Research Seminar

Ornit Shani: The Making of Popular Sovereignty in India’s Nascent Democracy

Time: 11 March, 10-12
Place: Holländargatan 13, Stockholm

Dr Ornit Shani, University of Haifa, Department of Asian Studies.

Abstract

This talk explores the genesis and first performance of the imaginary of popular sovereignty and of the idea of the ‘will of the people’ at the inception of democracy in India. The becoming of the people and the formation of popular sovereignty entailed the application of the idea of universality. But who were the people? How were they formed? And how did this fiction become persuasive, especially under conditions of profound pluralities and deep social divisions? To answer these questions I look at three inter-related processes that took place between 1946-1952 during the nascent days of India’s democracy: the role of the people in the making of the Indian constitution; the institutionalisation of popular sovereignty in the context of what I will describe as contested sovereignties; and the first enactment of the will of the people with India’s first general elections on the basis of universal franchise. I examine how the state actualised universality, and how, in turn, people engaged with its actualisation. This historical juncture is a key to understanding the relations between the state and its people and the evolution of democratic politics in India.

In exploring the nature and conditions of the formation and shaping of popular sovereignty in the world’s largest democracy, the talk offers a basis to think about democracy and popular sovereignty from a non-Western perspective, and to consider the implications of instituting democracy at such a scale. 

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