The Precarious Foundations of Indian Democracy

Can India’s Constitution Stave Off an Authoritarian Turn?

Protesters against a citizenship law hold pictures of India's founders in New Delhi, January 2020 Saumya Khandelwal / The New York​ Times / Redux

In the last two months, widespread protests over a controversial new citizenship law in India have raised the prospect of a constitutional crisis. Those protesting the law—which for the first time determines Indian citizenship on the basis of religion—see it as emblematic of growing authoritarianism and Hindu majoritarianism. They claim that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government threatens the founding secular vision of India by bullying and marginalizing minority Muslims. At demonstrations, they brandish copies of the constitution.

India’s constitution, which turned 70 years old in January, promised that the state would treat all Indians as individuals with inalienable rights, not group them into communal categories. Though religious identity has played an important role in Indian politics since independence, the constitution’s universal guarantees have protected minority groups. This past weekend, the trustees of a Sufi shrine in Mumbai commemorated the 607th anniversary of the death

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