The Locality and the Moral Community: Interpreting Muslim Separate Electorates in Twentieth-Century India

Sunday, January 9, 2011: 8:50 AM
Room 207 (Hynes Convention Center)
David Gilmartin , North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
The British introduction into India in the early 20th century of Muslim “separate electorates” (that is, separate electoral rolls for Muslims in the election of legislative representatives) has long been seen as central to the ultimate development of the demand for Pakistan.  Yet the complex meanings of separate electorates in the contexts of both local politics and debates on the meaning of “Muslim community” in India has been little studied.   Some (such as Farzana Shaikh) have argued that separate electorates embodied a fundamental contradiction:  they represented a mechanism for Muslim elites (the ashraf, or high-born) to come to terms with electoral representation, without having to come to terms with the new forms of substantive representation that were implicit in elections.  Yet, it could be argued, the transformation of “Muslim community” into a structure defined by elections had, in the end, profound effects.  This paper will ground a discussion of separate elections in a consideration of the tensions between local authority and moral community that was implicit in the introduction of elections into the colonial hierarchies of British India.  While arguing that the introduction of separate electorates did, indeed, in some ways point toward the coming of Pakistan, it will argue at the same time that separate electorates (and their local workings) provide insight, far more broadly, into transformations into the complex relationships between local power and moral community that cannot be fully contained within a narrative of the “nation.”