India's Founding Moment: The Constitution of a Most Surprising Democracy


India's Founding Moment: The Constitution of a Most Surprising Democracy


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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.


Constitutional Law | History | Law | Political Science




Harvard University Press


Cambridge, MA


"A punchy reminder of the success of India’s birth as a democratic republic. The genius of its constitution kept the country on course for seven decades of peace and (slow) growth; but it has suffered erosion in the era of Narendra Modi."
The Economist

"In demonstrating how India’s democratic tendencies were founded by the constitution rather than vice versa, [Khosla] succeeds in his aim of placing the Indian constitution at least on a par with that of the U.S."
Financial Times

"Couldn’t [be] timelier. It delves into the mystery of how some 400 men and women who had spent their lives as colonial subjects went on to create a charter of such breathless ambition… Deeply interesting."
Sonia Faleiro, Foreign Policy

"By grounding Indian constitutional debates in political philosophy, Khosla has given an entirely novel perspective to India’s democratic origins. Perhaps now political philosophers will have reason to more intimately engage with India’s constitutional ideas."
Ashutosh Varshney, Boston Review

"I recommend it to anyone with an interest in India, in the challenges that democracies face, in global constitution-making, or in all three … A fascinating window into the framing of the Indian Constitution."
Cheryl Saunders, Constitutional Commentary

"Finely written… Khosla’s work forms an important basis of the second moment of Constitutional scholarship which seeks to connect to the idea of constitution as a manifesto of social transformation."
Suhas Palshikar, Economic & Political Weekly

"Democratic citizenship, for India’s founders, meant individual freedom for all, regardless of religion, caste, class, or culture. In this insightful analysis of one of the most significant postcolonial constitutions in the world, Madhav Khosla provides an essential framework for understanding current challenges to the fundamental principles upon which the country was built."
Bruce Ackerman, author of Revolutionary Constitutions

"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, author of The Cosmopolitan Tradition: A Noble but Flawed Ideal and The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future

"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, author of Taking Back the Constitution

"Khosla’s superb study of the almost miraculous emergence of Indian democracy is an exceptional interweaving of complex and subtle insights from jurisprudence, political theory, and intellectual history."
Sudipta Kaviraj, author of The Enchantment of Democracy and India

"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, author of The Black Hole of Empire


Also available as an eBook through the Columbia University Libraries.

India's Founding Moment: The Constitution of a Most Surprising Democracy

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