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Waiting for the People

The Idea of Democracy in Indian Anticolonial Thought

Nazmul Sultan

ISBN 9780674290372

Publication date: 01/09/2024

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An original reconstruction of how the debates over peoplehood defined Indian anticolonial thought, and a bold new framework for theorizing the global career of democracy.

Indians, their former British rulers asserted, were unfit to rule themselves. Behind this assertion lay a foundational claim about the absence of peoplehood in India. The purported “backwardness” of Indians as a people led to a democratic legitimation of empire, justifying self-government at home and imperial rule in the colonies.

In response, Indian anticolonial thinkers launched a searching critique of the modern ideal of peoplehood. Waiting for the People is the first account of Indian answers to the question of peoplehood in political theory. From Surendranath Banerjea and Radhakamal Mukerjee to Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian political thinkers passionately explored the fraught theoretical space between sovereignty and government. In different ways, Indian anticolonial thinkers worked to address the developmental assumptions built into the modern problem of peoplehood, scrutinizing contemporary European definitions of “the people” and the assumption that a unified peoplehood was a prerequisite for self-government. Nazmul Sultan demonstrates how the anticolonial reckoning with the ideal of popular sovereignty fostered novel insights into the globalization of democracy and ultimately drove India’s twentieth-century political transformation.

Waiting for the People excavates, at once, the alternative forms and trajectories proposed for India’s path to popular sovereignty and the intellectual choices that laid the foundation for postcolonial democracy. In so doing, it uncovers largely unheralded Indian contributions to democratic theory at large. India’s effort to reconfigure the relationship between popular sovereignty and self-government proves a key event in the global history of political thought, one from which a great deal remains to be learned.

Praise

  • A brilliant demonstration of anticolonialism’s critical contributions to the history of democratic political thought. Sultan’s historically nuanced and theoretically insightful account of how the leading thinkers and activists of India’s anticolonial struggle confronted the fraught colonial legacies of democratic developmentalism and the problem of peoplehood makes an essential contribution to contemporary democratic theory.

    —Jason Frank, author of The Democratic Sublime

Author

  • Nazmul Sultan is Assistant Professor of Political Theory at the University of British Columbia and was previously the George Kingsley Roth Research Fellow at Christ’s College, University of Cambridge. His writing focuses on the history of anticolonial political thought and democratic theory.

Book Details

  • 312 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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