Just Transitions and Forgotten Annexations of Sovereignties in the Decolonial Moment (South Asia 1947-1948)

Swati Birla, State University of New York-New Paltz

Between 1947 and 1975 in South Asia, the newly created nation state of India merged several sovereignties like Kashmir, Hyderabad, Manipur, Nagaland among others into the Union, by coercion and military annexation. Most of these regions, since then, have been under occupation by the Indian military and have seen an active secessionist politics. The annexation of these states is a defining, though understudied event, that threatens the linear historical narrative of transition of South Asia from colony to nation. As such it brings to fore the tense relations between two global processes namely, the disappearance of old states and the arrival of new nation states after World War 2. This presentation will examine a specific case, the fall of the largest and most complex sovereignty – State of Hyderabad – after its negotiations for autonomy from India failed. At the time of its annexation the Hyderabad question was in the Security Council of the U.N and later disappeared by 1949 with no discussion. The drama of this annexation of sovereign states in the age of decolonization, I argue, is a hidden tract within the triumphalist histories of decolonization and the non-Alignment politics of Bandung where India was an important actor. Forgetting the annexation is necessary to constitute the postcolonial archive of a nation, and to project the nation as a “post”- colony. With the cartographic oblivion of these states ideas of self-determination and autonomy that did not conform to the nation-state project were rendered illegitimate and illegible. In this paper, using the archives of 1948 I privilege a regional reading of the emergence of nation states in post 1945 world as a counter to the utopian imaginations and amnesias of the post-war periodization of history that sees 1948 as the end of empire and the beginning of decolonization.

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 Presented in Session 163. The Histories and Vocabularies of Liberation: Before and after 1948