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Deepa Das Acevedo, Mohsin A. Bhat, and Mayur Suresh on India, the Modi moment, and autocratic legalism

In this latest PALcast episode, Fabio talks to Deepa Das Acevedo (Emory University Law School), Mohsin A. Bhat (Queen Mary University of London School of Law), and Mayur Suresh (SOAS School of Law). 

The conversation hinges mostly around the piece the guests wrote to the PAL project, titled “Authoritarianism in Indian State, Law, and Society" and published in 2022 in the World Comparative Law journal. In that piece, the guests argue that political change in India under Modi and the BJP does involve a degree of “autocratic legalism”, according to the conception that we began working with on this podcast and in the PAL project. To concentrate power and govern without constraints, Modi and the BJP do make use of incremental and malicious changes in constitutional and statutory law. But that alone is insufficient to fully characterize the Modi moment and its relationship with law. This moment, they argue, is further based on an ideology (Hindu nationalism) that combines ethnic and religious components and is backed up by mass mobilization.

In the interview, the guests unpack this argument and debate how it adds to the framework of studies on autocratic legalism, which up to this point, both the host and the guests agree, had been too focused on the state and power concentration in the hands of a single individual (the autocrat), overlooking the connections between the state and society and the broader social or economic hierarchies that current authoritarian leaders have also helped entrench. 

Fabio and his guests also discuss the methodological premises of their work (the orientation they share toward “law as it is lived on the ground”), which has enabled them to spot these specific dimensions of the phenomenon we have been trying to better understand in our project. And they finish with discussions about the prospects for resistance to Modi and the BJP and attempted predictions about how the story of Indian democracy may unfold. 


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