Decolonisation and the Politics of Transition in South Asia consolidates
the debate concerning the transfer of power in South
Asia, and maps the trajectories of the early postcolonial state
in the region. Some of the essays in this volume are old and have
stood the test of time. In fact, historians of my generation grew up
with them in the last couple of decades. Those works hardly demand
a rigorous re-evaluation from a reviewer of this volume. However,
their repackaging with a number of new works and a brilliant editorial
introduction makes it a game-changing volume in the research—
and perhaps more importantly—in the teaching of regime transitions
in South Asia after the fall of the British Empire.
The Introduction interrogates the long-held
understanding of decolonization in South Asia
as a ‘political event’ (p. 1, emphasis added) that
resulted in ‘the transfer of power from the empire
to nation-state’ (quoted in p. 1), or to put
it in the language of political theory, from ‘imperial
sovereignty’ to the postcolonial ‘popular
sovereignty’ (see for instance the contributions
in Part II of the volume, especially the essays by
Ramachandra Guha and Dipesh Chakrabarty).
The Introduction frames decolonization not so
much as ‘an event’—a one time, one space phenomenon—
but, as ‘a long-drawn-out process of
political transition’ (p. 2, emphasis original),
involving layered dialogue ‘between the colonial
past and the postcolonial present, a dialogue
that has not yet ended’ (p. 4).
Decolonization, the volume points out, involved
a twin process of Independence and Partition.
As the essays that follow the introduction
reveal, millions lived through the gradual
unfolding of what Gyanendra Pandey calls ‘Partition-
Independence’ (see Pandey’s essay in this volume, p. 113) in
their everyday life, and attached multiple meanings to it. A ‘feeling
of jubilation’ came with an equally deep ‘sense of mourning’ (p. 7).
The ‘midnight’ of 14–15 August 1947 (Gyanesh Kudaisya’s ‘Azadi,
Batwara or Vibhajan: What Happened on 14–15 August 1947 in
the Indian Subcontinent?’ witnessed the birth of new minorities
(Muslims in India, and Hindus in Pakistan, see Ian Talbot’s’ ‘Picking
Up the Pieces: Pakistan, 1947–49’), a new sense of anxiety (the Introduction),
and a set of permanently transitory population groups—
bore the brunt of the foundational violence of the two nation-states,
and whose subsequent administration in India, and in Pakistan
decolonized to a great extent the techniques of government in South
In fact, it appears to me that decolonization ...
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