It was argued on the floor of the Assembly that the religious freedom guaranteed under the Constitution was opposed to the concept of a secular State which the Constitution aimed to establish. This proposition was successfully challenged by several prominent members including those of the Drafting Committee.

Some of the observations made in this context deserve reproduction in original. According to Lakshmi Kant Maitra the above mentioned conception of a secular State was wholly wrong.

He said:

“By secular State, as I understand it, is meant that the State is not going to make any discrimination whatsoever on the ground of religion or community against any person professing any particular form of religious faith. This means in essence that no particular religion in the State will receive any State patronage whatsoever.


The State is not going to establish, patronise or endow any particular religion to the exclusion of or in preference to others and that no citizen in the State will have any preferential treatment or will be discriminated against simply on the ground that he professed a particular form of religion. In other words, in the affairs of the State, the professing of any particular religion will not be taken into consideration at all. This I consider is the essence of a secular State.”

H.V. Kamath said:

“When I say that a State should not identify itself with any particular religion, I do not mean to say that a State should be anti-religious or irreligious. We have certainly declared India to be a secular State. But to my mind, a secular State is neither a God-less State nor an irreligious nor an anti-religious State.”

Participating in the debate of the Hindu Code Bill in Parliament, Ambedkar explained the concept of secularism as follows:


“It (secular State) does not mean that we shall not take into consideration the religious sentiments of the people. All that a secular State means is that this Parliament shall not be competent to impose any particular religion upon the rest of the people. That is the only limitation that the Constitution recognises.”

The significance of secularism as it relates to the State in India has been dealt with at length by India’s second President, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, in the following words:

“When India is said to be a secular State, it does not mean that we reject the reality of an unseen spirit or the relevance of religion to life or that we exalt irreligion. It does not mean that secularism itself becomes a positive religion or that the State assumes divine prerogatives.

Though faith in the Supreme is the basic principle of the Indian tradition the Indian State will not identify itself with or be controlled by any particular religion. We hold that no one religion should be given preferential status, or unique distinction, that no one religion should be accorded special privileges in national life or international relations for that would be a violation of the basic principles of democracy and contrary to the best interests of religion and government.


This view of religious impartiality, of comprehension and forbearance has a prophetic role to play within the national and international life. No group of citizens shall arrogate to itself right and privileges which it denies to others. No person should suffer any form of disability or discrimination because of his religion but all alike should be free to share to the fullest degree in the common life.

This is the basic principle involved in the separation of Church and State. The religious impartiality of the Indian State is not to be confused with secularism or atheism. Secularism as here defined is in accordance with the ancient religious tradition of India. It tries to build up a fellowship of believers, not by subordinating individual qualities to the group-mind but by bringing them into harmony with each other.”

Thus the distinguishing features of a secular democracy as contemplated by the Constitution of India are: (1) that the State will not identify itself with or be controlled by any religion; (2) that while the State guarantees to everyone the right to profess whatever religion one chooses to follow (which includes also the right to be an agnostic or an atheist), it will not accord any preferential treatment to any of them; (3) that no discrimination will be shown by the State against any person on account of his religion or faith, and (4) that the right of every citizen, subject to any general condition, to enter any office under the State will be equal to that of his fellow-citizens.

Political equality which entitles any Indian citizen to seek the highest office under the State is the heart and soul of secularism as envisaged by the Constitution. It secures the conditions of creating a fraternity of the Indian people which assures both the dignity of the individual and the unity of the nation.