Nazmul Sultan, April 25th, 2019
This paper explores Indian anticolonial federalist attempts to theorize popular sovereignty against the grain of its traditional attachment to a concept of one-and-undivided peoplehood. Early twentieth-century federalist thinkers (Seal, Mukerjee, Das) claimed the very ideal of representative self-government is tethered to a philosophy of history that weds the image of one-and-undivided peoplehood with a project of European colonialism. What form of government was to be fit for Indians—and which one would truly enable self-rule—increasingly became a matter of creative speculation. The federalist turn in anticolonial Indian political thought emerged out of a sustained engagement with—and a critique of – British pluralism and American Progressive thought, and was marked by a keen engagement with the problem of collective will. Questioning the hitherto taken-for-granted assumption that the people is a one-and-undivided category, federalist thinkers such as B.N. Seal, C.R. Das, and Radhakamal Mukerjee fashioned an account of self-rule rooted in an image of “many peoples.” The paper concludes by arguing the federalist commitment to a vision of dispersed peoplehood contradicted its quest for popular authorization and ultimately brought it to an abrupt end in the 1920s (as the age of national self-determination began).