The Social Question and the Problem of History after Empire

Uday Singh Mehta

in Lineages of Empire

Published by British Academy

Published in print April 2009 | ISBN: 9780197264393
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734571 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

The Social Question and the Problem of History after Empire

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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Decolonization of the European empires in the twentieth century was spurred by the colonized based on two purposes: the desire for independence, and the desire to build a sovereign political identity. The most obvious feature of the first intention was the formation of anti-imperialist movements, organised under the banner ‘they must leave’. The latter was characterized by the establishment of constitutional government, which highlighted the identity of a novice country in a political and unified form and which featured a central source of power. These two purposes share a complex relationship. For power to be sovereign, independence must be gained first. Power cannot be obligated to the wishes of another power or constrained by the laws of another regime. The struggle for independence of European empires did not readily create the conditions for the exercise of a sovereign power. It was elusive at the moment of independence. This chapter discusses some of the implications of these two purposes, with emphasis on the second purpose and the Indian experience. It addresses questions such as: what is the meaning of collective identity to those newly independent countries in the context of politics; what were the pressures on the claims to political identity and unity; how did these pressures encourage a revolutionary mindset in the conceptualization of constitutional provisions and political power; and how does the struggle for political identity relate to the history of nation and its struggle for independence?

Keywords: decolonization; European empires; independence; political identity; anti-imperialist movements; constitutional government; sovereign power; Indian; collective identity; unity

Chapter.  7996 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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