Colloquium Series: How India Became Democratic

2018 Feb 02, Friday
Seminar Hall, 10th Floor, Pixel A (Azim Premji University)

About the Lecture

How India Became Democratic explores the greatest experiment in democratic human history. It tells the untold story of the preparation of the electoral roll on the basis of universal adult franchise in the world's largest democracy. The book offers a new view of the institutionalisation of democracy in India, and of the way democracy captured the political imagination of its diverse peoples. Turning all adult Indians into voters against the backdrop of the partition of India and Pakistan, and in anticipation of the drawing up of a constitution, was a staggering task. Indians became voters before they were citizens; by the time the constitution came into force in 1950, the abstract notion of universal franchise and electoral democracy were already grounded. Drawing on rich archival materials, the book shows how the Indian people were a driving force in the making of democratic citizenship as they struggled for their voting rights.

The talk explores how the principle and institution of universal franchise attained meaning and entered the political imagination of Indians. It argues that it was the way in which the preparation of the first electoral roll on the basis of adult franchise became part of popular narratives that played an essential role in connecting people to a popular democratic political imagination. The bureaucrats who managed the operation communicated their directives for the preparation of electoral rolls as a story through press notes, which were widely discussed in the press. People could insert themselves into this narrative as its protagonists. This process, in turn, gave rise to a collective passion for democracy, contributing to the democratisation of feelings and imagination.


About the Speaker

Ornit Shani is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Asian Studies, University of Haifa. She is a scholar of the politics and modern history of India. Ornit received her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. She was a Research Fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge University. Her current research focuses on the modern history of democracy and citizenship in India. Her new book is How India Became Democratic: Citizenship and the Making of the Universal Franchise, Cambridge University Press, 2017 (Indian edition with Penguin Random House India, 2018). Ornit holds an Israeli Science Foundation (ISF) grant for her sequel project: ‘Embedding Democracy: the Social History of India’s First Elections’. Her other areas of research are the history of India’s constitutionalism, the rise of Hindu Nationalism, identity and caste politics, communal and caste violence. She is the author of Communalism, Caste, and Hindu Nationalism: The Violence in Gujarat (Cambridge University Press, 2007).