ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Original Sin: The First Amendment and the long arc of ‘democratic authoritarianism’ in India


Singh Tripurdaman - Graduate Institute, Albert Hirschman Centre for Democracy, Geneva, Switzerland


22 – The present democratic crisis in South Asia: causes, distinctive elements and historical precedents


 ‘Democratic backsliding’ has been a persistent accompaniment to both scholarly and journalistic commentary on India in recent times, especially since 2014 when Narendra Modi became prime minister. India’s constitutional structure – with its democracy and its freedoms – is being steadily eroded, it is often claimed.

Much of this commentary, I contend, fails to situate itself in the broader historical trajectory and constitutional context: to establish which, one must acknowledge and account for the damaging legacy of the First Amendment, and the consequent legitimisation of ‘democratic authoritarianism’. It is this moment that both exemplified the intense struggle over constitutional norms that accompanied the birth of Indian democracy and instituted a specific (and supposedly democratic) pattern of violating constitutional morality that has continued unabated.

This paper seeks to look at today’s democratic crisis against the backdrop of the First Amendment and the constitutional context it established – and argue that actually it is constitutionally enshrined ‘democratic authoritarianism’, as well as the normative framework it has engendered, that provides the subsoil for the present moment of democratic crisis.