Sarath Pillai is the winner of the 2022 Sardar Patel Award

Sarath Pillai is the winner of the 2022 Sardar Patel Award

Pillai won the award for a dissertation entitled "Federal Futures: Imagining Federation, Constitution and World in Late Colonial India," completed at the University of Chicago.

CISA is delighted to announce Sarath Pillai as the winner of the 2022 Sardar Patel Award (we are still catching up after covid, hence the double bill). His dissertation is ‘Federal Futures: Imagining Federation, Constitution, and World in Late Colonial India’ and was completed at University of Chicago. Please join us in congratulating him for this fantastic work! He will also present his work at the award ceremony at UCLA on 8 October.

Abstract: This dissertation is a fine-grained study of the debates for and against federation in late colonial India. The history of federation in India is often assumed to have begun after Indian independence, so much so that even as federation is the most contested political idea in India today, little is known or said about the colonial past of the Indian federation. The dissertation addresses this lacuna by showing the worlds of alternative political imaginations around federation articulated by characters less popular in historical narratives—like the Indian princely states, Muslim minorities, liberals, vernacular politicians, and intellectuals—and placing them in opposition to the Indian nationalists who stood for a strong, unitary nation-state. Instead of viewing late colonial India as the gradual but inevitable triumph of democracy, nationalism, and the nation-state, this dissertation argues that non-national groups (groups that disputed the idea of a unitary nation-state) like the Indian princely states and Muslim minorities imagined postcolonial India as a collection of sovereign states and nationalities in opposition to liberal conceptions of state and citizenship. Thus, the dissertation maps the rise and dominance of federal ideas—which privileged state’s rights and provincial autonomy as opposed to individual rights—and their eventual fall when the princes, minorities, and liberals were sidelined at the time of independence. The federal ideas and their advocates fell so low that the Indian Constitution didn’t even mention the word federation once. Marshaling multi-lingual archives from three continents collected over 18 months, the dissertation situates late colonial India in the global context of sentiments against the nation-state and parliamentary democracy and recovers the deeply contested realm of state and worldmaking in late colonial India.

Bio: Sarath Pillai is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his PhD with distinction from the History Department at the University of Chicago. His research has been supported by the American Historical Association, Library of Congress, Harry Truman Library, and Princeton University Library. His writings have appeared in Law and History Review, Comparative Studies in Society and History, The Diplomat, Himal Southasian, and, among others. He holds a Master of Studies in Law from Yale Law School and an MA in History from Delhi University.

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Published: Tuesday, September 5, 2023

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