Did the promulgation of the Indian constitution on 26 January 1950 make a difference to the lives of most Indians? This article argues that contrary to existing scholarly and popular belief, the adoption of a written constitution with a bill of rights and judicial review transformed the relationship between the citizen and the state and emerged as a new field of practice. It does so by mapping the growth of judicial review of executive action through a series of similar challenges under Articles 32 and 226. Examining the trial of rebels and malcontents in Bengal, Hyderabad, Bombay, and Saurashtra during the early years of the postcolonial republic, it teases out how colonial governmentality responds to the institution of a written constitution. The article demonstrates that the constitution came to be utilized as a resource and a venue to challenge the continuation of the colonial practice of special tribunals and exceptional procedures. Judicial remedies made constitutional governance a two-way process, where citizens could insert themselves into a conversation on state practice. Constitutional law became grounded in uncertainty as the results in very similar cases varied widely. However, it was this uncertainty about constitution law that gave it legitimacy and attracted widespread participation by the state and citizens.

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