ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Spaces of Exception: States’ People and the Making of Popular Sovereignty in Decolonizing India.


Pillai Sarath - University of Pennsylvania, Center for the Advanced Study of India, PHILADELPHIA, United States


11 – Rethinking governmentality: Sovereign agency beyond the state in South Asia


The Indian princely states were spaces of exception in colonial India. The involvement of the Indian National Congress in the internal politics of princely states, through its arm called the All India States People’s Conference, was to mark a new phase in Indian politics where the concept of the people would become a metonym for the territorial unity of India and its unitary sovereignty. The nationalist demand that the princely states introduce democratic governments internally and that a national-level constituent assembly should be democratically elected would entangle the struggle for freedom with democracy and territorial unity with the unity of the Indian people. Neither democracy nor freedom nor unity could be had without the other. By drawing on a range of private papers and party papers in the last decade of colonial rule, I show how the nationalists tamed the contested terrain of sovereignty and constitutionalism through the concept of the people, especially the states’ people. Unlike in the provinces, people in the states were an elusive category legally. In the process, the Indian nationalists constructed a theory of popular sovereignty, which sought to equate the sovereignty of the people of India with the territorial unity of India. This merging of the people (albeit legally divided into the people of the provinces and the states) was to supply the main ideological fodder for Indian nationalism and its theory of sovereignty.