[Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacting with the media at the start of Winter Session of Parliament - 2015, in New Delhi on November 26, 2015.]
New Delhi: A discussion in the Lok Sabha on Thursday on the Constitution and its chief architect B.R. Ambedkar went on a different trajectory as Home Minister Rajnath Singh termed "secular" the most misused word and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi hit back, accusing the government of deliberately attacking "the principles that inspired the country for decades".
As the Lok Sabha, on the first day of the winter session, took up a discussion on commitment to the Constitution as a part of Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary celebrations, Rajnath Singh, initiating the debate, said that those who framed the Constitution would have introduced "socialist and secular" in it if they had felt it was required.
Taking veiled digs at the Congress, and even targeting actor Aamir Khan over his remarks on rising intolerance in the country, he said Ambedkar faced injustice and discrimination due to social iniquities, but kept control over his feelings, and always presented an objective point of view.
"He (Ambedkar) never said how much he is being insulted in India. He said he will live in India for strengthening the country. He never thought he will go somewhere elsewhere," he said, drawing protests from the opposition benches.
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, however, ruled there was nothing objectionable.
The minister said Ambedkar was the "binding force" for the country while the country's first home minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, was the "unifying force". He also paid tribute to first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Noting the words "socialist and secular" were introduced in the Constitution through the 42nd amendment, he argued that if the Constitution-makers had felt their need, they would have included them in the Preamble.
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge sought to counter Rajnath Singh, saying Ambedkar wanted to include these words in the Preamble, but did not do so in the prevailing atmosphere.
Rajnath Singh, however, retorted that Ambedkar felt that secularism was in the basic nature of Indians and there was no need to mention it separately.
"In today's politics, if a word has been misused the maximum, it is secular," he claimed, adding the secular's formal translation was not "dharam nirpeksh" (neutral of religion) but "panth nirpeksh (neutral of faith)" and that the "misuse of some words" had not allowed the country to have the level of harmony that was sought to be built.
He also stressed that Ambedkar should not be seen just as a Dalit leader.
In her address, Gandhi targeted the government, asserting that the principles that inspired India for decades were facing a threat. She also said that the history of the Constitution is closely linked to the history of the Congress party.
"Whatever we have seen for the past few months, it is against the values of the Constitution.
"Today is a day of happiness, but there is also pain. The principles that inspired (us) for decades, a danger is lurking over them. They are being deliberately attacked.
"The people who have no faith in the Constitution, who have not contributed to its making, they are talking about it repeatedly, are trying to appropriate it. There cannot be a bigger joke," she said.
Mahajan said the Constitution is an instrument for social, economic and political progress and individual rights were as important as interest of the community, and parliamentary democracy provides for peaceful co-existence and progress of all communities without reference to caste, sect, religion and language.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the house when it took up the discussion.
The day is also being observed as the Constitution Day, commemorating acceptance of the draft statute on this day in 1949.