ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Political Theory at Large

How Migrants Shaped the Discourse and Practice of Colonial States

Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State by Radhika Mongia, Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2019; pp ix+ 230, ₹ 695.


At the foundation of classical Western political theory lies the assumption of the polis; a fairly stable, neatly outlined territory demarcated by borders or walls, within which statecraft is practised by privileged citizens over peoples and things. In the career of Western political theory, the need for a bounded and well-defined territory is supreme for any politics to be practised. With the establishment of the Westphalian system of nation states, modern political theory and its orthodoxies of sovereignty, borders, and citizenship were established too. Radhika Mongia’s Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State is a major intervention in the historiography of making of Western political theory that runs contrary to the above settled assumptions, and puts colonialism and labour migration firmly at the centre of how state and sovereignty were imagined by the imperial powers. The book also demonstrates with great perspicuity, the ways in which migration and colonial subjects who moved constantly, came to be the core of how nation was imagined by the early nationalists, including Gandhi. In four succinct and brilliantly argued chapters with complete control of sources at hand, Mongia traces the discontents within the liberal theory of freedom vis-à-vis labour and empire, lays bare the mechanism of bureaucratic control over migrants’ bodies, charts how colonial power intervenes in the public–private divide, and unearths the deeply racial profiling that is at the foundation of the making of the passport and visa regime and, ultimately, the nation state.

Many-headed Hydra of Migrants

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Updated On : 5th Jul, 2019
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