Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

United States of India: An Alternate Genealogy of Indian Federalism

in partnership with the South Asia Center, Dept. of South Asia Studies, and Dept. of History

Sarath Pillai
CASI Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Thursday, February 22, 2024 - 12:00
Center for the Advanced Study of India Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science & Economics 133 South 36th Street, Suite 230 Philadelphia PA 19104-6215

About the Seminar:
In most accounts, federalism in colonial India is seen as an imperial or metropolitan idea advanced by the imperial elites to keep Indian nationalism at bay. Scarcely has any work studied why federalism caught on like wildfire and found its advocates and detractors in all corners of the country. Nor have there been any attempts to understand the prehistory of Indian federal politics. In this seminar, Sarath Pillai gives a prehistory of Indian federal thoughts through an engagement with the idea of the United States of India and recuperates it as the foremost Indian federal project in the early decades of the twentieth century. The main feature of this prehistory was its focus on solving the so-called Indian problem through a multinational federal framework in which nations had juridical status, much like how a strand of the United States of Europe movement imagined Europe’s future. This prehistory/alternative genealogy of federalism is not only a prime site for writing a new global intellectual history of late colonial India but also one with enormous potential to understand the question of nationalities in colonial and postcolonial India.

About the Speaker:
Sarath Pillai is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania. His monograph project examines the crisis of federation in late colonial India and brings forth a world of federal ideas that held sway in India in the first half of the twentieth century. His research stands at the intersection of postcolonial, global, and legal histories. His writings have appeared in both peer-reviewed journals and public forums like Comparative Studies in Society and History, Law and History Review, Economic and Political Weekly,, Himal Southasian, The New Rambler, and Los Angeles Review of Book, among others. He received a Ph.D. in History with distinction from the University of Chicago, and his dissertation won the Sardar Patel Award for the best dissertation on modern India conferred by UCLA. In 2022-23, he worked as an archival intern at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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