New Delhi: After ally Shiv Sena demanded "permanent deletion" of the words 'secular' and 'socialist' from the Constitution, the government has backed the idea of a nationwide debate, adding a new dimension to the controversy that began with its Republic Day ad.
"These words were added during the Emergency. If there is a debate in the country on these words, then why are we shying away from it?" Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Wednesday.
On Republic Day, Monday, newspapers had government ads showing the Constitution's preamble with the words "secular" and "socialist" missing.
The ads were issued by the information and broadcasting ministry, which said the original Preamble of 1950 does not have the words; they were introduced in 1976, when the Congress was in power.
"I want to ask Congress leaders, were our leaders less secular before that? Did Jawaharlal Nehru (India's first PM) lack an understanding of secularism that it was not in the preamble? The words were added during the Emergency," said Mr Prasad, the Communications Minister.
"We have only presented the original preamble before the nation," he added.
Sources say the government plans to continue using it in its ads, despite the outrage.
On Wednesday, Sanjay Raut, a prominent member of the Shiv Sena, said, "We welcome the exclusion of the words from the ad. It might have been inadvertent, but it is like honouring the feelings of the people of India. If these words were deleted by mistake this time, they should be deleted from the Constitution permanently."
He also argued that "there is no place for secularism in India", which he says is a "Hindu Rashtra."
The ministry said the original preamble was also used in an ad issued by the previous Congress government last year, to mark the birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar, the father of the Constitution.
But the ad raised eyebrows at a time when the Narendra Modi government has been accused by opposition parties of not following secular principles.