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Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in the Late-Victorian Empire

Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in the Late-Victorian Empire

by Sukanya Banerjee


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In this remarkable account of imperial citizenship, Sukanya Banerjee investigates the ways that Indians formulated notions of citizenship in the British Empire from the late nineteenth century through the early twentieth. Tracing the affective, thematic, and imaginative tropes that underwrote Indian claims to formal equality prior to decolonization, she emphasizes the extralegal life of citizenship: the modes of self-representation it generates even before it is codified and the political claims it triggers because it is deferred. Banerjee theorizes modes of citizenship decoupled from the rights-conferring nation-state; in so doing, she provides a new frame for understanding the colonial subject, who is usually excluded from critical discussions of citizenship.

Interpreting autobiography, fiction, election speeches, economic analyses, parliamentary documents, and government correspondence, Banerjee foregrounds the narrative logic sustaining the unprecedented claims to citizenship advanced by racialized colonial subjects. She focuses on the writings of figures such as Dadabhai Naoroji, known as the first Asian to be elected to the British Parliament; Surendranath Banerjea, among the earliest Indians admitted into the Indian Civil Service; Cornelia Sorabji, the first woman to study law in Oxford and the first woman lawyer in India; and Mohandas K. Gandhi, who lived in South Africa for nearly twenty-one years prior to his involvement in Indian nationalist politics. In her analysis of the unexpected registers through which they carved out a language of formal equality, Banerjee draws extensively from discussions in both late-colonial India and Victorian Britain on political economy, indentured labor, female professionalism, and bureaucratic modernity. Signaling the centrality of these discussions to the formulations of citizenship, Becoming Imperial Citizens discloses a vibrant transnational space of political action and subjecthood, and it sheds new light on the complex mutations of the category of citizenship.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822346081
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 06/17/2010
Series: Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies Series
Pages: 286
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Sukanya Banerjee is Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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Becoming Imperial Citizens

Indians in the Late-Victorian Empire
By Sukanya Banerjee


Copyright © 2010 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4608-1

Chapter One

Of the Indian Economy and the English Polls

* * *

Published in 1901, Dadabhai Naoroji's monumental Poverty and Un-British Rule in India is widely regarded as one of the founding texts of Indian nationalist economics. It does not enjoy quite the same currency, however, in cultural analyses of Indian nationalism. That relative lack of esteem is curious in light of the fact that Poverty generates its argument primarily through a critique of imperial policies in India, constructing an Indian body politic that even remodels Englishness in the process. It is almost as if in providing the first statistical estimate of India's national income, Poverty precludes itself from exegeses of nationalism that have come to view the nation as narrative. Indeed, the critical emphasis on the "writing" of the nation seems to have reproduced classificatory typologies of "economic nationalism" and "cultural nationalism," which have long constituted a divide in Indian historiography. To be sure, the instrumental role played by nationalist economic analyses in launching populist anticolonial campaigns in India-such as swadeshi, which entailed the boycott of foreign goods-is widely accepted. But the economic analyses of thinkers like M. G. Ranade, R. C. Dutt, and Naoroji himself are known more for the various cultural outpourings they generated-nationalist songs of self-reliance, ballads, drama, and fiction-than for the narrative strategies or cultural idioms they deploy. It is perhaps the very logic that accorded primacy to these texts of economic analysis that cordons them off from an analysis of their narrative implications. Economic critiques of imperialism provided, as Manu Goswami notes, "the first sustained articulations of nationalism" by forwarding the notion of a "territorially delimited economic collective." In claiming the colonial space in the name of a conceptual nation, however, Indian bourgeois nationalists of the late nineteenth century expressly excluded the "individual," the "cultural," or the "particular" from the abstract nation-space they so constructed, even as they sought to move away from the seemingly ahistorical, abstract models of classical political economy. Therefore, while Poverty's emphasis on providing a statistical critique of colonial rule in the name of a unified nation-space privileged its claims, it also cast the text in an angular relation with the social and cultural "life" of that emerging nation.

Political Economy and Fin de Siècle Gothic

Yet it is precisely this self-conscious definition of "the economic" that prompts a counterintuitive reading of a text like Poverty. After all, the authority that classical political economy appropriated for itself during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries depended on rhetorical and discursive strategies that sought to demarcate "economic concerns" from those of "morality, religion, and social stability." Poverty's occlusion from the imaginative resonances of the nation could very well speak to the desired epistemological distinctions between what Mary Poovey describes as "figures of arithmetic and figures of speech." From the nineteenth century onward, as Poovey outlines, the notion that numbers were "dull" and "dry" seemed to privilege their access to empirical knowledge in contrast to the "undue embellishment associated with fiction, hyperbole, and rhetoric." But the distinction between "figures of arithmetic and figures of speech" was in itself discursive, concealing the extent to which the self-evident facticity of empirical data was permeated by imaginative processes. For instance, the census, which was instrumental in institutionalizing the regime of numbers, hinged, as has been pointed out, on a certain "mode of imagining the colonial state." Even as the colonial administration in India relied heavily on a regime of numbers to regularize the otherwise recalcitrant features of the sociophysical landscape, the rationale of the British census in India lay, as Gauri Viswanathan suggests, in "its meticulous construction of narrative plots." The narrative and imaginative implications of the census serve as a useful entry point into Poverty, whose economic data are interspersed with Naoroji's letters, essays, and speeches written over the last few decades of the nineteenth century, which have otherwise been lost sight of in-or because of-Poverty's designation as a pioneering work of Indian economic nationalism.

Reading Poverty "literarily" is also in keeping with a strand of economic analysis that argues for the ways in which economic arguments operate through discursive and rhetorical devices. Such an approach is particularly important for the purposes of this chapter because it is by appealing to economic, political, and cultural registers that Poverty not only delimits a territorially defined nation-space, but also provides an early figuration of the Indian as citizen. The first section of this chapter examines how the narrative framing Naoroji's economic treatise brings together statistical calculations and ideas of bodily health, constructing an Indian body politic that not only erupts in moments of gothic dismemberment, but, in doing so, points to a consanguinity between colony and metropole envisaged by the free-trade principles of political economy but rarely followed in practice. In fact, the unlikely conjoining of the principles of political economy with elements of gothic narrative helps Naoroji formulate a unified imperial citizenry that brings together Indians and Britons, the only formulation, according to him, that could remedy the economic problems postulated by Poverty.

By juxtaposing a reading of Poverty with that of Naoroji's election campaigns-in 1892, he was elected to the British House of Commons from Central Finsbury-the second section of this chapter underlines how his self-representation as an imperial citizen before a metropolitan electorate borrowed from the same narrative corpus that had enabled him to present the urgency of India's economic condition to a metropolitan readership. In reading Naoroji's election campaigns, what is of particular interest is not only how he sought to dispel popular representations of the Irish-as he ran in an English constituency on an Irish Home Rule ticket-but also how he countered racialized perceptions of his own status as an Indian subject, as a "black man," an epithet bestowed upon him by Lord Salisbury, the Tory leader of the day. Naoroji's need to counteract the general English misapprehensions of the Irish was fairly obvious, given that the Irish demand for Home Rule, which had been gathering force during the second half of the nineteenth century, had precipitated the 1886 elections and also made the Irish monstrous in the popular imagination. However, the unprecedented nature of Naoroji's candidacy as an Indian subject demanding political rights, not only for himself but on behalf of an English electorate- thus making him a true imperial citizen-presented an entirely new challenge. To read how Naoroji was racialized in this endeavor is to draw attention to the twinning of the unfolding registers of race and citizenship. In emphasizing the coimplication of the discourse of race with that of citizenship, the chapter is sensitive to the fact that a racial vocabulary is often engendered by the technologies of citizenship. In reading the newspaper coverage of Naoroji as the "black man," however, the argument also considers how it was precisely the uncertainties underlining generalized articulations of race that, when placed alongside the purported certitudes of an emerging, allegedly scientific racial discourse, allowed for a discourse of citizenship that could at once accommodate and disavow the political claims of racialized colonial subjects.

While the preoccupation of citizenship with questions of incorporation and abstraction makes itself evident in ways that I have broadly described as gothic, this chapter is attentive to the specificities of fin de siècle metropolitan gothic fiction, whose popularity helps explain the resonance of the narrative registers through which Poverty (and Naoroji) appeared before a metropolitan audience. An emphasis on fin de siècle gothic is inescapable here, for its conventions provided a prism through which the English came to represent the colonies and colonial subjects in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, a fact well captured by Patrick Brantlinger's immensely suggestive term, the "imperial gothic." Fin de siècle gothic fiction, with its stock-and motley-crew of half-breeds and half-beasts threatening to populate the metropolis, illustrates the profound contradictions and fears besetting an imperial polity that had extended its sway across a substantial portion of the earth yet dreaded the inevitable intimacies engendered by that expansion. Critical analyses of fin de siècle gothic production, though, tend to associate its prominence mostly with metropolitan writers, who alone are allowed the privilege of fear as well as that of self-recrimination and moral anxiety about the empire-an anxiety that manifested itself through the horrors of degeneracy, dissolution, and decay seen in the work of writers like H. G. Wells, H. Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Bram Stoker (here I am referring more to Stoker's metropolitan location).

However, the tropology of the gothic was not confined to the realm of literary pursuits alone; it also lent itself to the formulation of political debates, as in the demand for Irish Home Rule. Moreover, the self-reflexivity that undergirded gothic imaginings was not only a metropolitan prerogative. Shifting the scope of the gothic from metropolitan writers as well as from the specific realm of literary production, this chapter highlights how Naoroji's statistical figuration of "un-British rule" expresses his concern about a rapidly denuding English identity, a concern that was spectacularized in all its hideous ramifications in the metropolitan fiction of the day. The irony, of course, is that it is Naoroji who points out what is un-British and, consequently, what is British. This considerably expands the rubric of the gothic, for even as metropolitan gothic reveled in moments of transmogrification and signaled the dissolution and degeneration of the English and their empire, its impetus always lay in redrawing national and cultural boundaries, enacting, in Cannon Schmitt's words, "the formation of England conceived as a nation and of English national subjects." In this, Naoroji's appeal to concerns provoked by the gothic not only rendered those boundaries porous but also became instrumental in constructing colonial subjects-who more often than not featured as the gothic focus of English "fear"-as, in fact, "equal" citizens of the British Empire.

An invocation of the gothic in a discussion of an economic treatise such as Poverty bears ample warrant, for the connection between gothic narrative and classical political economy has long been apparent, given that Adam Smith's thesis of the self-regulation of market forces depends heavily on the symbolic and supernatural figure of the "invisible hand" that makes up for the lack of any adequate existing economic formulation. 17 Ghouls and vampires, we know, widely permeated Marx's critique of political economy as well. Poverty is gothic insofar as its economic argument relies on "gothic effects." If toward the end of the nineteenth century, the staple ingredients of earlier gothic narratives (such as haunted castles and torture chambers) were "supplanted by the threat of the decay and dissolution of one's personality," then Naoroji's central premise that England's economic and political practices in India at the time were symptomatic of a degenerating Englishness could hardly not tap into prevalent metropolitan doubts of self-identity in relation to empire, the hallmark of the "imperial gothic." Moreover, as the proliferation of various kinds of anatomical and psychological discourses at the end of the century questioned the certitude of bodily boundaries and teleology, the body itself emerged as the locus of gothic horror. The economic argument of Poverty repeatedly returns to the image of bloodied, dismembered bodies (and the body politic) in order to attest to its prognosis of England's financial misrule. In doing so, Poverty certainly speaks to the corpus of narrative conventions characterizing fin de siècle gothic, but, as mentioned earlier, it also co-opts it to provide for a forum of representation and appeal for those most likely to be demonized by its implications, England's colonial "others."

Born to a Parsee family in Bombay in 1825, Naoroji distinguished himself as an academic. He became one of the first Indians to hold a professorship, when he was named Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Elphinstone College, in Bombay. Deeply involved in imparting a distinct agenda to Indian public life in Bombay, he reminisced in later years: "the six or seven years before I eventually came to England in 1855, ... were full of all sorts of reforms, social, educational, political, religious, etc. Ah, those years." That he chose to move to England in 1855 to become a trading partner in an Indian commercial firm surprised everyone who knew him, given his academic and political standing in Bombay. His decision to do so was motivated by a desire to alert an English audience to the urgent need for reform in India, to establish, as one of his biographers puts it, "an intimate connexion [sic]" between England and India. Naoroji lived in England until 1907, and although he spent time in India intermittently during that period, he immersed himself in the intellectual and political life of the imperial metropolis. Although he lost the 1886 election in which he ran for Parliament from Holborn, he was elected as the Liberal candidate from Central Finsbury in 1892. In pursuing his goal of acquainting the English with Indian affairs, Naoroji was relentless in his exposition of the state of the Indian economy, which, over the years, was the subject of his painstaking and prolific calculations and statistical estimates.

Published in England in 1901, Poverty is a compilation of essays, statistical tables, official correspondence from and to Naoroji, reports of parliamentary commissions, and the texts of Naoroji's speeches in the House of Commons and elsewhere in England. Although most of the individual items in Poverty were originally addressed to English officials and politicians, the volume as a whole is aimed at a broader audience that is largely English as well, convinced as Naoroji was, as his prefatory comments indicate, that "a truly British course can and will certainly be vastly beneficent both to Britain and India" (Poverty v). Interestingly, not only does Poverty include Naoroji's writings, but it also presents the views and rebuttals of colonial administrators. The polyvocality of the volume is significant in emphasizing a dialogic relationship between colony and metropole. More important, the multiauthored and multilayered nature of the volume interpellates its (English) audience in a juridical role-not unlike the one popularized by gothic fiction throughout the nineteenth century-the first step, perhaps, in their journey to become imperial citizens as well. As Naoroji states later: "I have not the least doubt in my mind about the conscience of England and Englishmen, that if they once clearly see the evil, they will not shrink to apply the proper remedies" (140; emphasis in the original). As a beneficiary of Western education in India, Naoroji was quite unequivocal about the fruits of English liberalism. In fact, his interest in poverty in India arose from the consequences of what he felt was the good work done by the English. "English education," he notes, "has taught the highest political ideal of British citizenship and raised in the hearts of the educated Indians the hope and aspiration to be able to raise their countrymen to the same ideal citizenship" (vi). As quickly becomes clear in the book, the issue of poverty becomes symptomatic of-and even a displaced referent for-the failure of the English to fulfill their pledges of granting citizenship to Indians. Referring to various acts of Parliament and the Queen's Proclamation of 1858, Naoroji presents "self-government under British paramountcy" as an index of "true British citizenship" (xiv), and it is the deferral of this political ideal that generates and frames the economic critique of his analysis of poverty.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Imperial Citizenship: Nation, Empire, Narrative 1

1 Of the Indian Economy and the English Polls 36

2 South Africa, Indentured Labor, and the Question of Credit 75

3 The Professional Citizen in/and the Zenana 116

4 Bureaucratic Modernity, the Indian Civil Service, and Grammars of Nationalism 150

Afterword 191

Notes 197

Bibliography 235

Index 265

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