South Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - "The King Is the People": The Limits of Liberal-Nationalist Constitutionalism in the Princely States in Decolonizing India

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Jackson, Mezzanine Level

This paper will argue that the liberal constitutionalist notion of “the people” as the source of sovereignty had little relevance in the princely states in colonial India. However, the notion that the people are the source of all authority is fundamental to the constitutionalism generated by anti-colonial nationalism in India. This paper disputes the easy acceptability of the idea of the people as a central constitutional tenet in decolonizing India by arguing that the notion of the people was absent in the constitutionalism of the princely states. Treaties mediating the British relationship with the princely states like Travancore did not have any conception of the people as the source of sovereignty. Rather, the treaties considered the ruler of a state as the only locus of sovereignty in that state. By focusing especially on Travancore, this paper will show that the British sought to construct, and constitutionally safeguard, a new form of princely sovereignty in which ruler and state were considered inseparable. The legal basis for the accession of the states into the Indian union in 1947 was the fact that the sovereignty of a state lay with its ruler and not with its people. The irony of the princely states joining the Indian union through a negation of the basic principle of liberal nationalist constitutionalism cannot be lost on the scholars of Indian constitutionalism and the Indian national movement alike. 

Sarath Pillai

University of Chicago, Illinois

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1 - "The King Is the People": The Limits of Liberal-Nationalist Constitutionalism in the Princely States in Decolonizing India



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