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The Domestic AbroadDiasporas in International Relations$

Latha Varadarajan

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199733910

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199733910.001.0001

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Putting the Diaspora in Its Place

Putting the Diaspora in Its Place

From Colonial Transnationalism to Postcolonial Nationalism

(p.51) 3 Putting the Diaspora in Its Place
The Domestic Abroad

Latha Varadarajan (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter is the first of three chapters explaining the production of the Indian domestic abroad. At the moment of independence in 1947, the postcolonial Indian state very deliberately adopted a policy of distancing itself from the emigrant communities identified variously as “Indians abroad” or “Overseas Indians.” What made this move puzzling was that these very groups had not too long ago been identified by the Indian nationalist movement as an essential part of the Indian nation that had been involved in an epic struggle against British colonial rule. The chapter sets up the puzzle of the shift from the transnational nationalism that prevailed during colonialism, and the nature of the more territorially based nationalism that replaced it following independence. Following postcolonial scholarship, it begins by situating the contestations regarding the meaning and extent of the modern Indian nation and state in the context of the historical experience of colonialism.

Keywords:   Indian National Congress, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian nationalism, British colonialism, Indians abroad, postcolonial, partition, nonalignment, sovereignty

Indians abroad, it may look like a paradox to say so, paved the way really for Indian emancipation within the frontiers of India. It was the gospel of passive resistance that was conceived, developed and implemented in Transvaal in 1908 that paved the way for the development of non-cooperation, passive resistance, civil disobedience and satyagraha in the years 1920 to 1945, and it was really the implementation of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, subject to the principles of truth and non-violence over a quarter of a century that made Indian freedom possible. We therefore owe all that we are to the initiative, the originality, the daring and the sacrifice of Indians abroad.

—Pattabhi Sitaramayya, President of Indian National Congress

We have left it to the Indians abroad whether they continue to remain Indian nationals or to adopt the nationality of whichever country they live in. It is entirely for them to decide. If they remain Indian nationals, then all they can claim abroad is favourable alien treatment. If they adopt the nationality of the country they live in, they should associate themselves as closely as possible with the interest of the people of the country they have adopted and never make it appear to function in any way that they become an exploiting agency there.

—Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India, September 1957

In September 1957, more than a decade after India had attained independence from British rule, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declared in the Indian parliament that his government had successfully resolved the question of Indians abroad. While acknowledging that people of Indian origin were facing discrimination in different parts of the world, the prime minister framed the Indian government's postindependence policy in terms of a choice that had to be made by the Indians abroad themselves. Indians abroad, Nehru asserted, were at a (p.52) crossroads. They could choose to claim Indian citizenship, thus officially becoming a part of the independent Indian nation-state. In that case, while the Indian state would accept its duties toward them and strive to protect their interests through the means of traditional diplomacy, they could not expect anything other than “favourable alien treatment” outside Indian territory. As for those who chose to accept “the nationality of the country they live in,” the Indian state wished them well and, in that spirit, exhorted them to comport themselves in their new countries as true citizens and not exploitative agents.1

At one level, the prime minister's declaration took no one by surprise, for it was the clearest articulation yet of a policy that Nehru's government had been following since independence in 1947. However, within the broader milieu of the anticolonial nationalist struggle that had led to India's independence, this declaration did mark a dramatic turnaround. The fact that Gandhi, adulated by millions and institutionally revered by the state as “Father of the nation,” had himself been an “Indian abroad” was not lost on the leadership of the nationalist movement. Many of them, like Pattabhi Sitaramayya, the president of the Indian National Congress, openly acknowledged and praised the critical role played by Indians abroad in India's independence struggle.2 To be fair, such acknowledgments were not merely a nod toward Gandhi's special place in Indian politics. The leaders of the Indian nationalist movement had in fact first articulated their demands for complete freedom from British rule by establishing a direct link between the discrimination faced by people of Indian origin in various British colonies and India's lack of sovereignty. In that sense, Indians abroad had indeed been an essential part of the development of Indian nationalism. Given this context, it was commonsensical to expect that once independence was attained, the Indian state would actively protect the rights of Indians abroad, especially in former British colonies. But the policies adopted by postcolonial India seemed to consciously go against these expectations, with Nehru's government offering not protection, but rather the choice of Indian citizenship to Indians abroad and somewhat stern, paternalistic advice to those who chose not to accept Indian citizenship. In other words, far from acknowledging the diaspora as India's domestic constituency residing abroad, the independent Indian state deliberately turned its back on the expansive transnationalism that prevailed prior to independence. Instead, it systematically embraced the idea of a bounded nation that was territorially congruent with the limits of the state's authority.3 Why did the postindependence Indian state go against expectations and distance itself from the Indian diaspora? More importantly, how do we make sense of these counterintuitive state practices, in terms of the contemporary production of the Indian domestic abroad? It is these questions that form the central concern of this and the following two chapters.

This chapter sets up the puzzle of independent India's relationship with the Indians abroad. It begins by putting into focus the processes of early emigration (p.53) from British India and the development of the relationship between the emerging Indian nationalist movement and the groups hailed as the Indians abroad. In doing so, it illustrates three important aspects of the broader theoretical argument of the book. First, it highlights the crucial role of the state (in this case, the colonial state) in creating and sustaining diasporas. Second, it shows that these state actions make sense only if we take into account the logic of capitalist developments. Finally, it illustrates the politically contingent, historically produced relationship between nation and state, between political belonging and a definite territory. The processes of imagining the Indian nation, particularly in a form that challenged the legitimacy of the colonial state, required the existence and participation of the Indians abroad. As leaders of the Indian nationalist movement themselves acknowledged, the Indian diaspora was crucial for the development of nationalist consciousness. To that extent, even prior to the establishment of the postcolonial Indian state, India was imagined as a transnational nation. Despite this, however, as the second part of the chapter reveals, the moment of independence marked a definite closing in of the boundaries of the nation and a distancing of the state from the concerns of the Indians abroad. The chapter concludes by arguing that to make sense of this dramatic turnaround and its connections to the contemporary production of the Indian domestic abroad, we need to begin by analyzing the political struggles that were productive of the specific set of relationships between nation and state in modern India.

I. The “Indians” Abroad

Despite the fact that over 60% of the population even wants for minimum necessities, the migratory instinct is practically non-existent among the Indian peasantry, free emigration beyond the seas being unthinkable.4

When Nehru made his declaration regarding Indians abroad in the parliament, it was patently clear to both him and his audience that the subjects he was referring to were the persons of Indian origin, numbering more than 4 million, living primarily in former British colonies around the world.5 A significant percentage of this population consisted of members of the Indian peasantry and business communities. However, as sociologist Lanka Sundaram notes in an almost bemused tone, these social groups were not really known for their “migratory instincts.” Despite this, by 1933 (when Sundaram wrote his account of “Indians Overseas”) their total number had already surpassed 2.5 million.6 Given that the migration of Indians in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century was hampered not only by the social limits on their imagination but also by the (p.54) material and social costs of traveling overseas, how do we make sense of the emergence of a dispersed and fairly large group of Indians abroad? Answering this question requires a closer look at a specific event that has been justifiably regarded as an important and progressive step in the history of Western civilization.

In 1833, the British Parliament passed the Act of Abolition, banning slavery across the British Empire. France followed suit in 1849.7 The end of this institutionalized supply of cheap labor required the colonial powers to look elsewhere to meet the needs of both colonial settlers and metropolitan capital.8 In 1859, the governor of the South African province of Natal made an urgent appeal to the Government of India for a shipment of Indian peasants who could be absorbed into the local population. In response to the request, British authorities sent a group of 342 Indians on board the S.S. Truro, which arrived in Durban on November 16, 1860.9 Thus began the story of modern Indian emigration that was initially “assisted” by the colonial state.10 The nature of this assistance can be found in the series of emigration acts beginning in 1842,11 along with the various conventions with France (1861), Denmark (1863), and Holland (1870) that permitted the supply of indentured Indian labor not only to the various British colonies but also to those of other European powers. Legalizing the system of indenture basically meant that the state oversaw supplying cheap Indian labor that was bound by contract to work in the plantations owned by settlers all across various European empires.

In a dispatch of May 1877 to the secretary of state for India, the policy of the British Indian government with regard to emigration was described as “that of seeing fairplay between the parties to a commercial transaction, whilst altogether abstaining from the bargain.”12 This statement, of course, overlooked the complicity of the colonial government of India in procuring the required labor for colonial plantations in return for annual subsidies as in the case of the £10,000 paid to it by the Natal authorities.13 The role of the colonial government as an impartial overseer, who facilitated but did not necessarily encourage emigration, was institutionalized through specific practices. The government appointed “persons of approved character” to conduct the oversight of emigration on its behalf. These agents then selected recruiters whose appointments had to be approved by the Government Protector of Emigrants.14 The recruiters had the task of “persuading” people to emigrate. Once persuaded, the emigrants were taken to local magistrates, who would record the transaction. They were then moved to licensed collection houses in the port towns of Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay, where they would live under the watchful eyes of the migration agents until licensed ships carried them to their destinations. The licensing of the ships to ensure that “they are equipped in every respect with what is needed to ensure the safety of the passengers on (p.55) their long voyage” marked the end of the colonial government's direct involvement in the transaction.15

Contrary to the description of bureaucratic controls and governmental impartiality in the dispatch, the colonial state did play a very critical role in shaping the character and direction of Indian emigration. While rules existed on paper, they were bent with impunity whenever there was need for labor on the plantations. Furthermore, the official end of the government's direct involvement once the ships filled with emigrants left Indian shores only meant that plantation owners and managers could violate the contracts without fear of governmental reprisals. The peculiar character of Indian migrant labor in Malaya provides a good illustration of both the complicity and the hands-off attitude of the imperial government with regard to early emigration.

Unlike the more plausibly voluntary Chinese migration to Malaya (and Southeast Asia in general), the migration of Indian labor was planned and executed by the colonial authorities with a view to aiding British manufacturers by providing a cheap source of raw materials and potential markets and also keeping a check on the growing Chinese population. Colonial migration thus was tailored to satisfy the demands of British capital (as it was invested primarily in the plantations), a process that transformed the very structure of Malayan society. The colonial state very consciously chose the migrants from the South Indian untouchable/Adi Dravida castes—65 percent of the total migration during the colonial period was from these groups—as it deemed it far easier to convince the untouchables to move away from the places where they were subjected to caste oppression.16 The very nature of the indenture system (and its variants, the Kangani and Maistry systems) ensured that wherever they were sent—be it the West Indies, Natal, Mauritius, Burma, Fiji, Ceylon, or Malaya—laborers from India were the subject of systemic oppression.

As state complicity in perpetuating and maintaining various systems of recruitment became more obvious, the image of the colonial state as a distant, though fundamentally benevolent, structure of authority became more than a bit frayed. It was at this juncture that eminent political activists like Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and C. F. Andrews took up the cause of the emigrants. Popularizing tales of the miserable plight of the Indian laborers in various public fora around the country, they occasionally and temporarily succeeded in pressuring the government to ban recruitment17 and appoint commissions to investigate the charges against the plantation and mill owners.18 One such commission appointed to look into the abuses taking place in British Guiana (1871) reported that “immigration, as far as the coolies are concerned, has failed to fulfill its purpose, if after being acclimatized, after learning their work and paying for their passage out, they must still be brought under indenture after indenture, and not encouraged to take their station in the country as free labourers.”19

(p.56) The consequences of these commissions and the solutions regarding the problems of emigrant labor that emerged from their findings created a piquant situation. The colonial state in India, reconstructed as a paternal structure of authority, fought battles on behalf of emigrant labor and often became entangled in tense relations with not only other dominions but also the Colonial Office in London.

One of the solutions proposed for resolving many of the problems involving early Indian emigrant labor was to provide them with the right to own land and work as freed men once they had served their indenture. This step initially found favor in crown colonies, such as Natal, that were suffering from a severe lack of labor. However, as the laborers began settling in the land as free men, white plantation owners began petitioning the colonial office to ensure that they were forced to return to India once they had served their indenture.20 The rejection of this petition led to the proposal of several innovative measures to ensure either that the emigrant laborers were forced to leave the colony after having served their indenture or that they continued to live there under conditions of abject poverty and humiliation. Among these measures were the attempted extension of the indenture so that the contracts would officially end only after the laborer returned to India, the imposition of a residence tax on those who chose to remain behind, and a ban prohibiting employers from hiring emigrants who might show an inclination to stay back. For instance, in 1893, the Government of Natal proposed that all “free Indians” should pay a special annual tax of £25, which was beyond most workers' means. Under pressure from the viceroy of India, Lord Elgin, this amount was reduced to £3 (a sum that could be earned by a worker in six months) but was imposed not only on the male laborer but also on his wife and children over the age of sixteen. Furthermore, all ex-indentured laborers were supposed to buy a special license for £25 in order to work, and all fresh immigrants were supposed to pass a European language test. In case these measures were not sufficient to stem the tide of Indian immigration, in 1894 the Natal authorities also introduced a bill disenfranchising all “Asiatics” whose names were not already on the voters' lists.

Mohandas Gandhi, then a young Indian lawyer in Durban, came to know about the disenfranchisement bill at a farewell party thrown on the eve of his departure to India. Postponing his return, he organized the first ever resistance by Indians abroad against a discriminatory regime. As a result of Gandhi's intervention, the 1894 bill was disallowed by the secretary of state for the colonies, who declared that “the British Empire could not agree to the establishment of a colour bar in its legislations.”21 The success of the movement led by Gandhi in South Africa was temporary, as the Natal authorities soon after passed a new bill that disqualified Indians on unspecified grounds. However, it served the important purpose of bringing the horrors of indenture, as well the institutionalization (p.57) of discrimination in places like Natal, to the attention of the Indian public. Gopal Krishna Gokhale, the well-known moderate nationalist leader, actually visited South Africa and on his return publicized the conditions of abject misery under which Indian emigrants were forced to live, highlighting the fact that to pay for the licenses needed to work, Indian women were often driven to prostitution. The resulting outcry in India led the British Indian government to prohibit emigration of indentured labor to Natal in 1911.22 Over the next ten years, the system of indenture gradually came to an end as it was banned in Mauritius (1915), the West Indian islands (1917), and Fiji (1920).

The Nationalist Movement and the Imagining of “India”

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the demands made by Indian leaders on behalf of their expatriate countrymen fit well within the liberal discourse of the moderate nationalists. The colonial state was still seen as a legitimate source of authority that would ensure better treatment of Indians abroad, especially unskilled laborers, through institutions such as its legal systems and bureaucracy. Hence, initially the emphasis was to bring to the attention of the state a particular case and maintain constant pressure by building up public opinion until the government machinery sprang into action, setting up committees to investigate the alleged incident, and suggesting measures for redress. This faith seemed to be justified by the attitude of various emigration committees that recommended the suspension of labor emigration to places like Mauritius, Natal, and the West Indian islands on the basis of constant violations of the rights of emigrants.23

In addition to the illiterate bonded laborers, the voluntary middle-class emigrants faced their own problems of institutionalized discrimination and often open hostility from the white communities. This discrimination put into question their livelihoods and their continued survival in their places of settlement. In support of their cause, Indian nationalists added their voices to the demands to end racial inequality. However, these demands were not based on any claims of Indian independence. Rather, moderate leaders demanded that Indians be treated on par with their British “compatriots,” for they were all citizens of the same empire and, as such, entitled to the same rights. An extension of this argument to the case of Indians abroad implied that it made perfect sense for the government of India to demand in the imperial conference of 1917 that “British Asiatics, that is Asiatics of British nationality, should at least not be less favourably treated than other Asiatics.”24 Similarly, when the Union of South Africa made continuous demands that descendants of the formerly indentured Indian laborers be repatriated to India, the government of India pointed out the implausibility of those demands on the grounds that the Indians were an important part of the fabric of South African society and that they had certain rights as British citizens:

(p.58) Nearly 63 per cent of the resident Indian population was born in South Africa, and the majority of that element regard the country as their home, and hardly likely to return to India unless compelled to do so. We question whether this Indian population…can justly be regarded as an alien element. [The] bulk of them have settled in Union for long periods, have in their own respective spheres contributed to the development of the country, and proved their value to the other elements in the population. They have acquired vested interests and established manifold associations, severance of which will be a source of distress to many and great economic dislocation and loss. As British subjects in South Africa they, we submit, are entitled to look upon the Union Government as the trustee of their interests equally with other elements of the population.25

The support of the colonial government of India for the cause of the emigrant Indian populations is not hard to understand. Its leading lights (the viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, and the secretary of state for India, Lord Montagu) were among the small section in the British ruling elite who, in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, argued that unless the contributions of subject nations like India to the war effort were recognized and rewarded, the potential of a revolutionary movement would be greatly increased. Furthermore, the “moderates” of the Indian national movement were recognized as their natural allies in attempts to defend the empire. Unlike the revolutionaries (also known as the “extremists”), the moderates still believed not only in the possibility of equality and justice within the empire but also in the empire itself.26

This argument, most forcefully articulated by Montagu, was lost neither on the new viceroy of India, Lord Reading, nor on the British prime minister, Lloyd George, when the demand for equality was made for the first time by an Indian, Srinivasa Sastri, at the imperial conference of 1921. When it seemed as though the South African opposition to equal treatment of Indians might carry the day, Lloyd George stepped in to strongly advocate the Indian position. Entreating his fellow delegates to do justice to the Indian cause, the British premier warned that sending the Indian delegates back with empty hands might create a situation “which would make India simply flow with the blood of men who only a few years ago were willing to give that blood for the Empire and the flag under which they live.”27 Lending weight to the plea was an assurance that adopting the Indian resolution would not commit any of the dominions to any action. Despite this, South Africa registered its disagreement with even a nominal acceptance of Indian claims to equality.

Soon after this conference, a new turn of events cast a further shadow on the aspirations of the moderate nationalist leaders. Five decades of assisted emigration, supplemented by the voluntary migration of certain business communities, (p.59) had led to a substantial increase in the number of overseas Indian communities in East Africa, as well as a change in their profile. While legal provisions had been put in to enable some sections of the emigrant population to transition from indentured labor status to that of free men, they faced strong opposition to their presence from the local population—usually the white communities.28 This opposition became very obvious in East Africa, where Indian emigrants actually had played an important role in sustaining imperial rule until the end of World War I. In part, this supportive role was acknowledged in a proposal during the Treaty of Versailles negotiations to offer ex-German possessions in East Africa (Tanganyika) as a special preserve for Indian colonization, especially for demobilized sepoys.29 Rather than strengthening the position of the Indian community, this proposal (which in any case came to naught) stirred up trouble for Indians in Kenya and elsewhere. The European community in East Africa strongly resisted any attempts to provide land rights to the Indians on the grounds that such measures would lead to the disenfranchisement of the native Africans. As the Convention of White Associations in East Africa declared: “In the fair name of Christianity,…[we] would have the world believe that these colonies were held by them as a trust for the native inhabitants and that the presence of the Indians in the country constitutes a menace to the African race in the land of their birth.”30 On the basis of this claim, the white settlers demanded further restrictions on Indian emigration. In response to their demands, the Foreign Office in London published a White Paper in 1923, the Devonshire Declaration, which held that “the interests of the African natives must be paramount…if and when those interests of the immigrant races should conflict, the former should prevail.”31

The Devonshire Declaration revealed the limits of the liberal discourse of equality within the empire to even the most committed moderate leaders. It drove home the fact that, even as imperial conferences were being held regularly, laws against Indian emigrants (as well Indian emigration) continued to be enacted with impunity around the Commonwealth. Moreover, it became quite evident that the problem was not just that some British citizens were more equal than others, but that the rights of some citizens were contingent on the exploitation of others. Even moderate leaders realized that legislative acts such as the Devonshire Declaration of 1923, which purported to uphold the rights of native Africans against those of Indian settlers, were mere smokescreens for preserving white dominance. In this context, claims regarding the possibility of Indian progress as part of the British Empire began to sound quite hollow. Following the blow dealt to the hopes of Indians in Kenya by the imperial rulers in 1923, the Indian National Congress for the first time introduced a resolution advocating separation from the empire. Underlying the resolution was an argument that would frame the emerging movement for independence. The colonial state had (p.60) neither the desire nor the ability to safeguard the rights and the resources of the Indian nation. Part of what enabled the nationalists to make this argument was the connections that had been established with the political struggles of the Indian emigrant communities and the hailing of these communities as Indians abroad.

Unlike the Indian immigrants in Southeast Asia or the West Indies, the settlers in East and South Africa included middle-class Indians who were ready and willing to make vocal demands for equality with white settlers. It was in the process of making those demands that the overseas Indian communities established a connection with the mainland nationalists, who saw in their plight a reflection of the larger problems faced by the Indian nation. In South Africa, Mohandas Gandhi, who had initially supported the British during the course of the Anglo-Boer wars, fought for the rights of the Indian community by fashioning a unique form of civil disobedience.32 The immediate provocation was the new British ordinance that demanded that all Indians in Transvaal (including women) obtain certificates of registration containing descriptions of body marks and fingerprints, and also that they carry such certificates on their person at all times. Failure to produce these certificates on demand could result in imprisonment, fines, or even deportation. In 1908, as a response to this ordinance, as well as the Transvaal Immigrants Restriction Bill, Gandhi organized the first satyagraha—a nonviolent civil disobedience movement that involved groups of Indians courting arrest by crossing the Natal-Transvaal border, hawking without licenses, and refusing to register. Though in this particular case it failed to produce the desired outcome, this method was used more successfully by Gandhi in 1913, when he called for a miners' strike in Natal to oppose a new rule invalidating all Indian marriages and imposing a £3 annual license fee on all Indian indentured laborers who had settled in South Africa.33 During the period of his leadership of the South African Indian struggle, Gandhi visited India twice, addressing the Indian National Congress (INC), the Chambers of Commerce, and other organizations and drawing their attention to the appalling conditions faced by their fellow countrymen not just in South Africa but around the world.

Soon after World War I, Indian expatriates in East Africa set up the East African Indian National Congress, drew up a list of grievances that were presented to the local and imperial governments, and sent delegations to establish contact with the INC. In India, the cause of the East Africans found support with INC stalwarts like Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Sarojini Naidu, who reiterated the demand for an Indian protectorate in Tanganyika.34 In the decades that followed, Indian leaders consistently raised the issue of the sufferings of Indians abroad at annual imperial conferences, as well as at meetings of the League of Nations.35 The main issue was the racist nature of immigration policies that were being put in place in the former colonies to restrict Indian migration, be it in Canada or (p.61) South Africa.36 To show solidarity with their fellow countrymen, as well as to keep up the pressure on the government of India to take a firm stand against institutionalized discrimination in the colonies and Commonwealth, the INC also sent a series of missions to South Africa, Fiji, Malaya, Ceylon, Kenya, and Zanzibar.37 These missions not only served the purpose of creating associations that were tied to the INC, as in the case of Malaya,38 but also underlined the INC's conviction that the problems faced by the Indian nation were not restricted to the territory of mainland India.

While the indenture system and its variants had ensured that the early emigrants completely depended on the goodwill of the colonial state for their very survival, the situation had not really improved, even as assisted emigration was giving way to voluntary migration by members of the middle class. Wherever they went, emigrants from India were facing institutionalized and often brutal discrimination. Although members of various emigrant communities struggled against constant indignities and often succeeded in making small political gains, even these could be overturned at the will of the colonial ruling classes. Equality, which the moderate nationalist leaders believed should have been the right of the emigrants, had become a matter of intense political struggle in which the colonial state played an ambiguous role at best. As such, the emigrants embodied the plight of the Indian nation—they were, in every sense of the term, Indians abroad. As the nationalists argued:

Wherever they may be and howsoever difficult their existence, they constitute little bits of India and take to the lands where they live the culture and the religion, the traditions and the ways of their great motherland. Neither the passage of centuries nor in some cases, the complete break with the past, has made them forget the glory that was India.39

Making a direct connection between the problems faced by the emigrant communities and British rule, they further claimed that Indians abroad faced institutionalized discrimination because India was a colonized nation and could not really respond to the needs of her people. Writing about the Canadian reactions to the moderate successes of the Indian emigrants, Lanka Sundaram remarked in 1933: “The fact that India is a subject country has a lot to do with the recrudescence of race prejudice, and since the people of India cannot be expected to protest even if they were hit under the belt, the Canadians scored numerous technical triumphs.”40 The colonial state was not representative of the “people of India” and did not particularly care if they “were hit under the belt.” This was why other countries could, with impunity, enact discriminatory legislative acts against Indians abroad. The contrast that was usually drawn was with China. Some nationalists argued that prior to the Japanese occupation, even though China was (p.62) not necessarily regarded as a great power, it could still afford to look after the interests of its citizens because of its independence. The impact of being a subject nation could be seen even as the colonial state tried to provide institutional spaces to address the plight of Indians abroad. In 1936, the government of India established a separate Department of Overseas Indians that was headed by Dr. N. B. Khare. However, the department could do little for Indians abroad, other than making sure that the imperial government was aware of their problems. Further limiting its ability to function was the express need to ensure cooperation between various parts of the empire and the Commonwealth during the course of World War II. Consequently, the government of India remained a mute spectator as the Union of South Africa continued to enact rules such as the Pegging Act of 1943, which sought to restrict the amount of land that could be purchased by Indians in Transvaal and Natal. As a result of this act, 24,000 Indians would be confined to 200 acres, and 7,000 whites would have mores than 5,000 acres at their disposal.41 Referring to this demeaning legislation, Dr. Khare remarked that had “India been independent, she would have considered it a casus belli against South Africa.”42 Public outrage in India reached a peak with the Council of the Imperial Indian Citizenship Association suggesting openly that since appeasement of the South African government time and again had resulted in only greater hardships for Indians, it was time that India took steps to “safeguard her honour abroad.”43 However, even after conveying the dismay of the Indian people, the Government of India did not take any action. The reason for this inaction, the nationalists argued, was that the government was not truly representative of the Indian people. After all, “since the British Government [was] unwilling to concede Indians absolute freedom…in their own country, they can hardly be expected to prove themselves vigorous champions of Indian rights in other countries.”44 Colonial subjugation thus came to be regarded as the main reason for not only government inaction but also the manner in which the members of the diaspora were looked upon in their new places of settlement. As long as India was to remain a colony, Indians, wherever they lived, would be treated as second-class citizens.

II. The Moment of Independence

India's uniqueness as a nation required an independent nation-state…no alien power could possibly represent and fulfill the aspirations of the Indians as a people.45

Soon after its formation in September 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru's interim government announced its presence on the international stage by confronting South Africa in the United Nations.46 The immediate reason for this confrontation was (p.63) the latest anti-Indian measure announced by the Union of South Africa. In January 1946, Marshall Smuts announced the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act, which not only restricted housing even more than the Pegging Act but also ensured that Indians were unable to represent themselves in any of the legislatures.47 In retaliation, the Viceroy's Council decided unanimously to terminate India's trade agreement with South Africa, the first ever imposition of any form of economic sanctions against the apartheid regime. When that measure failed to induce the South Africans to agree to a conference to discuss the issue, the Indian government threatened to refer the matter to the newly established United Nations (UN). The stage therefore had been well prepared for the first nationalist government to act on behalf of its “subjects” living abroad. Nehru, the member in charge of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations, appointed Vijayalakshmi Pandit to lead the Indian delegation to the UN. Despite South African attempts to remove the Indian complaint from the UN agenda on the grounds that it was a domestic issue, the UN General Assembly not only discussed the matter but also resolved that any issue concerning South African Indians had to be a subject of discussion between India and South Africa. Insofar as the future of India's relationship with Indians abroad was concerned, the UN affair of 1946 indicated two things: first, the Indian government would not hesitate to use all available means to protect the interests of overseas Indians,48 and second, while not yet a great power, India was already emerging as an actor “whose potential contribution to the Commonwealth [and the UN] will be great, and her potential nuisance value will be correspondingly high.”49

In an act that seemed to further underline the nationalist commitment to the cause of the larger nation, the Government of India wrote to the India Office requesting permission to send missions and appoint agents to those colonies with a sizable Indian population, namely, East Africa, British West Indies, Fiji, and Mauritius. The India Office did not welcome the request, arguing that:

The danger of Indian representatives or agents is, of course, that their appointment in colonies where there is a substantial Indian population would be liable to encourage the local Indians to think of themselves as a self-contained national community and to discourage the process of assimilation, which we have been trying to foster in the Colonies.50

Ultimately, the Colonial Office's opposition was overcome by the arguments of the Indian viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, who pointed out that negotiations for Indian independence were well under way at that juncture, and all assurances of cooperation from the British government on colonial matters would be welcome. By July 1947, Nehru was informed that Great Britain supported the appointment of Indian agents in certain colonies, at least in principle, as long as the Government (p.64) of India undertook to instruct its agents not to encourage separatist tendencies among the Indians settled in the colonies.

Within a month, on August 15, 1947, India became formally independent. Indian nationalists had always emphasized that no alien power could truly “fulfill the aspirations” of the Indian people. Now that state power had been obtained, the newly independent India could focus on representing the interests of “its” people. Prior to independence, the nationalists had argued that the colonized status of the Indian nation was the main reason for the sorry plight of Indians abroad. Post-1947, it seemed intuitive to expect that the aspirations of the Indians abroad would at last be represented by an independent India, for were they not part of the Indian people? Furthermore, the contributions of Indians abroad to the independence struggle could not be easily forgotten. As Congress President Pattabhi Sitaramayya had pointed out, the path to Indian independence was in a way shaped by the sufferings and the actions of Indians abroad.51 To that extent, the newly independent Indian state owed them a serious debt. As India moved into the first decade of its independence, there were many opportunities to repay the debt.

In 1947, there were nearly 4 million people in the Commonwealth who emigrated from undivided India, and the practice of describing them as “Indians abroad” largely continued.52 This practice was further reinforced by the new Indian government's eagerness to strengthen bonds with the overseas communities, as it picked up where the interim government had left off. Of the Indians abroad, the largest communities, numbering around 750,000, were in Ceylon and Burma (see table 3.1). A brief survey of the problems faced by these communities will give us an idea of the issues that would test the new Indian nation-state's commitment to the cause of its diaspora.

On January 4, 1948, Burma became independent. Even before actual independence was declared, relations between the Indian community (roughly 4 percent of the total population) and the local Burmese population had been quite tense. Indians in Burma were laborers (both plantation and urban, the latter commonly known as “coolies”), clerks, businessmen, and railway workers, whose migration had been facilitated by the fact that Burma was an Indian province until 1937.53 For the most part, Indian labor took the jobs that were considered too menial by the Burmese. However, as the economy slowed down and jobs became scarcer, the nationalist movement in Burma took on an anti-Indian tinge. Separation from India began to be seen as the first step toward independence. The first major manifestation of this sentiment was the anti-Indian riots of 1930, which resulted in more than 30,000 Indians fleeing Rangoon. The next came soon after Burma was separated from India in 1937. The Burmese nationalist politician U Saw used the publication of a book that criticized Buddhism to provoke another anti-Indian riot in 1938.54 This time, more than 11,000 Indians were repatriated to (p.65)

Table 3.1. Overseas Indians at a Glance: 1948


Number of Persons of Indian Origin*

As Percentage of Total Population










South Africa









British Guiana






The Indian community in East Africa numbered more than 175,000 but constituted a very small, though growing, section of the population.

(*) All figures except those for Fiji are based on the 1946 census. The figures for Fiji are based on the 1948 census.

Source: Tinker, Separate and Unequal, 313–314.

India after having lost all their material goods. Interestingly, even while some Burmese nationalist politicians were organizing “Indian bashing groups,”55 others like Aung San were looking toward the Indian national movement as a prototype for the Burmese struggle and welcoming Nehru to Rangoon.

South Asia became yet another battleground for World War II with the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942, which resulted in a large number of evacuees, mostly of Indian origin, fleeing to India. With the end of the war, most of these wartime refugees were looking forward to returning to their homes and businesses in Burma. However, they faced certain structural difficulties. The nationalist interim government led by the same Aung San who had welcomed Nehru to Rangoon as the “leader of millions” passed the Emergency Immigration Act of 1947, which restricted the reentry of the evacuees by placing the Indians in the category of “foreigners.”56 This categorization and the kind of Burmese nationalism it reflected had a serious effect on the political and socioeconomic status of Indians in Burma, even as India awoke to independence.

Indians in Ceylon were not necessarily in a better situation. From the early nineteenth century onward, there had been a steady migration of laborers (especially from South India) to the tea, coffee, and rubber plantations in Ceylon.57 The descendants of these laborers, along with newer migrants, were the “Indian” community in Ceylon at the time of Indian independence. The condition of the laborers who were bound to the Kangani and the local middlemen had been a source of concern for the Indian government even prior to independence. Despite (p.66) the appointment of an agent to look after the welfare of the Indian workers in Ceylon in 1924, their material conditions continued to deteriorate. However, the issue that was becoming more critical was the controversy surrounding the political status of the Indians in Ceylon. Until the mid-1920s, the nature of the forty-nine-member legislative council ensured that the Indians, who had merely two representatives, did not really play a role in Ceylon politics. Things, however, began to change when the Donoughmore Commission of 1928 released a report recommending the extension of the franchise to Indians who had been living in Ceylon for at least five years. The proposed admission of the Indian coolies to the general electorate created an unforeseen furor among the Sinhalese leaders, who argued that this would put Ceylonese politics at the mercy of the nationalists in mainland India who could sway the Indian community. Furthermore, the Indian immigrants were not Ceylonese. Don Senanayake, a young Sinhala politician who was to later play an important role in Sri Lankan politics, articulated this point most forcefully: “We are told that if anyone of us went to England it would not be difficult for him to get the vote. But I wonder what the people of England would say if every year, hundreds of thousands of people were recruited from abroad into England.”58 Responding to the demands of the Sinhalese, the governor recommended that to qualify for the vote, Indians should either fulfill the existing property or literacy qualifications or obtain a certificate of permanent residency. The former criterion automatically ruled out the plantation laborers, who were neither rich nor literate. The latter was an almost impossible demand, for obtaining permanent residency would automatically lead to the Indians losing the rights guaranteed to them under various agreements between the two governments. This move provoked a strong reaction in India. The Central Legislative Assembly not only debated the “anti-Indian” measures but also engaged in a drawn-out struggle with the Colonial Office through the India Office. Ultimately, the Ceylon governor was told that any measure that might be a detriment to the position of Indians would have to be discussed with His Majesty's Government before taking the shape of law. This episode tended only to convince Sinhalese leaders that their fears of Indian intervention were not unfounded.

As in Burma, the economic depression of the 1930s saw the strengthening of the anti-Indian lobby in Ceylon. Cheap Indian labor was seen as taking away more jobs from the indigenous population. Though the Government of India discontinued immigration to Ceylon as an official policy, in 1934 the Ceylon legislature introduced a policy of “Ceylonization” in all branches of the public services, including the employment of daily wage workers. This policy was aimed not only at stemming the tide of immigrants but also at edging out those Indians who were permanently settled in Ceylon, for the category “Ceylonese” did not even include those Indians who were born in Ceylon if their parents had not (p.67) obtained a Ceylon domicile certificate at the time of birth. The expressed desire of the Ceylon government to impose this policy strictly—retrenchment of Indians and their eventual repatriation—led to the prohibition of all unskilled immigration from India in 1939. Even as Nehru visited Colombo in 1939, all discussions for a proposed round table conference to settle the issue of Indians in Ceylon fell through when the Ceylonese government refused to treat the matter as an issue of institutionalized discrimination. Matters took a turn for the worse when the Indian laborers in Ceylon formed trade unions on Nehru's advice. The plantation owners reacted by sacking the union leaders, which in turn led to a wave of strikes and violence between Indians and Ceylonese police. Ceylonese leaders used this event to underline the “alienness” of the Indian presence in their country. As Ceylon moved toward dominion status and eventual independence, the Colonial Office tried to sidestep potential problems by insisting that any issues arising out of the Indian presence in Ceylon needed to be discussed and resolved by the Indian and Ceylonese governments. However, Sinhala nationalism “seemed to have found its principal expression in fear of, and hostility to, Indians.”59 Its premise, in Senanayake's words, was that the Indian presence was a “treacherous variety [of allegiance], which gives its entire devotion to the country of origin and bestows on the country of residence mere lip-service, vilification and misrepresentation.”60 Given this context, it was not surprising that the “Indian question” remained unresolved.

In 1947, India under Nehru was immediately faced with the task of resolving the problems faced by Indians abroad. As explained in the previous section, the plight of this social group had, after all, been seen as a manifestation of the Indian nation's subservience to a foreign empire. Nationalist leaders from the 1920s onward had argued that the situation would be different once the colonial state was replaced by a national state. Ceylon and Burma, neighboring countries that attained independence around the same time as India, presented important test cases for the Indian government. As early as December 1947, Nehru met with Ceylonese Premier Don Senanayake to discuss the issue of the “Indian” population. At the end of the meeting, the two sides jointly presented a six-point program that was supposed to serve as the basis of an agreement. However, none of the questions about actually granting political rights to this group of people were even discussed. While the Ceylonese side held on to proof of domicile and a nine-year residence period for families as a prerequisite to granting citizenship, Nehru refused to even discuss those terms. Over the next two years, despite ongoing correspondence between the two prime ministers, Ceylon unilaterally tried to decide the fate of the Indians through a series of legislative measures.

The first of those was the Citizenship Act (No. 18, 1948), which defined the scope of Ceylonese citizenship as a form of belonging that could be claimed on the basis of indigenousness or registration. It was followed by the Indian and (p.68) Pakistani Residents Act (No. 3, 1949), which defined the process through which Indians could attain citizenship. Since the process required substantial documentation, which most of the plantation labor force did not possess, it automatically ruled out citizenship as an available option for most persons of Indian origin (PIO).61 As a final measure, the Ceylonese government passed the Ceylon (Parliamentary Elections) Amendment Act (No. 48, 1949), which removed all voters of Indian origin from the electoral list.62 These moves were met with strong protests from the Indian government, but little else. The Indian stand on the issue was that, though they were of Indian origin, the Indian component of the Ceylonese population was essentially made up of citizens of Ceylon. Most were born there, and even those who had moved to Ceylon from India had gone there to establish a new life and not as temporary immigrants. All had contributed enormously to the development of the Ceylonese economy. Hence, to deny them citizenship on the grounds that they had come to the island merely for temporary employment “would be contrary to the facts of history.”63 Based on these very “facts of history,” India refused to discuss Ceylonese proposals to repatriate persons of Indian origin, leading to a standoff that continued to plague Indo-Sri Lankan relations till the 1980s.64

The impasse over Indians abroad was not restricted to Ceylon. Even though anti-Indian sentiment had been gathering force prior to Burmese independence in January 1948, the Constituent Assembly that met in 1947 made one final attempt to deal with the “Indian issue.” It provided citizenship to those Indians who could claim at least one “indigenous grandparent,” had resided in Burma for at least eight years since 1932 or 1937, and intended to become permanent residents of Burma. After independence, this provision was slightly altered by the Burmese constitution, which provided automatic citizenship to all those who claimed indigenous origin but demanded a formal application for citizenship, coupled with a stated desire for permanent residency and renunciation of all other citizenship, from the nonindigenous (Indian and Chinese) population.65 Soon after, the government declared its intention of reducing the number of governmental positions that could be held by nonnational Indians and reducing the granting of import licenses to Indian firms, so that Burmese firms might have an advantage in various sectors of the economy. The actions of the Burmese government took on added urgency because of emerging threats of rebellion. Making common cause with the Communists, the government announced a “Leftist Unity Plan.” In keeping with the plan, the Burmese parliament passed the Burma Land Nationalisation Act, which authorized the government to appropriate all capitalist interests, including landed estates. The most obvious target of this measure was a group that originated in India, the Chettiars, who owned more than 70 million acres of land in Burma.66 Realizing that the Burmese government's actions were aimed mostly at persons of Indian origin, Sir G. S. Bajpai (p.69) strongly advised Nehru to exert pressure on the Burmese government to protect the interests of the Indian capitalists.67 Going against this counsel, Nehru not only refused to bring up the matter with the Burmese government but also went to the extent of assisting them with military supplies in their battle with insurgents. India's special role in helping the Burmese government consolidate its position was recognized in the Indo-Burmese Treaty of Friendship (1951), soon followed by a trade agreement.

In both Burma and Ceylon, persons of Indian origin were facing the kind of institutionalized discrimination that had so rankled Indian nationalists prior to independence. Counterintuitively, the independent Indian nation-state seemed to be doing very little to improve the lot of its “nationals” abroad. In the case of Ceylon, the desire to establish friendly relations with neighboring countries, coupled with unwillingness to entertain questions of possible repatriation at the early stages, led to the creation of a new category of “stateless persons” with no civic rights.68 With regard to Burma, the Indian government actually turned away from an early opportunity to exert pressure on the Burmese government—a move that contributed in no small measure to the deterioration of the position of the Indian community in Burma. How do we make sense of these moves in the context of the earlier nationalist expressions of solidarity with overseas Indians and commitment to the cause of improving their lot?

The disavowal of Indians abroad by the newly independent Indian state, M. C. Lall argues, primarily stemmed from an “ideological rubric” that emphasized respect for territorial notions of sovereignty. Prior to independence, the moral bulwark provided by “Indians abroad” had helped build the case for a deterritorialized subject nation. However, after 1947 the Indians abroad no longer fit within the dominant statist discourse that emphasized the sovereign right of former colonies to govern over explicitly demarcated territories. Furthermore, the ideological commitment of the new Indian leadership to anticolonial struggles blinded them to the potential of the Indians abroad as an economic and political resource. Hence, “they were simply ignored.”69 The ideological rubric of postcolonial India did indeed shape the newly independent nation-state's relationship with the Indians abroad, but the complexities of this relationship went beyond an inability to acknowledge economic potential or a simple turning away. Strangely enough, India continued negotiations with Ceylon and Burma over decades (more so with the former), set up rehabilitation schemes for those Indians who did come back,70 and consistently raised the issue of the treatment of Indians in places like South Africa and Fiji in fora like the UN and the Commonwealth. To that extent, the postindependence Indian state was still concerned with the status of overseas Indians, but the framework of that concern had changed with the taking over of institutionalized state power.

(p.70) III. The Making of Postcolonial India

The preamble of the constitution that came into effect on January 26, 1950, declared that India was a “sovereign, secular, democratic, republic.” However defined, the space of modern India could not be created through a constitutional diktat. It had to be produced through a series of state practices that made sense only in the context of particular historical-geographical experiences. The process of “coming into being” for the Indian nation-state was fraught with violence. “India” was born amid the bloodshed of partition, through a ripping apart of the territories of the British colony. The almost immediate border conflicts with the new neighboring state of Pakistan and the forcible integration of the former princely states made imperative the process of territorializing “India.” One aspect of this process was the demarcation of the physical boundaries of the new nation-state, a task that was seen as both urgent and incomplete, given India's “creation-by-amputation.”71 The other was the spatial organization of social groups that would define the scope of the state's authority.72 This latter task was far from easy, given that it brought to the forefront the question of not only the large groups of people who had been forcibly and violently displaced due to the partition of the subcontinent, but also those who had been forced to migrate under colonialism.73

Independent India's first citizenship laws came into effect with the adoption of the constitution of 1950. Coming to grips with the legacies of colonialism, the citizenship clauses of the constitution appeared to be, at first glance, fairly liberal. As Article 5 made clear, Indian citizenship could be obtained virtually by anyone who might consider himself or herself Indian, because of residence, birth, or descent.74 Specifically addressing the question of persons of Indian origin living overseas, Article 8 of the constitution declared that any person who was born in India (or whose parents or grandparents were) as per the definition of the Government of India Act of 1935, had the right to be “deemed as a citizen of India” if he or she had been registered as a citizen by the Indian diplomatic or consular office in the country in which they were “temporarily” residing. This right, as Article 6 made clear, also applied to those who had relocated from the territories of Pakistan after August 1947. However, state practices related to the definition of who belongs to a political community always also serve as exclusionary tools.75 Consequently, there were some exceptions to the liberal citizenship rule. Article 7 denied Indian citizenship to people born in the territories of undivided India if they had immigrated to Pakistan before March 1947. Article 9 denied citizenship to those who voluntarily acquired the citizenship of any other country. Although the laws themselves seemed to exclude only those who voluntarily chose other citizenships, there was a deeper underlying assumption about (p.71) the nature of modern nation-states at work: the idea of “the nation-state as the only expression of sovereignty…with distinct territorial boundaries within which the sovereign state [represents] the nation-people.”76

Apart from the right to decide who the citizens were, the sovereignty of the modern nation-state also implied the right to determine how the prosperity and progress of the nation-people could be ensured.77 In fact, the latter was more of a duty. In the nationalist rendering of the economic history of India, the colonial state had failed precisely because it could not fulfill this duty.78 During the colonial period, the state was structured to satisfy the demands of metropolitan capital and not the well-being of the nation. This pattern was fairly obvious in the history of early Indian emigration, when the demands of British plantation owners led the state to sanction the mass export of Indian labor. The struggle against colonialism therefore necessitated a different kind of state—one that would not only dismantle existing exploitative economic relations but also steer the productive forces of the nation in a manner that would promote the welfare of the people. Consequently, after 1947 the economic policy of the sovereign Indian nation-state was characterized by an emphasis on state planning and the promotion of self-reliance (swadeshi). This basically implied nationalization of industries, state-sponsored economic development, and cultivation of an indigenous technological base.79 Given the nature of the Indian nationalist movement, this understanding of the role of the state and its relationship to the nation, however, went far beyond the determination of postindependence domestic economic policy.

By the time India was on the verge of attaining independence, the leadership of the Indian national movement had come to see its efforts as something larger than a limited struggle for national freedom. In one of its early resolutions after independence, the ruling Congress Party declared:

The National Congress has, even while it was struggling for the freedom of India, associated itself with the progressive movements and the struggles for freedom in other countries. India's liberation was viewed as a part of the larger freedom of all the countries and the peoples of the world. In particular, the Congress has stood in the past for the ending of all imperialist domination and colonial exploitation of any country or people.80

Given this emphasis, it was not surprising that one of the main foci of Nehru's government was building an alliance among the newly independent states of Asia and Africa.81 Nehru argued that notwithstanding the differences in specific foreign policy goals, the formerly colonized states had a common interest in ensuring true economic development and, more important, the complete end of the colonial system of rule. It was with the goal of arriving at a clear articulation (p.72) of these interests that the Indian state took the lead in calling for a meeting among the leaders of newly independent states in Asia and Africa. The resulting conference that was held in Bandung, Indonesia, has drawn the somewhat desultory attention of scholars of international relations mainly because of its foundational role in the now-defunct Non-Aligned Movement.

The 1955 Bandung conference was undoubtedly a critical moment in the attempt to articulate a common Afro-Asian vision that would not be bound by the binary politics of the Cold War. But as Itty Abraham points out, this conference had an equally important role in legitimizing the very contours of the newly independent states.82 The attempt to acknowledge critical differences in the goals and worldviews of the various state members, while arriving at a common minimal statement critiquing the continued presence of colonial rule, also served “to elevate national sovereignty to the highest level” and allowed members “to insist on being sole masters of their own domain.”83 The main effect was that state members agreed implicitly to “consign the fates of ‘their’ people—people who had migrated, moved, traveled—to the decisions of another state.”84

As the declarations and practices of Nehru's government leading up to and during the Bandung conference made obvious, the foreign policy of the Indian nation-state was predicated on the principle of supporting the sovereign right of other newly independent states to decide who their citizens were and to take the steps they considered necessary to end the exploitative legacy of colonialism. Consequently, even as the government of Ceylon refused to accept persons of Indian origin (PIO) as citizens, Nehru argued that his government should focus on attempting to remove the “fear and apprehension” that Ceylon had of India—“a fear that this great and big continent of a country might overwhelm them”—for, “in the ultimate analysis, each country decides for itself who its citizens should be.”85 India, he argued, was definitely concerned about the plight of the PIO not because they were “Indian nationals”—to the contrary, they were Ceylonese—or because it was a “political dispute,” but because “the welfare of a large number of human beings is involved.”86

By contrast, the attitude toward the PIO in Burma was not even cast in the light of a “human welfare” problem. Though the Indian government claimed willingness to offer repatriation benefits to those Indians who returned from Burma, it did not consider itself obligated to make demands on behalf of the shopkeepers and landowners who were being affected by policies of nationalization. The argument that the Indian state made was that the nationalization policies were being applied without discrimination, and the PIO had no grounds to object, either as Burmese citizens or as Indian nationals.87 To be good Burmese citizens, the onus was on the PIO to ensure that they “associated themselves as closely as possible with the interests” of the Burmese people and not become an “exploiting agency there,” which in this case implied acceptance of the Burmese (p.73) government's nationalization policies. If they chose instead to give up Burmese citizenship and accept Indian citizenship, then as Indian nationals, “all they could claim abroad [was] favourable alien treatment,” which in turn meant that they could not expect the Indian state to take special steps to safeguard their properties.88 Underlying both choices, however, was a particular understanding of what constituted Indianness—an understanding that went beyond a legalistic notion of citizenship.

The production of the sovereign, modern Indian nation-state called for a certain positioning of the Indians abroad as politically distant from India, unless they had adopted Indian citizenship, and more importantly, as subjects whose Indianness (even if only cultural) underscored the need for them to be “non-exploitative agents.” Given the ongoing nature of this production, it is not surprising that the positioning of the Indians abroad remained a terrain for contestation. Even at a time when his brand of postcolonial (inter)nationalism was the dominant discourse, Nehru had to clarify his position by insisting that PIO citizenship in other countries would not sever India's cultural connections to them.89 The weak gesturing toward cultural links proved less than satisfactory, as events around the world signaled greater crises for India and the PIO in the 1960s.

The surprise Chinese attack and India's humiliating defeat in the war of 1962 was seen as a great blow to Indian pride and Nehru's foreign policy.90 The subsequent treatment of the PIO in Asia, especially in Burma, was seen as a direct reflection of government inaction and India's lowly position even among Asian nations. In an interesting echo of arguments that had been made by the nationalist leaders less than four decades earlier, opposition members declared that the plight of Indians abroad was a reflection not so much of the choice they had made in terms of citizenship, but of the Indian nation-state itself. As an opposition member declaimed rather dramatically in Parliament: “What [has the Government] been doing here? India is being kicked by Ceylon; India is being kicked by Burma; India is being kicked by Pakistan; India is being kicked by China. What are they doing there—sitting and moping?” 91 The question of what the government was doing was asked more intensely and much more frequently as events unfolded in Africa through the decade. After initiating discussions in the United Nations about the racially discriminative policies of the South African government, India continued to raise this issue at every possible international forum. However, the Indian state's interest in the matter stemmed not simply from the presence of Indian nationals in South Africa, but from its opposition to racial inequality. The government made it very clear that though there were South Africans of Indian origin, there were no Indians in South Africa—thus preempting any move on the part of the South African government to demand repatriation. As the struggle against apartheid intensified, the Indian government (p.74) held up persons of Indian origin in South Africa as models to be emulated in the rest of Africa. Through their cooperation with the African National Congress, they embodied India's views that in “Africa, the interests of the Africans must be paramount and it is the duty of the Indians there to cooperate with them and help them to the best of their ability.”92

However, the picture of the PIO cooperating with Africans was soon disturbed by the anti-Asian protests that broke out in newly independent countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. In the case of Tanzania, the initial measures taken by the new government were mild forms of affirmative action—the so-called Africanization of the bureaucracy and the economy. When the matter was raised in the Indian parliament, the government, not surprisingly, pleaded its inability to do much, on the grounds that it recognized “the sovereign right of an independent state to enact measures concerning ownership of property, within its limits.”93 This argument became harder to apply in the case of Kenya, where African leaders seemed to embrace President Jomo Kenyatta's exhortation to the PIO to just “Pack up and Go.” Not quite the colonizers, but never quite identifying themselves with the Africans, the position of the PIO in Kenya had always been an ambiguous one. This had been exploited by the white settlers, who in their representations to the imperial authorities during the early decades of the twentieth century had always portrayed the Indian presence as detrimental to African interests.94 Insofar as the anticolonial resistance movement of the 1950s was concerned, this assertion was highly credible, especially in the context of the alliance between sections of the Indian community and the British during the course of the Mau Mau rebellion. Soon after Kenyan independence in 1963, relations between the PIO and African Kenyans further deteriorated, as more than 80,000 PIO opted for British citizenship, compared with the 30,000 who chose to officially become Kenyan. Anti-Indian sentiments manifested themselves not only through policies of “Kenyanization” but also through riots, toward which the new Kenyan government turned a blind eye. Given these conditions, it was not surprising that a large percentage of the PIO were forced to “pack up and go.” This was the context for a series of stormy debates about the nature of the Indian nation-state.

In one of the earliest discussions on the African question, opposition members argued that the goodwill and prestige that had been associated with India because of its leadership in the struggle against colonialism had worn off. The treatment of the PIO in East Africa reflected this loss of prestige.95 The Indian government, they further argued, had made a big mistake by distancing itself from the PIO on the basis of notions of citizenship, which though acceptable in “legalistic terms” was a problem in the context of “Indian nationhood.” Not treating the PIO as part of the nation had projected an image of India as neither wanting nor caring about people who were originally Indians. This was detrimental (p.75) to both India and the Indians abroad. Contrary to the current government position, some members of parliament argued that “the image we should present to every country in the world is that every Indian, even if he has accepted some other nationality, is rooted in the culture, the soil and in the traditions of India, and that he is our brother.” 96 Translated into state practice, this position would imply that the Ministry of External Affairs would take care of all Indians, regardless of their citizenship. This in turn would create a stronger India, not only through shoring up its overseas image but also by creating bonds between all Indians. The latter was a particularly urgent task in the light of the divisive effects of the Indian government's emphasis on presenting the PIO in South Africa as models to be emulated by other communities.97

In responding to this attack, the Congress government found an ally in the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The CPI(M) stalwart, Indrajit Gupta, rose to the occasion by insisting that members of an Indian parliament should not be exercised over policies of “Africanization.” India itself had rightly embraced policies of nationalization soon after independence. The newly independent African countries were “backward, undeveloped, poverty-stricken and much less mature than India on the eve of her independence.” Under these conditions, wanting to “Africanize” state institutional structures was a “healthy national sentiment.” Furthermore, the Indians who were being affected by these measures were the “economically better-off section” who had openly sided against the Africans (and with the British) during the struggle for independence and, through their actions, threatened to destabilize the newly independent African states.98 On the eve of independence, these were the people who had queued up outside the British Embassy to acquire British citizenship—not Indian or of the countries where they resided. Hence, they had no right to look to India for help.

Bolstered by this support, the government's case was made through a statement that had been tabled by Lakshmi Menon, the minister of state for external affairs. Refuting the argument that India needed to change its position vis-à-vis Indians abroad, the minister argued that those who were being forced to leave the newly independent African states had brought their troubles on themselves. Going against the long-standing advice of the Indian government, the Indians in Africa had never identified with the Africans. They had “spent their lives in the pursuit of wealth, were not progressive and were completely devoid of the kind of feelings that free India stood for.” This debate is important for several reasons. For one, it exemplifies the kind of political contestations that became more common in the next two decades. More importantly, it also reveals the way in which the positioning of the Indians abroad helped articulate and legitimize “what free India stood for.”

The main opposition demand was, at this juncture, an acknowledgment of the responsibility of the Indian nation-state toward the Indians abroad. While (p.76) seemingly driven by concern for the Indians abroad, the more fundamental issue at stake was the position of India. For those who demanded a change in the state policy, the maltreatment of Indians abroad was a manifestation of the “corrosion” of India's prestige and position in the world. In and through its inaction on behalf of its own “nation-people,” independent India was being perceived as a weak actor—an actor who was unable to act even when it was “kicked around” by everyone else. Accepting the responsibility for “every Indian” regardless of nationality, therefore, was a necessary step in reasserting the strength and vitality of the Indian nation-state.

Supporters of the government's policy, however, argued that India stood for certain principles—to fight against colonization, to challenge all forms of exploitative socioeconomic relations, and to uphold the right of each country (especially the poorer ones) to nationalize state institutions during these battles. The PIO who were suffering in places like Burma and East Africa were the kind who had lived their lives contrary to these principles: they were landowners, shopkeepers, and middle- to upper-class bureaucrats who, at least in the East African case, had aligned themselves with the colonizers. Supporting them in ways that were not already institutionalized would undermine all that “free India” stood for. The production of the modern Indian nation-state at that historical juncture necessitated a policy that would be based on these principles and not one based on the “origin of people.”99

The latter position won the day. India did not make any special representations to the Kenyan government on behalf of the PIO. However, acknowledging the “cultural connections” of the PIO to India and doing its part to help avoid a “human tragedy,” the Indian state did permit those who had British citizenship to use any port in Indian territory as a transit until they were allowed into the United Kingdom.100 Within a few years of the Kenyan crisis, Idi Amin's regime in Uganda unleashed a reign of terror, targeting the PIO in particular. The Indian government rode out the crisis by condemning the brutality of Amin's regime and offering support to the small section of Ugandan Indians who did not possess British citizenship, while at the same time pointing out the complicity of the PIO in the construction of the “ugly Indian” image that made such crises possible. To that extent, despite the challenges posed primarily by the non-Congress opposition, the Nehruvian doctrine of keeping the Indian state at a distance from the diaspora, both literally and figuratively, remained dominant even a decade after his death.101

I have argued in this chapter that the development of the relationship between the postcolonial Indian state and the Indian diaspora poses a serious conundrum. Immediately after acquiring state power, leaders of the Indian nationalist movement turned their backs on the expansive transnationalism that helped develop and sustain their struggle against British colonialism. Rather than embracing the (p.77) cause of the Indians abroad and offering them the unqualified support of the Indian state, the new leadership instead offered a critique of their comportment in their states of residence, while upholding the sovereign political and economic rights of those states. In every way, the relationship between the Indian state and the Indians abroad marked a dramatic renegotiation of the boundaries of the nation. As the latter part of the chapter makes obvious, postcolonial theorists have tended to explain the demarcation of the boundaries of the Indian nation by focusing on a series of factors: the trauma of partition, causing what Sankaran Krishna has described as “cartographic anxiety,” Nehru's commitment to a particular kind of socioeconomic political order, and most important, the logic of his internationalism. To the extent that these explanations underscore the constitutive role of colonialism in the making of modern India, it is important for us to take their insights seriously. At the same time, however, the emphasis on colonialism cannot be a substitute for critically interrogating the social character of anticolonial nationalist movements and the nation-state forms that they engendered. Scholars in the postcolonial tradition would undoubtedly concur with the claim that the struggle against colonialism was not waged in a social vacuum. However, their analyses largely tend to rest on a very specific, and in my view, inadequate understanding of what constitutes social relations. The result of this commitment is the sort of analyses that unfortunately tend to reduce both the struggle against colonialism and the postcolonial nation-state engendered to either a matter of the psyche (albeit framed in social terms) or present it as a supra-class affair. To go beyond these limitations, it is crucial that we return to questions that have been largely treated as being settled or passé. To put it differently, while the idea of state policies being guided by a “cartographic anxiety” in the aftermath of partition might seem to make sense, it is vital to ask questions about who exactly amongst the general Indian population suffered from such anxiety, when and under what conditions it was engendered, and what particular agendas were furthered through its production. For it is only by asking and addressing these questions that we can move beyond abstract claims about the meanings of modernity and postcoloniality toward a critical analysis of the material basis of the postcolonial Indian nation-state. We turn to this task in the next chapter.


(1.) Lok Sabha Debates, Vol. 6, September 2, 1957.

(2.) N. V. Rajkumar, Indians outside India: A General Survey (New Delhi: All India Congress Committee, 1951), 5–6

(3.) In the decades that followed, opposition political parties did at various points demand that the Indian state change its policy, on the grounds that not only were Indians abroad an intrinsic part of the Indian nation (regardless of their citizenship) but also their mistreatment was a reflection of India's perceived weakness in the international system. Notwithstanding such demands, the Nehruvian doctrine remained more or less in place for more than four decades after independence. For a detailed time line of the political parties in power and in the opposition in India, see Appendix I.

(4.) Lanka Sundaram, Indians Overseas: A Study in Economic Sociology (Madras: G. A. Natesan, 1933), 4

(5.) C. Kondapi, Indians Overseas: 1838–1949 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1951)

(6.) The migrant Indian groups lived across the various territories of the British Empire, including (A) Colonies of the Indian system: Ceylon, Malaya; (B) Colonies of the Pacific Ocean: Fiji, New Caledonia; (C) Colonies of the South Indian Ocean: The Union of South Africa and East Africa in general, Mauritius, Reunion; and (D)Colonies of the West Indian system: Foreign—St. Croix, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Cayenne, Surinam; British—Demarara (British Guiana), Trinidad, Jamaica, Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Nevis. Apart from this, considerable numbers of Indian settlers were in British Columbia (Canada), California, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, and New Zealand. See Sundaram, Indians Overseas.

(p.184) (7.) C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Overture and the San Domingo Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1963)

(8.) Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830–1920 (London: Oxford University Press, 1974.)

(9.) Contrary to popular belief, this was not the first time that Indians set foot in South Africa. As early as 1653, Dutch merchants had taken groups of Indians to what was then the Dutch Cape Colony and sold them as slaves. However, this group was unable to maintain a distinct identity. The Indian slaves married slaves from East Asia, the Cape, and other parts of Africa and their progeny came to be classified as “Malays.” Report of the High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora (Indian Council of World Affairs: New Delhi, 2001), 75.

(10.) Sundaram uses the term “assisted” as a euphemism for the forced indentured labor that formed the major component of early emigrant Indian communities.

(11.) In 1864, the Government of India consolidated the existing nineteen laws of emigration into a single act—Act XIII—that attempted to provide several safeguards to the laborer, including a requirement that he be taken to a magistrate before being shipped out of the country to ensure that he was being paid adequate compensation.

(12.) Sundaram, Indians Overseas, 12.

(13.) B. Apparsamy, Indians of South Africa (Bombay: Padma, 1943), 16

(14.) By 1871, the Office of the Protector, which was initially conceived of as a place where the emigrants could come freely to seek advice and assistance, was transformed into a “department for the levy of fees from the emigrants in addition to the ordinary taxation affixed by the law.” See Kondapi, Indians Overseas, 14.

(15.) Sundaram, Indians Overseas, 14.

(16.) The main system used for recruitment was the Kangani system. The Kangani (overseer) was paid a fixed amount to go back to the homeland and recruit new labor. The usual recruitment tactic was to present Malaya as a beautiful place where money was plentiful, life easy, and the caste system a thing of the past. The Kangani was paid more for bringing in the recruited labor and more money for each laborer who showed up for work. See M. R. Stenson, Class, Race and Colonialism in West Malaysia: The Indian Case (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1980). See also K. S. Sandhu, Indians in Malaya (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969); and David James Mearns, Shiva's Other Children: Religion and Social Identity amongst Overseas Indians (New Delhi: Sage, 1995).

(17.) The stoppage of emigration to Natal between 1866 and 1874 was a result of complaints by the returning emigrants about physical abuse by employers, nonpayment of wages and allowances to the time-expired laborers who were waiting to return, and illegal stoppage of payment in case of sickness.

(p.185) (18.) See, for instance, the Report of the Committee on Emigration from India to the Crown Colonies and Protectorates (Sanderson Committee Report), June 1910.

(19.) Quoted in Kondapi, Indians Overseas, 19. It should be noted that this commission argued without irony that even though an indenture seemed contrary to British ideals, it was the only way for the government to ensure that the emigrants paid for services that had already been rendered, that is, the fully paid passage to the place of work. Furthermore, the indenture merely recognized in law what was already an established fact—that the emigrant was necessarily “dependant on others for the preservation of his health.” Sundaram, Indians Overseas, 79–80.

(20.) The Wragg Commission reported not only the dearth of labor that was causing crops to rot “on the ground” in Natal in 1870 but also the reactions to the Act of 1874 that granted the right to own lands to Indian emigrants in exchange for the commutation of return passage: “The majority of the White Colonies were strongly opposed to the presence of free Indians as rivals in either agricultural and commercial pursuits.” See Kondapi, Indians Overseas, 21–22.

(21.) Apparsamy, Indians of South Africa, 19.

(22.) This it did despite the recommendations of the Clayton Commission that indentured labor was necessary for the survival of Natal. See Kondapi, Indians Overseas, 25.

(23.) It must be noted, however, that the emigration committees were generally preceded by numerous other commissions, which made the same recommendations without any direct action resulting from them. For instance, labor emigration to Mauritius was discontinued as a result of the recommendation of the Emigration Committee of 1909. The reason given for this recommendation was the extremely harsh vagrancy regulations in the colony. Any indentured laborer could be arrested and tried before a magistrate for not carrying a police pass or return permission from his employer at any given time. The punishment for this offense was usually hard labor or an extremely high fine, thus ensuring that the immigrant was forced back into indenture. These laws were in existence for more than three decades before the colonial Indian government took any steps to protect the Indian emigrants. In fact, as early as 1874, the Earl of Carnorvon, Secretary of State for the colonies, declared: “I cannot but feel that those provisions are repugnant in principle to the liberty which an emigrant, like every other class of his Majesty's subjects is entitled, and that nothing but a clear and unquestionable necessity could justify their maintenance.” Quoted in Kondapi, Indians Overseas, 15, my emphasis. The “necessity”—cheap labor for the plantations—though often questioned, seemed clear enough to justify inaction on the part of the government of India for the next thirty years.

(24.) Sundaram, Indians Overseas, 165.

(25.) Ibid., 165–166

(26.) (p.186) Hugh Tinker, Separate and Unequal (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1976), 47

(27.) Ibid., 51

(28.) Mauritius was the honorable exception to this rule. It became the only colony where Indians enjoyed the same rights and privileges as the local population by the mid-1930s.

(29.) The word sepoy is derived from the Hindi word sipahi, denoting a soldier, and was used to describe Indian soldiers in the British colonial army.

(30.) Sundaram, Indians Overseas, 139.

(31.) Quoted in M. C. Lall, India's Missed Opportunity: India's Relationship with Non-Resident Indianss (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2001), 81.

(32.) During the Boer Wars, arguing that “it was the duty of the Indian, as a British subject who hoped for ultimate equality in the Empire, to assist Britain,” Gandhi organized a stretcher corps that provided medical assistance to the British Army. See Apparsamy, Indians of South Africa, 21.

(33.) Ibid

(34.) As Mrs. Naidu remarked in 1924: “It does not take a very learned student to realize that naturally and meritably East Africa is one of the earliest legitimate territories of the Indian nation going so far back as the first century of the Christian era….East Africa is therefore the legitimate colony of the surplus of the great Indian nation, whether they went forth to colonize these unknown lands from an economic point of view or to satisfy their desire for venture.” Quoted in Charles Heimsath and Surjit Mansingh, A Diplomatic History of Modern India (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1971), 308.

(35.) India became an independent member of the League and Para-League organizations after World War I, even though the Indian delegation was led by non-Indians until 1929.

(36.) Kavita Sharma, On-going Journey: Indian Migration to Canada (New Delhi: SAB, 1998)

(37.) The missions sent by the INC after World War I were Malaya and Ceylon (C. F. Andrews and B. D. Chaturvedi, 1923); Ceylon (M. A. Arulanandam, A. V. Dias, Periasundaram, and L. Muthukrishna, 1923); Kenya (Sarojini Naidu and George Joseph, 1923); Kenya (Sridhar Ganesh Vaze and B. D. Chaturvedi, 1924); Zanzibar (C. F. Andrews, 1934); Ceylon (Jawaharlal Nehru, 1939); and Ceylon (Jawaharlal Nehru, C. Rajagopalachari, A. Aryanayakam, and G. Ramachandran, 1946). See Lall, India's Missed Opportunity, 86–87, n.29.

(38.) The Central Indian Association of Malaya created in 1936 was, for the most part, an urban middle-class organization that was more tied to the mainland Congress Party than to the demands of Malayan labor.

(39.) Rajkumar, Indians outside India, 11.

(p.187) (40.) Sundaram, Indians Overseas, 126–127.

(41.) Apparsamy, Indians of South Africa, 69.

(42.) Quoted in Lall, India's Missed Opportunity, 83.

(43.) Apparsamy, Indians of South Africa, 76.

(44.) An On Looker, The Status of Indians in the Empire (Lahore: Kitabistan, 1944), 4.

(45.) Gyan Prakash, Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 201

(46.) At this stage, India was still a British colony, though its independence from British rule was viewed as inevitable. As a stepping-stone to complete independence, the INC and the Muslim League participated in elections that led to the formation of the first provisional Indian government.

(47.) While there was to be no Indian in the Transvaal Assembly, in deference to the Afrikaner demands, the Indian representatives in both the Natal and Union Assemblies were to be of European descent. See Tinker, Separate and Unequal, 294.

(48.) Especially given that actual military intervention was not a possibility in 1946, the question of whether an independent India would take recourse to overt force to protect overseas Indians remained a rhetorical one.

(49.) On Looker, The Status of Indians in the Empire, 27.

(50.) Letter from Under-Secretary Arthur Creech-Jones to Jawaharlal Nehru, June 30, 1947. Cited in Tinker, Separate and Unequal, 310.

(51.) Sitaramayya's statement, which forms the first epigraph of this chapter, was far from exceptional. To a large extent, as the chapter shows, it reflected the sentiments of stalwarts of the Indian nationalist movement, at least until official independence was granted.

(52.) The reasons for this had a lot to do with the fact that the emigrant populations from undivided India were predominantly Hindu and hence not necessarily seen as being connected to the new nation-state of Pakistan. In East Africa, however, the overseas Indian community, which had a strong Muslim component, was increasingly being referred to as “Asians.”

(53.) N. R. Chakravarti, The Indian Minority in Burma: The Rise and Decline of an Immigrant Community (London: Oxford University Press, 1971)

(54.) The author of the offending book was actually a Burmese Muslim. See Tinker, Separate and Unequal, 150.

(55.) The main such group was called Kala Htoon Thin (literally, “Bash the Indian”) and was organized by Thakin Ba Swe, who later served as the Burmese Prime Minister in 1956–1957.

(56.) The Indian government placed the total number of Indians who were prevented from returning under this act at 153,000. See Tinker, Separate and Unequal, 308.

(57.) P. Sahadevan, India and Overseas Indians: The Case of Sri Lanka (New Delhi: Kalinga, 1995)

(p.188) (58.) E. F. C. Ludowyk, The Modern History of Ceylon (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1966), 164–165

(59.) On Looker, The Status of Indians in the Empire, 11.

(60.) Tinker, Separate and Unequal, 182.

(61.) A reminder regarding the terminology: the term “Person of Indian Origin” (PIO) was used both by the Ceylonese and the Indian government to describe the Indian population of Ceylon. This was in part a recognition of the fact that migration from Tamil Nadu (in Southern India) could be dated to at least to the ninth century, a millennium prior to British rule over the Indian subcontinent. As I have already noted, the term PIO came to be used interchangeably with “Indians abroad” and “overseas Indians” by the Indian government to describe the Indian diaspora.

(62.) For a detailed analysis of the provisions of these acts, see Sahadevan, India and Overseas Indians, 125–132.

(63.) Ibid., 132

(65.) Kondapi, Indians Overseas, 419–420.

(66.) The Chettiars were a caste group from South India who had immigrated to Southeast Asia and Burma in the late nineteenth century and found success as businessmen and moneylenders.

(67.) Bajpai, the man who had accompanied Srinivasa Sastri to the various imperial conferences, had been appointed the head of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs after independence.

(68.) As the plantation population of Indian origin became aware of the various citizenship laws, they made some serious attempts to acquire Ceylonese citizenship. In 1958, 237,034 citizenship applications covering 829,619 people were filed with the Ceylonese state. By August 1958, only 24,559 applications covering 96,923 persons were accepted, 196,063 applications covering 696,252 persons were rejected, and the rest were pending. In effect, those who had been refused Ceylonese citizenship were deemed “stateless.” See Lok Sabha Debates, November 25, 1958.

(69.) See Lall, India's Missed Opportunity, particularly chapter 3 for an elaboration of this argument.

(70.) Through the first three decades of independence, the Ministry of External Affairs coordinated with various state governments to come up with comprehensive rehabilitation schemes for repatriates from countries like Burma and Ceylon and later Uganda and Kenya. One such scheme is detailed in a statement on Burmese repatriates presented in the lower house of the Parliament. Its provisions include special employment opportunities, business loans, and the grant of land through “Land Colonisation Schemes.” See Lok Sabha Debates, February 16, 1966.

(p.189) (71.) Sankaran Krishna, “Cartographic Anxiety: Mapping the Body Politic in India,” in Challenging Boundaries: Global Flows, Territorial Identities, ed. Michael J. Shapiro and Hayward R. Alker, 193–214 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996)

(72.) In making this argument, I follow postcolonial scholars who understand territoriality to be a dynamic effect of state practices. See, for instance, Timothy Mitchell, Colonizing Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); and Bruce Willems-Braun, “Buried Epistemologies: The Politics of Nature in (Post)colonial British Columbia,” Annals of American Geographers 87, no. 1 (1997).

(73.) Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar, The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, Histories (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 4–5

(74.) “At the commencement of this Constitution (26 January 1950), every person who has his domicile in the territory of India and (a) who was born in the territory of India; or (b) either of whose parents was born in the territory of India; or (c) who has been ordinarily resident in the territory of India for not less than five years immediately preceding such commencement, shall be a citizen of India.”

(75.) This is particularly true if we contextualize the development of these citizenship rules in terms of migrations across the new Indo-Pakistani border. Immediately after independence, the Indian state imposed a “permit” system to regulate the flow of the displaced populations across the borders. While restrictive, this system merely served as a stop-gap measure until the introduction of the new citizenship rules and (p.190) the move to a regime of passports that settled the question of belonging on legalistic lines that were not easily negotiable. For a careful study of the legislative practices surrounding citizenship, and their role in the making of Indian and Pakistani nation-states, see Zamindar, The Long Partition, especially parts 2 and 3.

(76.) Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 8

(77.) I will expand this argument in the following chapter.

(78.) R. C. Dutt, The Economic History of India, 2nd ed., vols. 1 and 2 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1906)

(79.) For an elaboration of this argument, see Himadeep Muppidi, The Politics of the Global (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004). For an expanded version of this line of critique, see Latha Varadarajan, “Constructivism, Identity, and Neoliberal (In)security,” Review of International Studies 30, no. 3 (2004): 319–341.

(80.) Congress Session, Jaipur, December 18–19, 1948. Indian National Congress, Resolutions on Foreign Policy, 1947–57 (New Delhi: AICC).

(81.) Even prior to independence, the interim government hosted the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi (March–April 1947) and followed it by convening the Asian Conference on Indonesia (January 1949), which demanded the end of Dutch colonialism in the region.

(82.) Itty Abraham, “State, Place, Identity: Two Stories in the Making of a Region,” in Regional Modernities: The Cultural Politics of Development in India, ed. K. Sivaramakrishnan and Arun Agrawal (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), 404–425

(83.) Ibid., 415

(84.) Ibid., 415

(85.) Lok Sabha Debates, March 16, 1953.

(86.) Lok Sabha Debates, April 9, 1958.

(87.) The Indian Minority in BurmaW. S. Desai, India and Burma (Bombay: Orient Longmans, 1954), 102–111

(p.191) (88.) Jawaharlal Nehru, Lok Sabha Debates, September 2, 1957.

(89.) Lok Sabha Debates, September 10, 1954.

(90.) Especially given that Nehru had emphasized Asian solidarity and close connections between India and China (embodied in the slogan “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai,” translated as “Indians and Chinese are brothers”), underplaying the potential of a Chinese attack.

(91.) Lok Sabha Debates, vol. 30, April 28, 1964.

(92.) All India Congress Committee, Indore, September 13–14, 1953. Indian National Congress, Resolutions on Foreign Policy. A statement reflecting these principles was also voiced by Deputy Minister of External Affairs Dinesh Singh, more than a decade later on the floor of the Indian Parliament: “Those people of Indian origin who wish to stay in Africa and who have made their home in Africa must identify themselves completely with the people of those countries and with the aspirations of those people.” Lok Sabha Debates, February 20, 1964.

(93.) Dinesh Singh, Lok Sabha Debates, vol. 42, April 30, 1965

(94.) It was a portrayal that the Colonial Office seemed quite ready to buy. See, for instance, the already-mentioned Devonshire Declaration of 1923 that limited the property rights of Indian settlers.

(95.) Re: Indian Repatriates from the Independent Countries of Africa, Lok Sabha Debates, May 4, 1964.

(97.) Ibid. The contrasting picture, according to the opposition, was provided by the Chinese, who despite coming from “two Chinas…say that they are Chinese [when they go abroad] and look after one another.” This was partly responsible for the growth in China's influence

(99.) Dinesh Singh, Lok Sabha Debates, vol. 42, April 30, 1965.

(100.) The British Nationality Act (1949) extended British citizenship to all “British subjects”—those who were born and/or resided in any of the dominions. However, this was limited by the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1968, which limited entry into the United Kingdom to only those British passport holders who could prove a “continuing relationship” with Britain—by showing documents proving that either one of the parents or the grandparents of the aspiring entrant was born in Britain. This effectively ruled out a significant section of the East African PIO. During this period, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs put pressure on Whitehall to relax its rules to permit the PIO who had claimed British citizenship in the 1950s to enter the United Kingdom.

(101.) As an opposition member remarked, the mass deportation of Indians was but “one more example of the ugly treatment meted out to citizens of Indian origin because of the general loss of Indian prestige and influence and because of their belief that they could do with Indians what they like with impunity.” Lok Sabha Debates, vol. 12, February 16, 1968.