Book review: Sudha Pai (Ed.), Constitutional and Democratic Institutions in India: A Critical Analysis

Publication Date01 Dec 2020
AuthorManjari Katju
DOI10.1177/2321023020963408
SubjectBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Sudha Pai (Ed.), Constitutional and Democratic Institutions in India: A Critical Analysis. Hyderabad: Orient
BlackSwan. 2020. 504 pp. `1350. ISBN: 9789352878468
The increased focus on state and public institutions in India in the last few years has enriched the study
of Indian politics. We have come a long way from the 1980s when it was felt by scholars overseas that
there is a need to look afresh at public institutions to have a more comprehensive view of politics. In
India this took some more time and it is around the beginning of the 2000s that state institutions were
once again focused upon and their impact on Indian democracy researched. It is now well recognized
that political behaviour, while influenced by societal factors and situations, is also shaped by institutional
design and the logic that informs institutional functioning. Institutional studies’ scholarship emphasizes
that the existing formal institutions embody the political engagements of the past and the values a polity
upholds. It also sees institutions as political actors in their own right, standing alongside civil society,
religious institutions, family, and so on, and influencing political attitudes and actions of individuals
and groups.
The book under review looks at certain state institutions in India mainly from the beginning of the
1990s and is a welcome addition to the literature on public institutions. It is divided into five parts which
deal with the theoretical framework for studying the state institutions, the parliamentary institutions, the
higher judiciary, the Election Commission and the federal institutions.
In the first part, the need for a common theoretical framework to rigorously analyze institutional
functioning is emphasized. Aseema Sinha argues that institutions should be assessed through micro
features like coordination, credibility and autonomy, rather than seeing them through the lens of ‘strength
or weakness’. She says that without such a study of institutions we cannot understand the working of
Indian democracy and the challenges that come in its way. She foregrounds the importance of studying
both institutional origins and effects and thus, building institutional biographies. Vidhu Verma points out
that electoral politics of the 1990s brought novel influences in the evolution of India’s democratic
institutions. She looks at six commissions to evaluate their role within the larger context of Indian
democracy: the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, the National Commission for Scheduled
Tribes, the National Commission for Other Backward Classes, the National Commission for Minorities,
the National Commission for Women and the National Human Rights Commission. She argues that these
institutions work within the government’s patronage and mainly come up with technocratic responses to
democratic demands. Also, they are unable to contain the impulses of a strong executive. She flags the
debate about the efficacy of elected and non-elected institutions in this volume.
Part 2 of the book deals with parliamentary and legislative processes. Kaushiki Sanyal furthers the
point about effectiveness of elected institutions by looking at the Indian parliament and its functioning.
She shows how the parliament is increasingly facing a crisis of legitimacy and the citizens want to play
Studies in Indian Politics
8(2) 298–306, 2020
© 2020 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
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DOI: 10.1177/2321023020963408
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