Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Khosla on the Indian Constitution

Coming out this month by Madhav Khosla (Ashoka University) is India's Founding Moment: The Constitution of a Most Surprising Democracy with Harvard University Press. From the publisher:
Cover: India’s Founding Moment in HARDCOVER
Britain’s justification for colonial rule in India stressed the impossibility of Indian self-government. And the empire did its best to ensure this was the case, impoverishing Indian subjects and doing little to improve their socioeconomic reality. So when independence came, the cultivation of democratic citizenship was a foremost challenge.
Madhav Khosla explores the means India’s founders used to foster a democratic ethos. They knew the people would need to learn ways of citizenship, but the path to education did not lie in rule by a superior class of men, as the British insisted. Rather, it rested on the creation of a self-sustaining politics. The makers of the Indian Constitution instituted universal suffrage amid poverty, illiteracy, social heterogeneity, and centuries of tradition. They crafted a constitutional system that could respond to the problem of democratization under the most inhospitable conditions. On January 26, 1950, the Indian Constitution—the longest in the world—came into effect.
More than half of the world’s constitutions have been written in the past three decades. Unlike the constitutional revolutions of the late eighteenth century, these contemporary revolutions have occurred in countries characterized by low levels of economic growth and education, where voting populations are deeply divided by race, religion, and ethnicity. And these countries have democratized at once, not gradually. The events and ideas of India’s Founding Moment offer a natural reference point for these nations where democracy and constitutionalism have arrived simultaneously, and they remind us of the promise and challenge of self-rule today.
Advance praise for the book:

“Erudite, analytically dazzling, and with a rare understanding of both India’s and democracy’s challenges, Madhav Khosla’s India’s Founding Moment gives readers unparalleled access to the ideas behind India’s radical experiment in democratic constitution-making. As that noble vision is now under assault from sinister forces that Gandhi, Nehru, and Ambedkar knew well, we all should ponder Khosla’s all-too-timely book and do whatever we can to prevent the demise of India’s constitutional order.”—Martha C. Nussbaum

“This brilliant and challenging book shows how political choices—what to put in a constitution, the locus of effective power, and the forms of representation—can create citizens who can and must govern themselves in a modern democracy while facing deep challenges caused by poverty, caste, and illiteracy. It is at once a contribution to Indian constitutional history, constitutional theory, and political theory, and is a ‘must read’ for everyone in those fields.”—Mark Tushnet

“This is a sensitive analysis of the moral imagination behind the Indian Constitution, a document intended to free the democratic process from sectarian identities and to strengthen centralized state power. As Indian democracy struggles to stay on the rails, Khosla’s book is a timely reminder of what it was meant to be.”—Partha Chatterjee

Further information is available here.

--Mitra Sharafi