Category: History

Is it a People’s Constitution?

“The constitution is not for the exclusive benefit of governments and states; it is not only for lawyers and politicians and officials and those highly placed. It also exists for the common man, for the poor and the humble, for those who have businesses at stake, ‘for the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker'”

Justice Vivian Bose, 1956

While I was reading the book that celebrates the contribution of ordinary people in shaping the constitution of India, a heinous and brutal crime was being committed in the largest State of India. A Dalit girl was brutally raped by upper caste men in the Hatharas district of UP and she subsequently succumbed to her injury in a Delhi hospital. But the Orwellian thing about the incident is that the girl was denied dignity even in her death. Her body was cremated in mid-night without informing her family. Her family couldn’t even see her one last time. The police barricaded the area restricting the access to the family. It shows that even after the seven decades of the enactment of the Constitution of India, justice seems distant for the marginalized sections of the society. However this book paints a different picture adding that common people played an important role in transforming the Indian constitution to people’s constitution.

People’s Constitution turns out to be a unique book for me. Because I used to think fighting for constitutional rights and going to Supreme Court has always been the prerogative of the educated and the elites of our country. Rohit De changed my perspective about this fact. The book gives the subaltern perspective on Indian Constitutional Law and constitutional rights and how the Constitution of India was shaped and transformed by the marginalized sections of the society. As De puts it, ” the Constitution didn’t descend upon the people; it was produced and reproduced in everyday encounters.”

The book narrates the cases of constitutional significance led by ordinary people during the first two decades of the enactment of the Indian Constitution. It shows how the honest prostitutes, invisible butchers, Marwari merchants, vegetable vendors, and other ordinary citizens showed exceptional courage and also ‘constitutional consciousness’ in those days itself. They took the legal route to fight for their fundamental rights. The idea is that constitution was interpreted in different ways by the ordinary people of the country and it was not the only prerogative of the elites.

And the most fascinating thing about this book is that the author has taken special effort to sit in the Supreme Court archive room and go through the important government orders, notifications, documents and the arguments exchanged between both the parties and showed in his book that various things happen around a case when it is being heard in the Supreme Court.

As shown in the book, the litigation/case in the court should never be seen in terms of winning and losing. The arguments exchanged in the courtroom and the discussion outside in media and in the public have a huge significance because it brings out all the nuances of that particular issue and what was the public sentiment about it and how it was played around in the public memory.

Also, I noticed one more interesting pattern, how the Indian Constitution was being used by both the parties who were asking for their rights and other who were trying to prohibit or ban the particular activity. For instance: if Husna Bai was asking from the Court to protect her freedom of trade and profession of prostitution, at the same time, her critics and also Durga Bhai Deshmukh & Rameshwari Nehru had been instrumental in enactment of prohibitions laws on human trafficking and forced labor based on Article 23 of the Constitution. And also in the case of banning cow-slaughter on the basis of Article 28 leading to The Hanif Querishi Case displayed that proponents and opponents of the ‘cow slaughter ban’ chose the constitutional methods to fulfill their goals.

The author claims that the Indian constitutionalism is still unexplored and understudied because it defies easy explanations. The constitutionalism as a concept is based on the desirability of the rule of law rather than the arbitrary rule of men, but the irony is that both simultaneously exist in India as we can see the ordinary people going to court to fight for their fundamental rights and at the same time there is no rule of law in many parts of the country.

The important argument of the author is that these cases filed by ordinary people were mostly related to their daily lives. And they belonged to minority communities or subaltern groups. And the final argument is that these people went to court to secure their economic rights which were getting hampered as the new Indian State was trying to regulate the market.

In 228 pages the author has shown the remarkable stories of marginalized and deprived sections of the society that have already been started striving for their constitutional rights after the enactment of the Constitution of India. The book is quite comprehensive, and most of the time feels like an academic research paper 😉 However, the book is one of the unique attempts to recognize the study of constitutionalism from below and how the constitution created a platform through which the citizens and the State can communicate with each other.

However, the reach of the Indian Constitution for the marginalized sections of the society has not been substantive enough till now. Though the author celebrates the contribution and participation of the marginalized sections as well as minority communities of the Indian society in using the newly enacted Constitution to empower themselves. However, I still believe what has shown in the short story of “Naya Kanoon” (The New-Constitution), also mentioned in the book, by one of the greatest Urdu writers Sadaat Hasan Manto written in the context of the Government of Indian Act 1935. This story is still relevant because the ordinary poor people, (remember the migrant crisis during the lockdown), still treated in the same way by the State as the Ustaad Mangu, the tonga driver in this story was treated by the policeman. So the Kanoon is still the “old one”.

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India and the World

“India is a country harder to describe than to explain, and easier to explain than to understand and also India is a place for seeking, not concluding”

Anand Giridharadas (2009)

Review of Globalization of World Politics: This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read on international relations. This is a very thick book of more than 500 pages and looks quite heavy from outside. But if you are an IR geek, you will absolutely love this book and will not put it down till you finish reading it. And if you are preparing for civil services and your optional subject is ‘Political Science and International Relations’, this book will help you to cover the second part of this paper and also help in fetching good marks. Most importantly, this book helped me to build a strong understanding of IR concepts. This book is divided into five parts: The historical context, Theories of world politics, Structures and Processes, International issues, and Globalization in the future. My most favorites are ‘Theories of world politics’ and ‘International issues’ sections. Theories of world politics discuss realism, liberalism, neorealism, Marxism, post-colonialism, etc. in a very detailed manner and the beauty of international issues section is that it took one important issue and entwine its’ trajectory with international relations that help you to see these issues from a unique angle. For instance- culture in world affairs and terrorism & globalization.

Review of Global Politics: This book is very similar to the Globalization of world politics but the style of writing is very different as it’s written by Andrew Heywood. I would suggest reading both books because both give a very different perspective on same issues. This book is also very useful and insightful if you are an IR geek or preparing for civil services. I can bet that all those news articles related to foreign issues will make more sense if you have already read these books.

Review of Does the Elephant dance?: This is one of the best books I ever read on Indian Foreign Policy. David Malone served as the High Commissioner of Canada to India from 2006 to 2008. Though this book came out in 2010, it is still relevant because the author has deeply examined how the Indian history, culture, internal domestic politics has an important role to play in India’s relations with other countries. This book is quite comprehensive where the author has dealt with India’s relations with all its neighbors as well as the USA, China, West Asia, East Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and Russia. I really found the last chapter- “The Evolution of Indian Multilateral ism: From High Ground to High Table” of this book quite interesting where the author has written about India’s evolution from idealist moralizer to the often-pragmatic deal maker and how India’s soft power has an important role to play in the philosophy of Indian multilateralism.

“Indian diplomacy is like the love-making of an elephant: it is conducted at a very high level, accompanied by much bellowing, and the results are not known for two years”- A veteran diplomat

Review of Pax Indica: This book came in the year 2012 when I was in full preparation mode for civil services examination. And it also came just after David Malone’s book Does the Elephant dance? So it was a kind of continuation read on Indian Foreign Policy with all updated facts. Except for the last chapter, other chapters are the same thing as in other books on relation of India vis, a vis other countries, and obviously in a super-refined language of Shashi Tharoor. In the last chapter, he talks about ‘multi-alignment’ as a grand strategy for India in the 21st century. According to the author, the name of the book Pax Indica has no similarity to Pax Romana or Pax Britannica rather it must be built and sustained on the principles and norms that India holds dear at home and abroad.

Review of Challenge and Strategy: This was the first book I read on Indian foreign policy when I started preparing for Civil services examination. Rajiv Sikri was an Indian diplomat with more than 36 years with Indian Foreign Service and though this book is quite old and a lot of things have happened in Indian foreign policy since this book was written. However, as this book has been written by a seasoned diplomat, it gives you a lot of insights of India’s relations with other countries and especially focuses on policies and strategies that can be used by Indian diplomats and policymakers to make India a major player at the International level.

Miscellaneous Books/Reading Materials: And even if you read all books related to IR in the world and have not read IGNOUs booklets, then I would suggest stop reading this blog and go download all IGNOU materials right now. And one more very important thing, you need to read the history of India and the world before plunging into the field of International Relations because as someone said:

“Know the history of these countries before getting to know their relations.”

I will also suggest one nice strategy for everyone whoever is trying to understand any concept in totality, then must not stick to one book rather explore all kinds of books, articles, newspapers, magazines, etc. written on that topic. Please find some of the books/magazines/newspapers below I referred during my preparation:

  1. The Hindu ( follow Suhasini Haider) and it’s Foreign Affairs page
  2. Indian Express and it’s coverage on international issues
  3. World Focus magazines
  4. Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) policy briefs and articles are must-read to understand strategic perspective
  5. International Relations by Aneek Chaterjee: Only a few topics(Decision-making theory, Systems Theory) from this.

I always believed that India as a nation had something unique. As a birth-place of Buddha, Gandhi, and Ambedkar, India has shown and will always show the path of peace, harmony and also live up to the spirit of the philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam’. I will end with this beautiful quote by Mark Twain.

“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most artistic materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only!”

Mark Twain, writer, America

Please also read the posts below where I list the important books, I read on Modern India and Indian Government & Politics below:

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My Journey through Modern India

Review of India’s Struggle for Independence This was my first history book which I read during civil services preparation. It’s an interesting read with nice anecdotes, stories and, quotes weaved into small chapters. This book is an easy read. It can be easily finished if someone targets to read one or two chapters in a day. Since Bipin Chandra, the main author of this book, is a historian with a left-leaning perspective, he gives a one-sided picture of the modern India. This book is special as it made me aware of the freedom struggle for India’s Independence.

Review of Modern India: This is a book on India’s freedom struggle written from a subaltern perspective. This perspective challenges the elite perspective of Indian nationalism and has been critical of Congress driven nationalism. Sumit Sarkar has narrated the story of Indian nationalism from the perspective of masses. Though a different perspective, I found this book a little tedious. However, it is a must-read if someone wants to understand the history from the perspective of masses.

Review of From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India: This book changed my perspective of reading history books. It made me realize that history is written by the writers and not the victors. The whole concept of historiography is so important if someone is reading history or trying to make any conclusions from the history book. Writers write history based on the information available and also interpret the historical event from their own lenses. However, this book is a piece of art. I found it very unbiased, quite nuanced with a lot of details, and thousands of citations as if you are reading a research paper. This book makes you understand with a lot of clarity the conflicting questions present in our politics. For instance- How Indian masses were hardly in sync with the leadership of Congress at the national level? The concept of popular consciousness was absent. Local grievances and the local leadership played an important role in any national movement started at that time. Indian national movement was very vague so that each group could interpret it in their own ways. This book is a must-read for all history lovers. The first few chapters are little dense but slowly you will not feel like putting the book down.

Review of Social Background of Indian Nationalism: This is also one of the best books ever written on Modern India. As the title depicts, this book is written from a social perspective. Someone should read this book to understand how did feudalism evolve in Indian society? How did new classes emerge? What was the role of means of transport and modern education in the development of Indian nationalism? What were the factors which played an important role in the crusade against the caste system and untouchability?

Review of India After Gandhi: This book is very special to me because it was a gift from Chaitanya. It was a superb read. I read this book in 2012 and finished it in 15-20 days. It has around 1000 pages but I wanted to finish it as early as possible. This book was unputdownable. It was one of the best books I ever read. Reading this book created a kind for urgency to me to read more books if you want to get selected for civil services. Since then I never stopped reading non-fiction books. Ram Chandra Guha, the author of the book has so vividly narrated the story of post-Independence India that it feels like you are watching a movie. It also helps you in understanding the current day politics because whatever is happening, it has its background in history. This book is a masterpiece and one of the best books to know about the post-independence history of India. It tries to answer some difficult questions like Why India has survived as well as succeeded as a nation despite having huge diversity and differences? However, the author has also been criticized as being pro-congress in depicting the post-independence history and politics.

Review of India since Independence: This book is similar to India After Gandhi by different authors. Some chapters of the book explaining the consolidation of India as a Nation and Land Reforms are very insightful. However, this book is written in academic form rather than like a story. It might not be an easy read but if someone wants to understand the left perspective of Indian politics since Independence, this is one of the best books.

Review of Modern Indian History: This book is like a guide book to help you remember all the historical events and helps you write better and structured answers for modern India history questions. The best thing about this book I liked is that it has created separate chapters for different Governor Generals of India, and the events happened during their tenure that makes you clearly remember different acts and treaties signed between British India and different rulers of that time.

Till today, I only remember reading these books on Modern and Post-Independence India. When I read more books or remember my old books, will update this blog. Till then, keep reading guys!!