Free and Open to the Public
2019 CSA Annual Lecture
Mrinalini Sinha (University of Michigan- Ann Arbor), "What is a People? Some Lessons from Gandhi's India"
"There go my people. I must catch up with them, for I am their leader" is a remark often attributed to M. K. Gandhi. He is supposed to have said it on one of his marches to a reporter who had stopped him for an interview. Gandhi, more than any other leader, has indeed, been most closely associated with a people’s politics. While his unique ability to speak to the people is widely conceded, scholars continue to debate the extent to which he also spoke for the people. The sophistication of the scholarship on Gandhi and the people, notwithstanding, there has been little attention to the making of a people in Gandhi’s politics. What is a people? The question acquires particular urgency in our times: the resurgence, both globally and in India, of a politics in the name of the people (often referred to pejoratively as “populism”) has put it squarely on our agenda. This paper, in effect, is an attempt to explore the particular construction of a people in Gandhi’s politics on his arrival in India. It takes the movement for the abolition of the indentured labor system, the first public campaign with which Gandhi was involved upon his return to India, to explore the contours of the construction of a people. The aim of the paper is to contrast the invocation of a people in Gandhi’s India with contemporary claims to a people’s politics, in revolt against an establishment elite. In short, what might Gandhi’ s politics of a people have to offer to our times?
Mrinalini Sinha is Alice Freeman Palmer Professor in the Department of History and Professor in the Departments of English Language and Literature and of Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor. She has written on various aspects of the political history of colonial India, with a focus on anti-colonialism, gender, and transregional approaches. She is the author of Colonial Masculinity: The ‘manly Englishman’ and the ‘effeminate Bengali’ in the late nineteenth century (Manchester University Press, 1995), and of Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire (Duke University Press, 2006), which won the Joan Kelley Memorial Prize from the American Historical Association and the Albion Book Prize from the North American Conference of British Studies. She is currently working on a book project with the working title, “Complete Political Independence: The Curious History of a Nationalist Indian Demand,” for which she received the 2012 John Simon Memorial Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. Sinha also served as President of the Association of Asian Studies in 2015.