Did Ambedkar ask God… Fierce debate on the words of the oath and the option of 'sincere affirmation' found

Ananya Shroff
17 Min Read

New Delhi: “I, having been elected a member of the Lok Sabha, do swear in the name of God/solemnly affirm that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established. That I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India. And that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office I am about to assume.” One by one all the MPs are taking this oath in the Parliament. In the first meeting of the 18th Lok Sabha, the House is echoing with these words of oath. Some MPs are taking oath in the name of God, the Constitution and the dignity of their office, while some are taking oath in the name of truth. Have you ever wondered why there are only these two options for oath? Why does no one take oath in the name of religious scriptures, God, Constitution or anyone else? There is a very interesting story behind this.

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Fierce debate over swear words

You know that it took 2 years, 11 months and 18 days to make the Constitution. In these 114 days, the Constituent Assembly held serious and detailed discussions on each subject. When it came to the oath of MPs, there was a lot of discussion on what should be its format. As the chairman of the drafting committee, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar prepared a draft of the oath of MPs. In the draft of the Constitution that was prepared, the subject of oath was placed in the third schedule. It was discussed in the Constituent Assembly on 26 August and 16 October 1949. It includes affirmations and oaths to be taken by persons holding the posts of Union Ministers, Ministers of State, Members of Parliament, Members of State Legislature, Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts.

The members of the Constituent Assembly gave their own arguments

Several members in the Constituent Assembly presented their arguments on this schedule, particularly on the matter of mentioning the name of God in the oath and affirmation. Dr. Ambedkar moved an amendment that gave people the option of taking oath in the name of 'God'. Sardar Bhupinder Singh Mann, a Sikh member from Punjab, opposed the move on moral and religious grounds. Surprisingly, the member insisted that since God was not a member of the Assembly and his consent had not been taken, the word 'God' could not be included in the oath.

Demand to give priority to God before honesty

Another member said that since the people in these posts would be performing secular functions, it made no sense to ask them to take the name of God while taking the oath. He also argued that in politics one has to perform non-religious functions as well, so it was inappropriate to include 'God' in it. Some members of the Assembly were also adamant that the oath taking ceremony should be preceded by the swearing-in ceremony, which should not mention 'God'. They believed that placing the word 'God' after the oath means that its importance is reduced. One member argued strongly in favour of this change. He said that in the Constitution made according to the choice of the Indian people, the oath should begin with taking the oath in the name of 'God'. The amendment ensuring this change was finally accepted by the Constituent Assembly. The revised Third Schedule from the Assembly was adopted into the Constitution on 26 August 1949. The schedule was discussed again on 16 October 1949, but no significant change was made.

Dr. Ambedkar introduced the amendment proposal

Let us know what each member said on the words of the oath on 26 August 1949. Here we are presenting the arguments of some prominent members, which you will feel happy to read. The debate on this topic started when an amendment was introduced by Dr. Ambedkar. Dr. Ambedkar said-

The Honourable Dr. B. R. Ambedkar: Sir, I beg to move that in Form 1 of the declarations in the Third Schedule, the words 'soberly affirm (or swear)' be inserted [सत्यनिष्ठा से प्रतिज्ञान करता हूं (अथवा शपथ लेता हूं)] for the words and brackets the following shall be substituted:-

'Solemnly affirm'/Swear in the name of God' Sir, I also move that “In Form 2 of the declarations in the Third Schedule, the words 'Solemnly affirm (or swear)[forthewordsandbracketsIsolemnlyaffirm(orswear)thefollowingshouldbesubstituted:-'Solemnlyaffirm'/'SwearinthenameofGod'(Isolemnlyaffirm)”[forthewordsandbracketsIsolemnlyaffirm(orswear)thefollowingshouldbesubstituted:-'Solemnlyaffirm'/'SwearinthenameofGod'(Isolemnlyaffirm)”[सत्यनिष्ठासेप्रतिज्ञानकरताहूं(अथवाशपथलेताहूं)शब्दोंऔरकोष्ठकोंकेस्थानपरनिम्नलिखितरखाजाए:-‘Solemnlyaffirm’(सत्यनिष्ठासेप्रतिज्ञानकरताहूं)/‘SwearinthenameofGod’(ईश्वरकीशपथलेताहूं)“[सत्यनिष्ठासेप्रतिज्ञानकरताहूं(अथवाशपथलेताहूं)शब्दोंऔरकोष्ठकोंकेस्थानपरनिम्नलिखितरखाजाए:-‘Solemnlyaffirm’(सत्यनिष्ठासेप्रतिज्ञानकरताहूं)/‘SwearinthenameofGod’(ईश्वरकीशपथलेताहूं)“

In Form 3 of the declarations in the Third Schedule (K) In place of the word 'declaration', the words 'affirmation or oath' should be substituted.

(b) In place of the words 'solemnly and sincerely promise and declare', the following should be written
Put the words: 'Solemnly affirm' 'Swear in the name of God'

Not only this, the title of the affidavit was also discussed and Dr. Ambedkar said, “In the Third Schedule there is 'Forms of declarations'
In place of 'Forms of affirmations or oaths' the title should be used.”

Long argument against taking oath in the name of God

Then a member said that 'I swear in the name of God' should come before 'I sincerely affirm'. That is, among the options, 'I swear in the name of God' should be given priority over 'I sincerely affirm'. Then Sardar Bhupendra Singh Maan, the representative of East Punjab, objected to the option of taking oath in the name of God. He gave a long argument in favor of his thinking. He said-

Sir, I move that the words “Swear in the name of God” be deleted from the form of oath or affirmation in the Third Schedule in amendments Nos. 56 to 63 of List of Amendments to Amendments (1) (Fifth Week). My purpose in moving this amendment is that God's name should not be taken in taking oath. I am not opposing divinity by proposing to remove God's name before the House. I am also requesting the House to remove God's name from the oath from religious and moral point of view and also from the point of view of the importance of the Constitution.

When we were studying in school we would often take oaths like “I swear in the name of God, this is true”, “I swear in the name of God, I will do this”, “I swear in the name of God, I will not do this”, “I swear in the name of God, this is wrong” and so on, and our teachers and elders would always tell us that the habit of taking oaths is not a good habit. I do not understand how the habits which were considered bad habits at that time have come to be considered good habits now when we have grown up. Other kinds of oaths are not good. If a person is asked to take an oath in the name of God even when he declares or affirms truthfully, he will say “I will tell the truth. You must believe me. It is not necessary that I take an oath in the name of God.” In my opinion, asking a person to take an oath in the name of God is insulting him. Sir, I also think that taking God’s name in an oath is disrespecting God. Besides, I can say that asking a person to take an oath in the name of God is distrusting him.

I cannot say whether the Drafting Committee and its Chairman have tried to know the will of God in respect of such an important Bill. I have no doubt about the sovereignty of this House, but Sir, the limits of your sovereignty are not so wide that it is binding even on God. It is possible that He may not agree to this. Without knowing His will, we are using the name of God at many places.

Ishwar is neither a member of the House nor was he asked…

Under Mr. Kamath's amendment we have already used the name of God in some clauses of the Constitution. We are using the name of God for oath also. Tomorrow you are going to include his name in the Preamble also. I doubt whether God will like it or not. For you this may be an excellent Constitution but it is possible that God may not like it. It is possible that he may not want his name to be included in this Constitution. It is possible that he may be a communist God or a strong socialist. I tell the members and Dr. Ambedkar that if you put his name in it without knowing his wish and tomorrow he thinks that he will not have anything to do with this Constitution, what will happen to this Constitution? I request you to find out what his wish is before mentioning his name in the Constitution in various ways and connecting him with the Constitution.

If Dr. Ambedkar has no access to God, I pray you, Sir, to kindly ascertain his wishes and inform the House that he agrees to it. After all, an oath concerns two parties—the one who takes the oath and the one on whom the oath is taken. In fact, I submit that it is a point of order whether the name of a person who is not a member of the House and whose consent has not been obtained should be mentioned in the Constitution. It is of great constitutional importance. If tomorrow he does not agree and breaks his ties with your Constitution, all the efforts will be wasted.

Emphasis on taking oath with true heart

At the same time, Muslim member Naziruddin Ahmed from West Bengal proposed that along with 'oath of sincerity', 'oath with true heart' should also be taken in the oath. He said that while taking oath, the member should say that I take oath with truth and true heart. Expressing his views, he said, 'Mr. Chairman, I propose that, “Regarding amendment number 56 of List 1 (fifth week) of amendments to amendments, in Form 1 of declarations in the Third Schedule, after the words 'solemnly', the words 'and sincerely' should be inserted.” He gave a long argument behind this idea. He said-

As a consequence of my first amendment a very important constitutional question arises and that is whether the Ministers should act sincerely and not as Members but as Ministers or not. The House may kindly observe that there are eight forms of declarations. There are two forms in respect of Union Ministers, Form 1 and Form 21. The first oath is the oath of office and the second oath is the oath of secrecy. Besides this there are two forms in respect of State Ministers, namely Form 5 and Form 6, one of which deals with the oath of office and the other with the oath of secrecy. In all these cases the Ministers have to take an oath or affirmation “to be faithful” to perform their duties and it is not necessary that they do so wholeheartedly.

It may be considered that the removal of the words “with a true heart” will not make any difference to the present practice. I request the honourable members to consider the oath forms that have been kept for the members of Parliament and the judges. The declaration that the members of Parliament have to make is given in Form 3. They have to make the declaration “with honesty and true heart”. The affirmation that the judges have to make is mentioned in Form 4. They too have to make a declaration that they will discharge their duties “with honesty and true heart”. Besides, the judges of the High Court have to give a declaration under Form 8 that they will discharge their duties “with honesty and true heart”.

The words have been chosen very carefully. One word is for Members of Parliament and Members of State Legislatures and Members of the Union Court and High Courts who have to discharge their duties with “honesty and true heart” but this wording does not apply to Ministers of the Union and of the States. I want to know whether these words have been deliberately omitted in respect of Ministers or inadvertently. The care with which the words “honestly” have been used in respect of Members of Parliament and State Legislatures and Judges shows that these words have been deliberately omitted from other places. I want to know from the members of this House whether they think that as long as they are Members of the Legislature they will discharge their duties with honesty and “honestly” but as soon as they occupy the Cabinet they will no longer be required to act “honestly”. Is that the thought?

If this is the case then it is in accordance with modern thinking. In fact, ministers need to work with a true heart. They need to be deceitful. I can say that the deceit of some people is also considered a virtue. Radha addressed Shri Krishna and said: “Nipat Kapat Tum Shyam.” Shyam, you are deceitful. This is the height of love. Will we also address our ministers as 'Nipat Kapat Tum Shyam' and say that you are our Lord but a total deceitful person?” This oath is similar to this. I want to know whether the term “working with a true heart” cannot be used in relation to any minister of independent India? I know that ministers should be diplomatic, clever, but I did not know that since they should be diplomats, they do not need to work with a true heart.

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