XQs V: A Conversation with Eric Beverley

[The XQs (Ten Questions) series is a conversation with the author of new and exciting works in South Asian Studies, whose aim is not to “review” but to contextualize, historicize and promote new scholarship. We thank our long time friend, Qalandar, for conducting this interview. Previously: IIIIII, IV.]

 

ELB_XQ_photoEric Beverley is Associate Professor in the History Department at State University of New York, Stony Brook. His book, Hyderabad, British India, and the World: Muslim Networks and Minor Sovereignty, c. 1850-1950, come out in 2015 with Cambridge University Press. Professor Beverley used to write for Chapati Mystery as Dacoit after being apprehended by Sepoy at a Chicago cabbie joint.

 

1. Over the last few years, there have been a number of books on Hyderabad in the years leading up to 1947 (e.g. Kavita Datla’s The Language of Secular Islam; Margrit Pernau’s The Passing of Patrimonialism; and of course your own)— what do you think is interesting (and/or relevant to our moment) about Hyderabad’s intersection with the modernity ushered in by colonialism?

Hyderabad, like other similar ‘minor’ states, provides a critical entry point for conceiving the making of modern South Asia outside of the rather strained and essentialized narrative of colonial or nationalist modernity. I think there are several aspects of the contemporary moment that make histories of Hyderabad particularly important now – I’ll describe three key ways this history is crucial for thinking about the past and present of South Asia and the world.

First, the history of Hyderabad (and other minor states) is critical to situating many contemporary developments in context. Historical scholarship on South Asia over the last few decades has tended to take colonialism and victorious statist nationalisms that prevailed in South Asia after decolonization as the relevant background for viewing subsequent political, social, and cultural trends, shifts, and conflicts. The limits of explanatory frameworks founded on colonialism and nationalism are becoming all the more apparent. The British dominated the subcontinent often using intensive coercion, but their power was regionally inflected in particular ways. Places like Hyderabad that were not under formal British rule maintained their own state institutions, and sheltered social and cultural domains distinct from those in Raj territory. Further, while the projects and paradigms that constituted Indian and Pakistani postcolonial nationalism were substantial and formative in many regards, the subordination of different parts of the new nation-states to these visions was highly uneven. Neither the history of British rule itself, nor of the policies of postcolonial nation-states, sufficiently explains many key trends in contemporary South Asia. Several dynamics bear out historical legacies other than those of the Raj: the enduring resonance of patrimonial political networks and particular kinds of alliances (the Muslim—Dalit alliance in the Hyderabad Deccan, for example), idioms of solidarity, and even forms of architecture or economic development in a number of places; broader trends such as movements for new provincial states or domains of autonomy in places such as Telangana, Swat, and Balochistan; the rise of radical Marxist autonomous zones in the old borderlands of minor states like Hyderabad or Bastar. Close attention to the history of places like Hyderabad provides basic historical context critical to developing nuanced explanations of these and many others dynamics.

9781107091191Second, the example of Hyderabad helps us move beyond pervasive stereotypes about the possible meaning of Muslim statecraft. Increasingly for the last few decades, and seemingly more so every day, various idioms of right-wing Islamism (from ultra-conservative to radical militant) have occupied a central position in global political discourse. Policy ‘experts’ and popular media cast these forms of politics, real and imagined, as the preeminent threat to stability and security in most of the world, and present them as proof of the incompatibility between Muslims (or at least those who regard Muslimness as a basis for political ethics) and most states and societies in the world. Viewed from Hyderabad, the widely varied dynamics of continuity and change from the early modern period, through the era of British colonial dominance in the region, and into the postcolonial period are visible in ways that they are not from the perspective of British India. Hyderabad provides examples of the ways that idioms and institutions of Muslim dynastic political authority remained resonant in South Asia owing to their vitality to existing state forms. My book, like the others you mention, traces the complex and productive engagements between Hyderabadi intellectuals and officials and dynamics in British India and elsewhere. I show that what we see in Hyderabad from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century represents an attempt to fashion a self-consciously modern state form founded on the idea of solidarity with other Muslim states, progressive principles such as inclusion and aid towards all segments of society, and technical and institutional innovation informed by contemporaneous global developments. Put another way, Hyderabad State provides a glimpse of very different manifestations of ‘the Muslim state’ than we have become accustomed to hearing about in public discourse.

SA mapThird, the view from Hyderabad helps us better historicize the unequal status of nation-states in the contemporary world, the arbitrariness of their definition, and the enduring fuzziness of borderlands and frontier zones. During the period of British colonial dominance in the broader region, Hyderabad was a sovereign polity, but very clearly one on a lower tier of global political hierarchies than many other states (empires, European states). This did not mean Hyderabad was not sovereign, and my book describes ways that it exercised state power. But certainly Hyderabad way subordinate to superior British power – it was not sovereign in the way that the Raj or Great Britain was sovereign over its domains and in its international dealings. In this era many if not most places and polities across Asia, Africa, Latin America, and indeed much of Europe held different degrees of power and autonomy to act in relation to their neighbors and regionally or globally dominant states. The existence of divergent minor forms of sovereignty in South Asia was treated as a problem to be solved in the era of decolonization, and postcolonial nation-states worked to integrate competing claims to state authority from the old minor states (primarily politically, but in some cases – like Hyderabad – by force). This resulted in states such as India and Pakistan emerging as ostensibly homogenous terrains of unitary political sovereignty—this was not the case everywhere, as visible in the retention of some degree of formal sovereignty by the Gulf States, former Malay States, and Lesotho, or even the continued political autonomy of Nepal and Afghanistan.1 The ideology of nation-states conceives sovereignty as a zero-sum quantity – states either have it, or do not exist as political entities. Global institutional structures – international law, the United Nations, even the Universal Postal Union – fix sovereign statehood as a basis for participation, and work from the assumption that recognized states are equals. All of this generates a kind of political common sense that makes it tricky to analyze either the fundamental inequality between constituents of the global state system, or the contingent nature of sovereign statehood in the first place. Looking at the recent history of the world from the perspective of Hyderabad State helps us historicize the making of the global state system, and understand the South Asian variant as one of many possible outcomes.

2. One of the interesting shifts in perspective that your book enables is with respect to the notion still potent in popular culture, although increasingly interrogated in serious scholarship, that trans-national encounters or an international orientation are by-products of the encounter with European capitalism/colonialism: in reading about Muslim “networks” in your book I couldn’t help but be thrilled in some sense, at the glimpse afforded of an alternate way of being “international”. Is this sort of distinction meaningful to you?

Thank you for bringing this up – I am very pleased to see that the excitement and wonder that struck me when researching and writing about these encounters carried over to you as a reader. Yes, the distinction between transnational encounters mediated by relationships of European dominance, on the one hand, and those in other circuits not directly involving colonial powers, on the other, seems to me a critical one to make. But it is important not to draw the distinction too sharply, since all encounters during the period the book covers are all in some way overdetermined by the fact that European states are dominant political and economic powers in most of the world at the time. That said, interactions that cross-cut imperial spaces, and produce alternative transnational or internationalist circuits, seem to me a potent subject of continued scholarly inquiry.

3. Building on the above, how would you compare and contrast the ways in which a “minor sovereignty” like Hyderabad was integrated into global Muslim [or Islamicate] networks; with those of a “major” sovereignty like the Ottomans? How does the “peripheral” nature of Hyderabad’s sovereignty (you refer to it as being on a “lower rung” than full-fledged sovereignties like the Raj) refract the trans-national encounter?

The connections and comparisons with the Ottomans are both complicated and critical for thinking about Hyderabad’s transnational life. I want to start by thinking about connections with the Ottomans, and then open this out into some comparison between the two states (though any kind of useful systematic comparison would require collaboration with Ottomanist scholars). For many activists, intellectuals, and officials in Hyderabad, the Ottomans were the very heart of the global network I call ‘Muslim internationalism’ they sought to tie the state into. The Ottomans stood as an exemplary model, and sometimes dispersed material support, to smaller states in Asia and Africa that were trying to fashion themselves as both Muslim and modern. This dynamic inflected encounters between Hyderabadi and Ottoman thinkers, and endowed the latter with a certain importance – and this can be seen in writings of Hyderabadis who traveled to Istanbul or Cairo in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries, some of whom I discuss in the book. In this regard, the Indian nationalist Khilafat movement of the inter-war era, while critical for the history of anti-colonial nationalism in British India, is only one, relatively brief, chapter in the longer history of Ottoman—South Asian Muslim ties.

Comparisons are tricky, both because Hyderabad and the Ottomans were connected in many ways and not discrete objects, and because of the ambivalent status of the Ottomans in the global political scene. The Ottomans are quite difficult to classify in terms of degree of sovereignty, a problem I grapple with in Chapter 1 [Ebook preview] of the book, which develops a classificatory scheme of global states. In some sense the Ottomans were a ‘major’ sovereign state, which sought, often successfully, to negotiate as equals with European empires into the twentieth century. From an internal governance perspective, some scholars have described the Ottoman relationship with some of their provinces and populations as colonial. The late Ottomans were also, however, under serious pressure from Western European powers throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to the point where their very sovereignty was under threat. They lost several Christian-majority provinces in the Balkans in this period to national independence, and others came under de facto European colonial control (particularly in northern Africa). The Ottomans also increasingly ceded jurisdiction over certain population groups, and undertook extensive alliance-building and outreach initiatives to maintain their status and standing in the nascent international community. The Ottomans were also often viewed as a competitor and threat to British and other European imperial projects. Hyderabad, on the other hand, was a Muslim-ruled state whose ruler was publicly loyal to the British Crown from the nineteenth century onwards. And in the context of rising imperial concern about potential Muslim anti-colonialism in the empire, suspected Ottoman agents were often subjects of European imperial surveillance and interdiction. Contrarily the minor status of Hyderabad, and the substantial degree of political subordination and integration into British imperial infrastructures, gave Hyderabadi officials considerable leeway for movement across imperial space and beyond during this era.

4. In your scholarship, the sovereignty of a state like Hyderabad is to be understood as improvisational — as opposed to a representative of “indirect” colonialism; is the problem with the latter that it imagines the marginal/”frontier” zone as a stable component of the imperial edifice? Put differently, do you feel that the theories of indirect rule mischaracterize the nature of colonialism, or do they misattribute a certain stability, a “finished” quality to the colonial state structure?

There are several problems with ‘indirect rule’ as analytical category. Contemporary scholars uncritically borrow colonial categories at their own peril, as Edward Said and Bernard Cohn have shown us emphatically. Categories and terms from colonial discourse are laden with a massive freight of implications and assumptions, and make us willy-nilly see the empire as imperialists would have us see it. Use of the designation ‘indirect rule’ for minor states such as Hyderabad casts them as integral components of empire, obscures connections with past eras before the rise of the imperial British, and implies a stability and fixity to the relationship between the Empire and its parts. The term evokes a cohesive imperial vision or fantasy of what the empire was or should be. Colonization appears, misleadingly, as a single moment – the establishment of rule in either direct or indirect modalities. The open-ended process of imperial expansion and conquest, consolidation and pacification is rendered invisible and stripped of contingency. The terminology also effaces the fundamental unevenness of colonial power across space. Describing all of South Asia – up to and sometimes including Burma, Nepal, Tibet, Afghanistan, and Iran – as either directly or indirectly ruled units of empire obscures the productivity of imperial borderlands as spaces of social and political difference. Framing Hyderabad and other states solely in relationship to the Raj makes it difficult to see long-standing deep structures of sovereignty in the subcontinent.

5. Either way, what is at stake here? Are theories of indirect rule susceptible to the provincialising discourse and the teleological orientation of nationalism? In the book’s introduction you intriguingly suggest that the ambiguity inherent in this situation “was less a mask of colonial power than a resource for sub-imperial empowerment[…]”

At stake is the history of sovereignty in a historical period that was without question foundational for the making of modern South Asia. Terms like ‘indirect rule’, and theories of unitary colonial sovereignty they tend to imply, dovetail neatly with provincializing and teleological strategies in nationalist discourse. This makes it easy to regard states like Hyderabad as anachronistic, pre-modern, or fundamentally illusory political forms. The assumptions that the term and theory ‘indirect rule’ holds wrapped within it generate a flattened and homogeneous political geography of the subcontinent, and make it difficult to conceive of other levels of sovereignty than uniform Empire or unitary territorial nation-state. Accordingly, the book uses the analytical strategy of taking Hyderabad’s status as a minor state – being sovereign, but subordinated – as an injunction to consider the kinds of political possibilities this opened up, rather than merely those it foreclosed.

6. There’s a tantalizing (albeit far too brief) reference to the Majlis-i Ittihad al-Muslimin (MIM) in your book (pg. 138), contrasting what I think of as its modernist (statist) Muslim idiom with the trans-national orientation that one might say was traditional to Hyderabad — could you elaborate? Is the right prism for the MIM (a response to) Hindu majoritarianism, or do you also see it as a modern by-product of the “Muslim networks and minor sovereignty” of the book’s title, dooming that which enabled it? [One of the challenges in imagining an alternate post-colonial sub-continent is the (retrospective) fragility of minor sovereignties like Hyderabad, threatened by just about every modernist political current, whether colonial, anti-colonial nationalist, Hindu or Muslim.]

For readers not familiar with the context, MIM, or Majlis-i Ittihad al-Muslimin, was an exclusivist, sometimes militant, Islamist party founded in the 1930s on the platform of defending Muslim sovereignty in the Deccan. The central figure in the early MIM was Bahadur Yar Jang, who previously worked to develop popular Muslim–Hindu solidarity networks to broaden the support base of the Hyderabad regime. During a trip to West Asia and North Africa, he publicly lauded the cosmopolitan and modernizing policies of Hyderabad’s ruler. Later, Bahadur Yar Jang came to articulate ideologies of Muslim supremacy within the framework of Hyderabad as bounded territorial state. In the book, I describe this turn as an ironic parochialization and provincialization of an earlier expansive vision of Hyderabad as part of a broader global network of modernist Muslim states. After Bahadur Yar Jang’s death in 1944, the MIM were key players in forging a Muslim militia to defend Hyderabad against the surge of Hindu majoritarian activists who sought to integrate the state into a decolonized India. Certainly the MIM in this era was provincializing, conservative, and exclusivist in ways that, I would argue, departed from much of the established history of Muslim statecraft and political authority in the Hyderabad Deccan stretching back to the early modern period. Its emergence in this form needs to be placed in the context of the rising and perceptible threat of a mode of Hindu majoritarianism in which the Muslim minority community stood to have little access to political or social power.2

While the story the book tells of Bahadur Yar Jang and MIM is a rather gloomy one, and not very encouraging for imagining alternative postcolonial South Asian political visions, I do not think provincialization and parochialization of Muslim networks is inevitable. There are many ways of being modern, and many varieties of Muslim political modernity. As it happens, the MIM has a long and varied history and continues to thrive in Hyderabad. Shifts in their ideology and strategy over the last few decades gesture to some alternative political possibilities in urban government for Muslim parties. The MIM has cultivated to great electoral effects a Muslim—Dalit alliance, and drawn upon alternative networks of transnational capital to undermine social and economic dominance. In the last decade, the party has expanded their electoral ambition and deployed similar alliance-building strategies beyond Hyderabad City in the Deccan, winning seats in Telangana and Maharashtra, and has even contested elections in Bihar in north India.

Nor would I say that minor sovereignties were doomed to extinction with the globalization of the nation-state form. The degree of central state power achieved in India has largely been far greater than many other places in the world (and especially post-imperial places), and even there we see increasing evidence of regional autonomy through provincial states. Several new state movements, such as that for Telangana, envisioned redrawing old minor state lines as provincial boundaries, and sometimes based claims on these divergent histories. In other places, former sub-imperial minor states and ruling dynasties became constituent units of new national entities (Malaysia and the Persian Gulf, for example). The kinds of improvisation in internationalist domains that minor states like Hyderabad could perform in earlier moments in the life of the global state system are certainly diminished in the contemporary dispensation. Nevertheless, the histories and legacies of minor states still provide crucial material and some institutional resonances for thinking afresh about political possibilities in many places.

Proposed states and territories of India.
Proposed states and territories of India.

7. The discussion of the bureaucrat-intellectuals is one of my favorite parts of the book (in no small part because of its retrieval of a world of texts and ideas that is virtually lost to us) — how does your reading of Angel Rama’s characterization of the “letrados” as active producers (as opposed to mere executors of the state’s agendas) play out in the context of Hyderabad, especially given the availability of territory-based notions of sovereignty to intellectuals in the state (in a way not available to Muslims in British India)?

nawbbahaduryarjungI am very pleased to know you appreciated these figures. In the process of writing and revising, I spent a good bit of time trying to identify threads that run through and link together all of the divergent contexts and case studies the book examines. It eventually occurred to me that these bureaucrat-intellectual figures and their work were critical in shaping Hyderabad’s transnational intellectual scene, rural frontier policy, and urban planning regimes, and thus were worth developing as a concept and type. And letrados fit together very well with this formulation, and served as a provocation to move beyond notions of bureaucrats as mere functionaries. In general I find it quite productive and stimulating to use and tweak analytical concepts developed for studying other empirical contexts in places far from South Asia (this also is one way to jolt the often provincial and inward-looking conceptual lexicon of South Asian historiography). Rama’s theorization of letrados in the colonial Latin American context provided for me critical basis for rethinking the very nature of the state as such in Hyderabad. In a quite real, tangible sense, bureaucrat-intellectuals were key constituent elements of what the state in Hyderabad actually was. The territorial sovereignty of Hyderabad provided state bureaucrat-intellectuals (and other activists and writings connected to it) both some degree of status in various international circuits, and autonomous institutions of governance as objects of political experimentation. The kinds of mobility and capacity for creating alliances, and envisioning Hyderabad in relation to a broader world, often provided a basis for thinking about states beyond fixed territorial sovereignty. So Muslim networks and other circuits of connection (around urban planning or higher education, for example) allowed for Hyderabadis to think of the state as something with a broader foundation than the bounded territory it actually occupied. Territorial sovereignty for Hyderabad turned out to be a dead end, despite overtures to the United Nations following India’s 1948 military conquest and integration of the state. However, the modality of territorial state as framework for internationally-mediated political ideas and policies took on a new life in Pakistan later, but in ways markedly divergent from the histories of bureaucrat-intellectuals and Hyderabad State my books tracks. The person and later writings of Bahadur Yar Jang were and continue to be venerated and widely read in Pakistan, and another Hyderabadi, Abul Ala Maududi, is one of the key thinkers on the relationship between Islam and statecraft globally.

8. Can you recommend five recent works that complement your own? Given your thesis, “complement” is of course a broad term, and I’d be especially interested in works that are not squarely within the discourse of Indian nationalism/state-building, but works that explore other “Islamicate” networks, or perhaps even other networks. For example, are there parallels with Jewish identities in the 19th century, or perhaps those of national communities-that-weren’t-states, like the pre-1918 Poles, or the Armenians?

This is intriguing, and actually a very difficult question. The book is quite broad itself, taking on the global geography of sovereignty; the history of political ideas related to Muslim statecraft; law, crime, governance, and popular practice in borderlands; and urban planning and development. There are any number of excellent recent books in these areas that provide the basis for productive dialogue (off the top of my head, recent books by Lauren Benton, Rajeev Kinra, James Scott, and Nikhil Rao have influenced my thinking on these four topics, respectively). Since you frame the question around transnational connections, I will list five recent books that examine them, and particularly those involving Muslim people or states:

  • Khuri-Makdisi, Ilham. The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860-1914. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.
  • Aslanian, Sebouh David. From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants From New Julfa. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.
  • Rothman, E. Natalie. Brokering Empire: Trans-Imperial Subjects between Venice and Istanbul. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012.
  • Huber, Valeska. Channelling Mobilities Migration and Globalisation in the Suez Canal Region and Beyond, 1869-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • Crews, Robert D. Afghan Modern: The History of a Global Nation. Cambridge: Belknap Harvard, 2015.

I also want to mention an excellent edited volume on internationalism in South Asia –

Raza, Ali, Franziska Roy, and Benjamin Zachariah, eds. The Internationalist Moment South Asia, Worlds, and World Views, 1917-39. New Delhi: Sage, 2015 – and a few not yet published books that will surely provide excellent complements to some of the arguments my own book – Benjamin Hopkins on comparative frontier governance, Iza Hussin on Islamic law in three key colonial contexts, Abhishek Kaicker on late Mughal political culture and urban politics, Arash Khazeni on Persianate—Southeast Asian connections, James Pickett on transnational intellectual networks in a Central Asian minor state, and Sarah Waheed on the Muslim political imagination in late colonial South Asia.

9. Could I ask you for a State of South Asian Studies? In particular, do you think the discipline has been able to “think” ideas that are not tied to the (colonial) state (ideas such as yours on the “lesser” sovereignty represented by an entity like Hyderabad, or of global “networks” that are something other than relationships between states)?

Yes, I totally agree that it is difficult for South Asianists to think beyond dominant political entities such as the colonial state or postcolonial nation-states. Part of what looking at the scene from the angle of a minor state like Hyderabad lets us do is see other global networks that were (and often are) robust and significant, but are difficult to see in the existing historiography. Hyderabad was of course still a state with a government, and territory, and so forth. But it does provide another perspective on the picture, and I hope helps illuminate frameworks and circuits that help us see connections beyond those that run through states as such.

The project of positioning modern South Asia within global circuits of connection is a relatively new one. A broader transnational turn in history and other disciplines over the last decade or so has changed the landscape of South Asian historical scholarship. We are now beginning to see young (and sometimes older) scholars with solid foundations in South Asian history, culture, and languages beginning to take up topics that call upon them to trace connections and develop comparisons that stretch beyond the subcontinent. This is moving South Asian Studies as a scholarly field out of the remarkably provincial and inward-looking posture it occupied since its mid-twentieth century origins. This inward orientation was, I think, shaped by a few different converging factors. One is the dominance and sheer size of India as the gravitational center of South Asian Studies. As in scholarship on many other large nation-states, connections with places beyond their boundaries tended to play a minor role in India (we see similar phenomena in work on other nation-states: the US, Russia, China, to a lesser degree Brazil, Mexico, South Africa). The other key factor was the dynamic of postcolonial Indian nationalist policy that emphasized internal development and planning as a recipe for avoiding neo-imperial economic and political marginalization in the wake of two centuries of colonial rule. This policy vision often entailed active restriction of global connections. In a very real sense, much of South Asian Studies scholarship meant a focus on India, its internal developments, and little else. This produced a lot of important and fine-grained research, perhaps most prominently Marxian scholarship that examined the imbrication between class formation and cultural categories in modern South Asia. But the inward orientation made it all too easy for scholars to see South Asia as a closed system, or one shaped by a single kind of global connectivity in colonialism and its legacies.

Even now, after the ‘transnational turn’, I think there are a few enduring problems with the ways scholars have envisioned South Asia in a global context. As you suggest, connections tend to be conceived as state-to-state. This usually means either imperial or national connections. Thus, work on transnational South Asia emphasizes ties to other parts of the British Empire on the administrative level (circulation of officials and legal or architectural styles) or sometimes via anti-colonial nationalist ties (Gandhianism, communism, etc). There is also an emerging body of work on connections between postcolonial nation-states in the post-WWII political dispensation. Looking at the world from a ‘minor’ state’s angle, such as Hyderabad’s, provides am opportunity and provocation to continue moving beyond provincial containers and colonial or nationalist geographies, yet retain a sense of the powerful global, regional, and local power dynamics that frame these connections. Since you asked about the state of South Asian studies more broadly, I would add that the book reflects an engagement with some key emerging concerns in South Asian historiography: urban, legal, and borderland histories; studies of Muslim statecraft that challenge stereotypes; sovereignty and the nature of state power; and (in brief sections that I plan to expand) histories of marginalized communities such as Dalits, Adivasis, and ostensibly criminal communities.

10. Could you share something (personal) about the transition from dissertation to book? How difficult was it, and did the process lead you “away” from your dissertation in some sense?

Not surprising, perhaps, given how long this was in the making, but this question alone could be the subject of many long conversations! I will leave aside the considerable difficulties of academic book publishing in the current landscape of South Asian studies. Suffice to say I was very fortunate to have an extremely supportive editor and press in Lucy Rhymer and Cambridge University Press (UK), and patient and encouraging colleagues in my department. It also worked out well that Cambridge has an expanding office in Delhi, which has now published an Indian edition for distribution there and across SAARC countries. I know from the experience of others that coordinating US/UK and Indian editions, and sometimes a third Pakistan edition, to assure that one’s work is available to readers in the subcontinent can often be tricky.

The main change that happened between book and dissertation is that I began defining the central argument rather differently. Compared to the dissertation, the book is less about Muslim statecraft per se than about a broader global configuration of sovereignty in South Asia and across much of the world during what is typically regarded as the era of high imperialism. The configuration of ‘fragmented sovereignty’ the book identifies in turn became the framework in which I situated Hyderabad’s wide range of political experimentation (certainly in Muslim statecraft, but also in frontier governance, social welfare programs, economic and urban planning, and other areas). This new framing allowed me to situate Hyderabad not only in relation to other Muslim states in South Asia and elsewhere, but to other political entities elsewhere in the world (not only the Ottomans and Malay States, but also Siam or Mysore). It also allowed me to explore the meanings and nature of connections between Muslim-ruled states more precisely as circuits of ‘Muslim internationalist’ solidarity that were resonant substantially, and at times predominantly, in areas like urban planning or constitutionalism that had little apparent connection with Islam as a body of scripturally-mediated ethical content.

There were several other changes that came out of my continuing research and the review process (both formal peer review, and the extensive comments and suggestions from generous friends and colleagues). This included writing brand new chapters to situate Hyderabad in relation to the world typologically, legally, and in terms of international connections; examine subjects I had only barely grazed in the dissertation (planning history and state welfare projects for example); or track the posthumous legacy of Hyderabad State and the form of sovereignty it represented.

I continue to encounter new sources and rethink implications of the arguments in the book, and want to think more about several of the topics therein. Some of my most useful reflections come from penetrating comments of new readers, and this conversation has been no exception (and I look forward to more comments from CM readers, should they be so generous as to offer them!). Thanks again, Qalandar, for your time and interest.

———
  1. Consolidation of postcolonial state sovereignty in Pakistan was itself a gradual and uneven process, as shown in Yaqoob Khan Bangash’s recent book. []
  2. Incidentally, the MIM also exemplifies the strategy, pioneered by nationalist leaders from the inter-war years onwards, of deploying mass mobilization – including in the form of militias – towards the anti-colonial cause, and eventually yoking militia power to state authority in the postcolonial era. On Hindu majoritarian violence, and particularly Sardar Patel’s role, see Arafaat Valiani’s book and CM XQ interview, and the recent work of Sunil Purushotham [link, link]. []