The State, Democracy and Civil Society in India

The democratic Indian state with its institutions and laws plays a central role in articulating the country’s development imagination as well as in shaping the course of its development policies and actions. Understanding India’s development, in large measure, is thus about understanding the evolution of the modern state in India, its current status and future challenges. An equally important part of this narrative is the emergence of India’s civil society and its contentious and conciliatory relationship with the state.

The modern Indian state with its colonial legacy of rational institutional establishment and the constitutional promise of the idea of equality sits rather uneasily alongside a social order which continues to sanction discrimination and resist the impersonal nature of the state practices. The Indian State’s conception of development, its response to the development challenges before the country and its relationship with civil society need to be understood in this backdrop.

The overall objective of this course, therefore, is to familiarize students with the modern democratic State in India, its institutions, laws and policies, and its interface with civil society. The course will identify and focus on four distinct aspects of India’s democratic political journey. First, it will capture a quick historical snapshot of the colonial origins of the Indian State, and its formal, legal installation through Independent India’s democratic constitution. Next, it will focus on the trajectory of India’s democracy since Independence and various social and political processes which are deepening it and destabilizing it at the same time. The course will then survey the main institutions of the state by taking a critical look at their consolidation and decay over years. The final part will focus on the civil society’s engagement with the Indian state both as a partner in its functions and as a watchdog of its excesses. The course will also capture people’s lived experience as they officially engage with formal institutions of the state and creatively negotiate with the informal pressures of democracy.