chapter  20
7 Pages

Decolonizing South Asian history

A 70th anniversary perspective
WithSugata Bose, Ayesha Jalal

The capture of state power at the triumphal moment of formal decolonization by forces representing singular nationalism generally brought with it problems of its own in socially and culturally heterogeneous ex-colonies, perhaps nowhere more complex than in South Asia. Post-colonial South Asian history and historiography showed an inability until very recently to discard colonial definitions of majority and minority based on a system of enumeration privileging the religious distinction, despite being overtaken by events. South Asians learnt the modern concept of unitary, indivisible sovereignty from their British colonial masters. It is emerging from scholarly research that pre-colonial empires, far from being centralized, bureaucratic autocracies, were flexible, nuanced and overarching suzerainties. Anti-colonial nationalists, thus, became increasingly suspicious of schemes that threatened 'balkanization' at the moment of decolonization. The best political theorists of pre-colonial and anti-colonial South Asia would have seen no cause for tedious argument over the concept of layered and shared sovereignty.