Sixteen Stormy Days narrates the riveting story of the First Amendment to the Constitution of India-one of the pivotal events in Indian political and constitutional history, and its first great battle of ideas. Passed in June 1951 in the face of tremendous opposition within and outside Parliament, the subject of some of independent India’s fiercest parliamentary debates, the First Amendment drastically curbed freedom of speech; enabled caste-based reservation by restricting freedom against discrimination; circumscribed the right to property and validated abolition of the zamindari system; and fashioned a special schedule of unconstitutional laws immune to judicial challenge.
Faced with an expansively liberal Constitution that stood in the way of nearly every major socio-economic plan in the Congress party’s manifesto, a judiciary vigorously upholding civil liberties, and a press fiercely resisting his attempt to control public discourse, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reasserted executive supremacy, creating the constitutional architecture for repression and coercion. What extraordinary set of events led the prime minister-who had championed the Constitution when it was passed in 1950 after three years of deliberation-to radically amend it after a mere sixteen days of debate in 1951?
Drawing on parliamentary debates, press reports, judicial pronouncements, official correspondence and existing scholarship, Sixteen Stormy Days challenges conventional wisdom on iconic figures such as Jawaharlal Nehru, B.R. Ambedkar, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel and Shyama Prasad Mookerji, and lays bare the vast gulf between the liberal promise of India’s Constitution and the authoritarian impulses of her first government.
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