Temples, Courts, and Dynamic Equilibrium in the Indian Constitution
28 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2015 Last revised: 7 Nov 2019
Date Written: September 3, 2015
Must all states have fixed constitutional identities? Does democracy necessarily entail citizen-sovereignty? This paper uses ethnographic data from India to argue that the answer to both questions is “no.” In the aftermath of a massive stampede in 2011, the Kerala High Court initiated an overhaul of the complex executive, legislative, and judicial network that governs the famous Hindu temple at Sabarimala. The court’s conflicting goals were to avoid further consolidating government authority over the temple and to further empower officials so that they could undertake needed reforms. Ultimately the court did both — and neither — in an instance of judicial balancing that reflects the two visions of sovereignty in India. On the one hand Indian constitutional law and judicial practice reflect a conventional vision of sovereignty, in which sovereign authority is wholly vested in citizens and merely exercised on their behalf by the state. On the other hand, there exists a vision of “divided sovereignty” in which the state, as the agent of reform, has sovereign authority independent of citizens. The productive tension between these two visions, according to which sovereignty is both vested wholly in citizens and divided between citizens and state, is the dynamic equilibrium at the heart of Indian democracy.
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