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Monday, April 16, 2018 at 12:15pm to 1:30pm
Uris Hall, G08
The paper argues that concepts (and practices) of human, divine, and messianic rulership have been central to the emergence of colonial ideologies, anti-colonial nationalisms, as well as ‘lower caste’ and ‘tribal’ politics in modern India. Drawing especially on case studies from colonial Bengal (and the associated princely states of Cooch Behar and Tripura), Banerjee shows how such concepts articulated divergent (politico-theologically justified) models of sovereignty, from colonial and elite-Indian forms of centralized state power to peasant visions of self-rule and communitarian autonomy. He demonstrates how these actors drew on localized political imperatives and struggles, as well as on contemporaneous European and Asian models of kingship, state authority, and/or democratic and revolutionary grammars. Relating itself to recent debates about global intellectual history, the paper suggests that the forging of these ‘sovereign figures’ helped in radically redrawing as well as ‘globalizing’ vocabularies of political authority in the subcontinent. The final ambition of the paper is to relate these Indian exemplars to broader theoretical discussions about sovereign figures, from Carl Schmitt and E. H. Kantorowicz to (more recently) Giorgio Agamben, and to highlight the extent to which some (though certainly not all) of the sovereign figures originating from a colonized society can help us in dialectically recuperating capacious visions of democratic selfhood and collectivity, negotiating competing claims of ethical certitude, social plurality, and political fracture.
Milinda Banerjee is Research Fellow at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich, and Assistant Professor, Department of History, Presidency University, Kolkata. He is also co-editor of Transnational Histories of the ‘Royal Nation’ (Palgrave 2017), and author of two books and several essays at the intersections of South Asian and transregional intellectual history. His current project at Munich relates to a global intellectual history of the Tokyo Trial (1946-48), focusing especially on debates about legal philosophy in contexts of Cold War and decolonization. His dissertation, which offered an intellectual history of concepts and practices of rulership and sovereignty in colonial India (with a primary focus on Bengal, ca. 1858-1947), has now been published as The Mortal God: Imagining the Sovereign in Colonial India (Cambridge University Press, 2018).