Granville Austin, scholar of Indian constitution, passes away

Prof. Austin leaves behind him a treasured legacy of scholarly analysis on the Indian constitution, which he described as, “first and foremost a social document”.

July 07, 2014 09:46 pm | Updated 11:27 pm IST - Washington

“The Indians’ sense of their rich cultural heritage, their record of professional achievements in the arts and sciences of the modern world, and their faith in their ability to govern themselves, combined to give them a national maturity that allowed a reasoned approach to the creation and working of government.”

Thus wrote Granville Austin (87), renowned scholar of the Indian constitution and constitutional assembly debates, in his seminal tome, ‘The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation.’

Professor Austin passed away in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, but he leaves behind him a treasured legacy of scholarly analysis on the Indian constitution, which he described as, “first and foremost a social document,” one that embodied the objectives of a “social revolution.”

Reviewing his work Upendra Baxi, Professor of Law in Development at the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, wrote that the volume, “provides the most comprehensive, insightful and balanced account of the work of the Constituent Assembly which drafted the Indian Constitution in the brief span of time from December, 1946 to December, 1949 – a time of strife, turbulence and ferment not merely in India but in the entire world.”

Including a second, seminal book, ‘Working a Democratic Constitution: The Indian Experience,’ Professor Austin’s definitive studies of constitution-making in India are said to have effectively displaced much of the pseudo-literature on the subject.

He writings have sometimes been cited by the Indian Supreme Court and are said to have significantly informed legal thinking, jurisprudence and the evolution of Indian constitutional law.

Born in 1927, Professor Austin lived in Norwich, Vermont, from the age of five. He went on to graduate from Dartmouth College with a BA in American Literature and then earned a doctorate in Modern Indian History from Oxford University.

Working as a journalist and photographer and later serving with the U. S. Information Service, Department of State, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and on the staff of a U. S. senator, Professor Austin’s wide experience with public policy issues informed his subsequent scholarly projects.

In the latter arena he excelled and wide recognition followed, not least in the form of numerous fellowships and grants, including from St. Antony's College, Oxford, the Ford Foundation, the Fulbright Program, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, and the Institute of Current World Affairs.

In 2011, in recognition for his writing on the framing and working of the Indian Constitution, Professor Austin was awarded a Padma Shri award, the fourth-highest civilian honour of India.

To his many friends and mentees, who described him as a “remarkable man,” he was known as ‘Red.’ Professor Austin is survived by his wife, Nancy, his four children, and three grandchildren.

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