intended to incorporate in the final Constitution subject to some modification on account of the political changes resulting from partition.

Three days later, moving the report of the Union Constitution Committee for the consideration of the Assembly, he suggested that it was not necessary at that stage to consider the draft of the Preamble since the Assembly stood by the basic principles laid down in the Objectives Resolution and these could be incorporated in the Preamble in the light of the changed situation.[3] The suggestion was accepted by the Assembly and further consideration of the Preamble was held over.

Adoption of the Declaration and Finalization of the Preamble

In the meantime the declaration[4] was adopted at the end of April, 1949 by the Government of the various Commonwealth countries and the resolution was ratified by Constituent Assembly on May 17 1949 after two days’ debate.

In the meantime the process of merger and integration of Indian States had been completed and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was able to tell the Constituent Assembly on October 12, 1949, that the new Constitution was “not an alliance between democracies and dynasties, but a real union of the Indian people, built on the basic concept of the sovereignty of the people.[5]

The draft Preamble was considered by the Assembly on October 17, 1949. Shiva Rao observes that “the object of putting the Preamble last, the President of the Assembly explained, was to see that it was in conformity with the Constitution as accepted.”

Once the transfer of power had taken place the question of British Parliament’s subsequent approval which was visualised in the British Cabinet Commission’s original plan of May 1946 could no longer arise. The sovereign character of the Constituent Assembly thus became automatic with the rapid march of events without any controversy, and the words in the Preamble “give to ourselves this Constitution” became appropriate.

The Preamble was adopted by the Assembly without any alteration. Subsequently the words and figure “this twenty-sixth day of November 1949” were introduced in the last paragraph to indicate the date on which the Constitution was finally adopted by the Constituent Assembly.

Interpretation of the Preamble

Regarding the use which can be made of the preamble in interpreting an ordinary statute, there is no doubt that it cannot be used to modify the language if the language of the enactment is plain and clear. If the language is not plain and clear, then the preamble may have effect either to extend or restrict the language used in the body of an enactment.

If the language of the enactment is capable of more than one meaning then that one is to be preferred which comes nearest to the purpose and scope of the preamble.”[6]

As Sir Alladi Krishnaswami, a most eminent lawyer said, “so far as the Preamble is concerned, though in an ordinary statute we do not attach any importance to the Preamble, all importance has’ to be attached to the Preamble in a Constitutional statute“.[7] Our Preamble outlines the objectives of the whole Constitution. It expresses “what we had thought or dreamt for so long.

Judicial Views on the Preamble

In re. Berubari Union and Exchange of Enclaves [1960] 3 S.C.R. 250, 281-82 this was said about the Preamble:

There is no doubt that the declaration made by the people of India in exercise of their sovereign will in the preamble to the Constitution is, in the words of Story, “a key to open the mind of the makers” which may show the general purposes for which they made the several provisions in the Constitution; but nevertheless the preamble is not a part of the Constitution, and, as Willoughby has observed about the” preamble to the American Constitution, “it has never been regarded as the source of any substantive power conferred on the Government of the United States or any of its departments. Such powers embrace only those expressly granted in the body of the Constitution and such as may be implied from those so granted”. What is true about the power is equally true about the prohibitions and limitations.

Wanchoo, J. in Golaknath v. Punjab [1967] 2 S.C.R. 762; 838 and 914 relied on Berubari’s case and said:

On a parity of reasoning we are of opinion that the preamble cannot prohibit or control in any way or impose any implied prohibitions or limitations on the power to amend the Constitution contained in Article 368.

Bachawat, J. in this case observed:

Moreover the preamble cannot control the unambiguous language of the articles of the Constitution.

Kesavananda Bharthi Case

In Kesavananda Bharthi v. Union of India (1973), Justice Sikri in his judgment said:

With respect, the Court was wrong in holding, as has been shown above, that the Preamble is not a part of the Constitution unless the court was thinking of the distinction between the Constitution Statute and the Constitution, mentioned by Mr. Palkhivala. It was expressly voted to be a part of the Constitution.

It seems to me that the Preamble of our Constitution is of extreme importance and the Constitution should be read and interpreted in the light of the grand and noble vision expressed in the Preamble.


Kesavananda Bharthi v. Union of India (1973)

[1] (Shiva Rao’s Framing of India’s Constitution-A study-p. 127.)

[2] .(Special Sub-Committee minutes June 9, 1947. Later on July 12, 1947, the special sub-committee again postponed consideration of the matter. Select Documents II, 20(ii), p. 617. (Shiva Rao’s-Framing of India’s Constitution-A study-(p. 127 footnote)

[3] (Shiva Rao’s-Framing of India’s Constitution-A studypp. 127-128 (also see footnote 1 p. 128).

[4] (See Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. 8, page 2)

[5] Shiva Rao’s-Framing of India’s Constitution-A study-pp. 130- 132).

[6] see Tbibhuban Parkash Nayyar v. The Union of India) [1970] 2 S.C.R. 732- 737.

[7] (Constituent Assembly Debates Vol. 10, p. 417).