Political and Legal Institutions

An overview of the institutional structure and operation of governance in India. 

Two remarks by two eminent economists uniquely characterise India. Amartya Sen remarked that India is pockets of California in the middle of sub-Saharan Africa’. Joan Robinson had said that whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true.’ These compelling comments force us to think about economics from a more holistic perspective.

Despite a progressive Constitution and several landmark laws, India continues to be buttressed by various shades and dimensions of inequality. The four pillars of democracy – executive, legislature, judiciary, media – play an inescapable role in our daily lives as social, economic and political agents. The world at large, and India in particular, are at a critical juncture where the role and accountability of the State are undergoing complex changes. 

While institutions and their norms provide a concrete structure to the State’s vision and action, the Constitution provides rights and legal safegaurds to individuals. This interplay between the State and citzens mediated through institutions and the four pillars of democracy provide a critical basis to understand fundamental questions about an individual’s power in society.

By placing the Constitution of India at the centre, this course tries to look at some aspects of democratic institutions. We look at the early years of nation-building throough institutions such as the judiciary, planning commission, and the election commission. It then takes a critical look at how the Constitution and the State have played out in the margins. Finally, we look at some landmark Court judgements and through the lens of the Right to Food, we analyse how the four pillars of democracy have fared. The Right to Food is a great example as it combines sound economic wisdom along with various social and poltical objectives enshrined in the Constitution of India.