For more than seven decades, India’s Constitution has provided a framework for liberal democracy to flourish in one of the world’s most plural societies. Recent institutional changes and bureaucratic practices, however, have undermined central tenets of the prevailing constitutional order. India’s new constitutionalism has three distinct, yet overlapping, manifestations: the ethnic state, the absolute state, and the opaque state. This new order—whose legitimacy rests entirely on popular authorization without reference to how power is used—has weakened not only the rule of law, but also equal citizenship, the system of checks and balances, and the mechanisms for ensuring accountability.
The making of modern India marked a dramatic effort to institutionalize democracy in a country without wealth, widespread literacy, or social homogeneity. With the exception of the Emergency in the 1970s, India’s constitutional structure has been relatively stable.