How India Became Democratic: Citizenship and the Masking of the Universal Franchise–A Discussion with Dr. Ornit Shani

Tuesday, April 24, 2018
3:00 PM – 4:15 PM
The Elliott School of International Affairs
Lindner Family Commons, Room 602
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 institutionalization 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 democratization of feelings and imagination.
This event is free and open to the public.
About the Speaker:
Ornit Shani is a scholar of politics and modern history of India. Her research focuses on the modern history of democracy and citizenship in India, as well as the rise of Hindu Nationalism, identity and caste politics, and communal and caste violence. Dr. Ornit was a Research Fellow at St. John’s College, Cambridge University and holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge. Her new book How India Became Democratic: Citizenship and the Making of the Universal Franchise explores the creation of the electoral roll and universal adult franchise in India. Dr. Shani’s other research interests include modern South Asia, democracy and democratization, India’s constitutionalism, India legal history, Indian elections, nationalism, and identity politics.

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