Monday, May 8, 2023

De and Shani on India's Constituent Assembly

Rohit De and Ornit Shani have published, open access, Assembling India’s Constitution: Towards a New History, in Past & Present:

The framing of India’s constitution was a critical event in the global history of both constitution-making and democracy. Conventionally it has been analysed as a founding moment. Its success against multiple odds has been explained as resulting from a vision and consensus among the elite over what would become a pedagogical text for an ‘ignorant’ and undemocratic public. This focus among academics on political elites, and an underlying assumption that constitutional details were beyond the public’s imagination, limited the scope of investigations largely to the Constituent Assembly debates. By directing the inquiry away from these debates towards hitherto unstudied documents, this article offers a paradigm shift in the method of research and understanding of India’s constitution-making. It explores the constitution as it emerged from beyond the Constituent Assembly through engagement with its making among diverse publics. In doing so, it shows that the Indian constitution was not simply founded and granted from above, but came about through many smaller acts of assembly away from the Constitution Hall. It was the public who set normative expectations and tried to educate the members of the Constituent Assembly, and this was critical for the constitution’s future reception and endurance.

–Dan Ernst