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COMPARISON OF TAMIL POLITICAL MOVEMENTS

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The call for democracy was central to rebuffing claims that Congress represented a “microscopic minority” that could not speak for the mass of the Indian population. In claiming to represent the Indian nation as a whole, mainstream nationalism also had to address the tension between its assertion of political unity and India’s social heterogeneity. Sarkar suggests that the Constitution’s special provision for minorities and the commitment for federalism result from the exigencies of mobilizing a mass anti-colonial struggle. Assertions that Congress could not speak for the minorities, particularly Muslims and the Untouchables, led to the Lucknow Pact with Muslim leaders in 1916 and the Poona Pact of 1932 that provided reserved seats for scheduled castes. Likewise India’s federal constitution is not a simple inheritance of the federal structure of the 1935 Government of India Act. As early as 1905 the Bengali nationalist Bipinchandra Pal was arguing that “autonomy for India…Presupposes the autonomy of every race and community” (Ibid., 31). Although nationalists saw federalism as a way of augmenting Indian unity, the federal principles of the 1935 Government of India Act were designed to fragment Congress into provincial units, whilst retaining the princely states as a countervailing pro-British balance to nationalist aspirations. According to Sarkar, federalism stems from the need to create a unified nationalist struggle from a highly heterogeneous population. A discourse of ‘unity and diversity’ became standard in mature Indian nationalism, particularly in the context of deepening Hindu– Muslim conflicts. This was often vague, platitudinous, and open to diverse interpretations, yet it did involve a recognition of plurality of religions, languages, and cultures that logically favoured federalism rather than any totally centralised polity. (Ibid., 31) The strong and important connections between the compulsions of the Congress-led anti-colonial struggle and the contours of India’s post-colonial politics do not support the conclusion that Congress was actually the mobilized expression of mass nationalist sentiment. As Cambridge school historiography has shown, nationalist mobilization relied on factional patron client networks and did not challenge the feudal- and caste-based power of Congress’ rural patrons. Congress’ post-colonial electoral dominance continued to rely on the same rural patrons who mobilized their vote banks in return for state patronage. As Sudipta Kaviraj has argued, the continuation of patron client politics and the indirect mobilization that this supports reflects the nationalist elite’s failure to create “a popular common sense about the political world, taking the new conceptual vocabulary of rights, institutions and impersonal power into the vernacular everyday discourses of rural or

Sagar XVII — 2007  
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