What Do Preambles Do? A Study of Constitutional Intent and Reality

Published date01 December 2021
Date01 December 2021
DOI10.1177/23210230211042990
Article
Corresponding author:
Neha Ummareddy, Humanities, International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad, Telangana 500032,
India.
E-mail: neha.ummareddy@research.iiit.ac.in
Studies in Indian Politics
9(2) 221–238, 2021
© 2021 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
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DOI: 10.1177/23210230211042990
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What Do Preambles Do?
A Study of Constitutional
Intent and Reality
Neha Ummareddy1 and Aniket Alam1
Abstract
‘We, the people’ is the most popular phrase from the constitutions. In spite of the fact that the num-
ber of countries including preamble as part of their constitution has been on the rise, preambles have
received scant attention in academia. The importance of preambles has been established in multiple
studies yet preambles have been looked at in isolation from socio-economic-environmental contexts.
Our article attempts to present a unique insight by correlating preambles with the socio-economic-
environmental and infrastructural context within which they exist. It explores whether these correla-
tions exist and if they do with which features and to what extent and the possibility of a causal link.
We pursue a statistical study between various indicators that reflect the growth of a country and the
presence or absence of various elements in preambles across the world. Our study finds that correla-
tions exist between the economic-social-environmental and infrastructural context of a nation-state
and different elements in their preambles. Our study rigorously engages with patterns in development
indicators across years to provide correlational insights into the role of preambles not just as a dor-
mant reference but as active fragments of the socio-political-economic reality of a nation-state. We
hope our article establishes grounds for a further study of the manner in which preambles and the non-
political aspects of a nation-state can engage with each other.
Keywords
Constitutional preambles, state development, constitutional studies, constitutions, correlational studies
Introduction
The preamble to the constitution embodies the purpose for which the people ordained and established the
constitution. They present a concise statement of the nature of the system that the constitution is supposed
1 Humanities, International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad, Telangana, India.
222 Studies in Indian Politics 9(2)
to capture (Addis, 2016, p. 1). Many of the preambles list the goals that guide the social contract between
people and the state.
The functionality of preambles can broadly be categorized as legal and socio-political. The legal
status of a preamble is uncertain and has been contested. In some countries, preambles have been cited
by decision-makers in the legal perspective. One of the best-known examples is Kesavananda Bharati
v. State of Kerala case (Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, 1973) from India. However, some
countries’ legalities have disassociated themselves from their preambles. Canada is an example of it. In
fact, some scholars have opposed granting their preambles a legal status because of the alleged
contradiction between the supremacy of God and the rule of law (Orgad, 2010, p. 723). Though the
stance on the legal aspect of a preamble is divided, the importance of the socio-political functionality
of preamble has been agreed upon. Despite the socio-political importance of preambles, they have
always remained understudied. Preambles are often overlooked as a mere introduction to a country’s
constitution (Frosini, 2017).
Preambles articulate the standards to which the rest of the text (Constitution) shapes in a more concrete
way (Voermans & Stremler, 2017). The constitution is functional in economic-socio-civil-political changes
in the nation-state. Studies have shown an association between economic performance and the constitution
(Elster, 1994, p. 209). The inclusion of economic-socio-civil-political rights in the constitution empowers
people to act in their best interests. Apart from the inclusion of rights, the constitutional structure can
impact the accountability and efficiency of governing institutes. Hence framing of the constitution is a
crucial deciding factor in the development of the nation-state.
The preamble to the constitution has played a predominant role in shaping the destiny of the country
(Chanduilnu, n.d.). Preambles overarch the constitution by embedding the core values and principles upon
which the constitution rests and equips constitutional offices with a framework for interpretation (Voermans
& Stremler, 2017). Preambles, though part of this most important political document of the state, have not
been studied enough with respect to the non-constitutional reality of the nation. While the role of preambles
in creating identity has been established, its impact on the socio-economic-political growth of the nation
has remained understudied.
Most studies of preambles are case study specific or done from a legal standpoint. Voermans and
Stremler’s comparative analysis (Voermans & Stremler, 2017) starts with trends and styles with regard
to the content of preambles across time and moves into the legal perspective on preambles. One of the
most common limitations of many existing studies on preambles is that they are studied as isolated texts
or under the shadow of constitutions and their legal references. While these studies present critical
insight into the importance of preambles, they struggle to establish a link between nation-states’ political
economy and their preambles.
In our current study, we go one step further to understand if preambles are active in shaping the
nation-state. The article is an attempt to see if the correlation established between constitution and
development can also be extended to preambles by a correlational study between the preambles
and development indices. The study rests on the assumption that preambles outline the core principles
on which the constitution is built. Our study is an attempt to throw light on the existence of correlation
(if any) between various elements mentioned in the preamble and various development indicators of the
nation-state. We take a quantitative approach by studying 10 different development indicators spanning
across the economic, social and environmental and infrastructural development, and 5 categories and
16 subcategories of the content of preambles to study the correlations. The study focuses on establishing
the correlation (if any) between preambles and development categories without dwelling into the details
of how and in what forms the various elements mentioned in preambles percolate and resurface in the
constitutional texts.

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