Book Review: Madhav Khosla. India’s Founding Moment: The Constitution of a Most Surprising Democracy

Published date01 June 2021
Date01 June 2021
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 137
position of the CEC during key moments is what made it a visibly assertive institution and made
fundamental transformation of the institution possible. CECs T. N. Sheshan, M. S. Gill, J. M. Lyngdoh,
N. Gopalaswami and Sunil Arora have all been perceived to be heading the institution with their distinct
style, leaving their imprint over the functioning of ECI. It is a major limitation of the volume that though
it includes the role played by successive CECs, the authors avoid making a categorical assessment on the
question of the primacy of individual or institution in shaping or withholding certain crucial policy
decisions. Rather, themes and issues gain primacy. Despite being witness to moments of fundamental
transformation, the ECI remained overshadowed during the period of majority governments till 1989. In
assessing the ECI during a period that marks the return of successive majority governments authors
could have dealt with the complex interplay between institution, individuals and political context in a
more focused and critical manner. Nonetheless, the volume is a remarkable contribution to the
contemporary moment of revival of studies of public institutions in India. The volume is indispensable
for researchers and scholars for its deep insight, theoretical richness and the manner in which a variety
of qualitative sources have been used.
Vikas Tripathi
Department of Political Science
Gauhati University
Madhav Khosla. India’s Founding Moment: The Constitution of a Most Surprising Democracy. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press. 2020. 219 pages. `599.
DOI: 10.1177/2321023021999216
The Indian Constitution has transformed the theory and practice of constitutionalism. Scholars such as
Granville Austin have described the Indian Constitution as a document of social revolution. Kalpana
Kannbiran and Upendra Baxi have adopted the framework of ‘insurgent constitutionalism’ and
‘transformative constitutionalism’ to differentiate Indian constitutionalism from the narrow concerns of
liberal constitutionalism. Even the Constituent Assembly members such as Ambedkar, Nehru and K. M.
Panikkar have emphasized the transformative potential of the Indian Constitution.
This book is rich in the exploration of writings of founding fathers of India, Nehru, Gandhi, Ambedkar
and few others as well, though it remains silent on the contribution of founding mothers of India, such as
Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and Renuka Ray. It also provides an analysis of
Constituent Assembly Debates on issues of representation (caste and religion), federalism and decen-
tralization, though in this regard too, the voices of women members of Constituent Assembly remain
missing, except for an assertion on page 8 of the book that Hansa Mehta was a notable female voice in
the Constituent Assembly. The arguments of the book are illuminating and novel but likely readily
understood only by scholars and not by the general public.
One of the significant arguments of the book is that the Constitution should not be understood as a
‘rule book’ but rather as a ‘textbook’ (pp. 155–156). While constitutions have been understood as a
device to allocate power and lay down rules and regulations, Khosla emphasizes the pedagogical role of
the Constitution in enabling the creation of a democratic citizen. This argument rests on Ambedkar’s
assertion that constitutional morality needs to be cultivated in India (pp. 42–43). Another significant
argument of the book is that the Constitution should not be viewed as an extension of the Government of
India Act, 1935, because notwithstanding of the number of provisions taken from the 1935 Act,

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