Sarath Pillai on the Influence of Nineteenth Century German Thought on Early Twentieth Century Indian Constitutionalists

In this episode, Shruti chats with Sarath Pillai about German lessons from India’s nationalism and constitutionalism and how those ideas have influenced modern day India.

SHRUTI RAJAGOPALAN: Welcome to Ideas of India, a podcast where we examine academic ideas that can propel India forward. My name is Shruti Rajagopalan, and this is the 2023 job market series, where I speak with young scholars entering the academic job market about their latest research on India. 

I spoke with Sarath Pillai, who is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at University of Pennsylvania. He holds a PhD in History from the University of Chicago, a Master of Studies in Law from Yale Law School, a MA in history from the University of Delhi, and a Postgraduate Diploma in archives and records management from the National Archives of India, Delhi.

We discussed his job market paper titled “German Lessons: Comparative Constitutionalism, States’ Rights, and Federalist Imaginaries in Interwar India,” recently published in “Comparative Studies in Society and History.” We spoke about how the views of the princely states on federalism and constitutionalism are different from the view of the Indian nationalists; the influence of German thought on India in the early twentieth century; subnationalism and federalism in modern day India and more.

For a full transcript of this conversation, including helpful links of all the references mentioned, click the link in the show notes or visit

Hi, Sarath. Thanks so much for joining us. It's a pleasure to have you here.

SARATH PILLAI: I'm thrilled to be here, and thanks for having me.

RAJAGOPALAN: Your job market paper in particular, is… One, it's an area I wasn't aware of at all and just got to learn so much. You basically describe and explain the influence of German history and German constitutionalism and constitutional theory and what that thinking had, how it influenced Indian federalists, especially those engaging in constitution-making for princely states, which are regional monarchies in pre-independent India.

To me, the core of your argument seems to be that from the perspective of the princely states, a central or a unitary form of government is not very suited to India as a whole because the region has so much variation, but also for their [the princely states’] own interest, it's not particularly suited: It [a unitary form of government] is going to directly infringe upon their powers and their sovereignty, and their operational authority.

Because of this federation of the kind that the princely states wanted, [it] was always going to be fundamentally incompatible with a British-style parliamentary democracy. Does that capture the fundamental issue of what was the thinking at that time?

PILLAI: Yes, I think that's a great way to put it. Let me begin by saying that there are two things that I'm attempting to do in that paper. The first is an overarching contextualization of the 1930s constitutional moment. One of the things that I want to say is that rather than seeing discourses around federalism or constitutionalism as beginning in [the] 1946 to '50 time period, which is a time when [the] Indian Constituent Assembly meets, there is a prehistory of these concepts and ideas being debated.

That is a larger framework of this paper, which is to really bring alive the 1930s, where there is a vigorous debate of concepts like federalism, constitutionalism, what is parliamentary democracy, and so on, outside of the framework of the nation-state. Rather than anachronistically placing the nation-state in the 1930s and '40s, which many accounts do, what I'm trying to say is, How do constitutional debates, and how do federal thinking and constitutional thinking, look like in the 1930s when there is not a pre-given endpoint to these debates? That is a larger context.

Within that, I'm interested in specifically seeing the debates around federalism and federation. What are the kinds of stakes involved in these debates? What are the ideas that are debated in this time period as opposed to, say, in the 1950s?

First of all, the people involved in these debates are very different from the people that you see in the 1950s or late 1940s. The key players in these debates are the leaders of the princely states, as well as the Muslim leaders, even though I don't go into great detail about Muslim federal thought in this article — I think I've mentioned maybe a page or two about it. In fact, I actually hope to write another article about Muslim federal thought just in the 1930s. What were the kinds of issues that they were debating?

The main thing that the princely states were concerned with was exactly preservation of their sovereignty. How do you do that? That cannot be done in a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, even though the UK is a constitutional monarchy. There is the institution of kingship, but they were not really enamored by that model at all.

They were, rather, interested in the German model because, in 1871, Germany had a federal constitution. The significance of that constitution was that it allowed the German princely states to retain their sovereignty — that was one — and also have [a] differential relationship with the federal center.

All the constitutional units did not have to be the same way as, for instance, it is in the case of the United States, [where] every state has the same representation, the Senate, or so on. That was something that the princely states were really interested in. Just as the Muslim leaders were also interested in this German model because it allowed for cultural peculiarities at the same time as the preservation of sovereignty. I think the sovereignty question is at the heart of the debates on federalism from the princely states in the 1930s. I think that is the kind of gesture that I'm trying to make in that article.

RAJAGOPALAN: I think it's important to note at this point that though the debates you are talking about are happening in the early 1930s, the German republic that they're talking about predates that time period by many decades. This discussion is happening in the interwar years. It's happening just before the rise of the Third Reich as we know it, this overly centralized global imperialist ascendancy of the German Republic. I think that's a useful thing to highlight.

Does this thought disappear precisely because of what happened to Germany by the end of the decade? Clearly, that federation breaks down and quite spectacularly so. And Germany also becomes yet another model of an imperial power. Is that the reason that this thinking just falls by the wayside, or is it because of other things that are happening in India?

PILLAI: That's a great question, and the answer to that is [that] in constitutional thinking, and when people debate constitutional models, as you know, they are not really concerned about it as a living model so much. These are really about comparative constitutional thought of ideas that already existed or were practiced. These people, all of them are barristers and lawyers that are very highly learned people who are engaged in these debates. They are very aware that this was a model that had already ended. [The] Weimar Constitution, which was already in place [when the] people were writing, had already taken a unitary turn from the federal times that these people were talking about.

It was not so much about the existence of existing federal models as opposed to the fact that there were similar historical conditions, and legal and constitutional conditions, that existed in other places, even at other times. The fact that Germany had princely states, and Germany had similar questions in the late 19th century, is what they're interested in, and not so much whether that is still the case right now. That's the sense I get from the materials.

RAJAGOPALAN: That makes perfect sense. The other thing that occurred to me when I was reading your paper, some of the references — we know K. M. Panikkar because he was also in the Constituent Assembly of India, but you are looking at the work by [Frederick] Whyte, by K. M. Panikkar, by [K. N.] Haksar — and some of the work that they rely on predate another important German thinker of that time, which is Carl Schmitt.

To me, the Schmitt critique of parliamentary democracy, which is that it [parliamentary democracy] requires a very high degree of homogeneity to succeed, seems crucial to what you are saying about what was going on with Indian federal thought. Because they [Indian thinkers] fundamentally had the same issue with the British colonial state. This is a highly centralized unitary model. Even if you bring in some kind of voting to accommodate different regions or some kind of variation, you’re still going to flatten it out by imposing this homogenous electoral parliamentary system on it. Is that another thought that is coming in? Are all these learnings taking place simultaneously?

PILLAI: That's a great question and a great thought. What is interesting about this is — I always get asked when I present this research in front of European historians, non-South Asian historians, let's put it that way — sometimes they [historian] ask whether these people [involved in India’s constitutional debates] actually had connections with the Weimar state. Did they actually talk to them? Did they know, did they read Schmitt, and so on?

There is a larger global European context of anti-parliamentarism and anti-democracy in place at this point in time. In fact, there are researchers looking at that. I'm particularly thinking of — I think Tejas Parasher's book has just come out about the critique of [a] kind of representative democracy. That context is very important, the context of “no uncritical acceptance” or the context of critiquing parliamentary democracy. Which is very hard to accept when we think of the nationalist framework because we think that that was always the case. Everyone liked parliamentary democracy all the time. Someone like Schmitt or someone like Panikkar come together on that context so that they both are critical of parliamentary democracy.

In fact, I engaged with Schmitt's work in a great fashion in my dissertation. In fact, I find him very useful to think about the importance of the conception of the political or the conception of sovereignty, what I find interesting, and especially his work on “Constitutional Theory,” which is a book I think always gets overlooked as opposed to his “Political Theology” or “The Conception of the Political.” He talks about how federation always brings about the question of sovereignty, and how that question is very difficult to resolve in a federation, because federation brings about the classic question whether the sovereignty lies with the center or with the constituent states.

In some way, these princely states leaders are very much aware of the question of sovereignty. I think there is a greater scholarship, especially in postcolonial societies, that read federalism through multiculturalism: for instance, whether you have the freedom to practice your religion, language and so on. But what we see in this moment is not just an investment in [the] cultural question, but the political question.

It's the question of sovereignty. We are a state, can we have our sovereignty? For the Muslims, we are a nation and our province has to have sovereignty. I think sovereignty is at the base of these debates. I think to that extent, someone like Schmitt is so relevant in seeing some of these questions, even though they don't align very much in terms of chronology, [and] they come in different time periods, yes.

RAJAGOPALAN: No, I think this is super interesting, and you're absolutely right. We never hear the question of sovereignty when it comes to states because once you have walked away from that, and you've created a union of states, now the battle is for autonomy or for decentralization. It is not for sovereignty because sovereignty is off the table now. Now all the states are battling it out for autonomy when it comes to provision of public goods or how much of the public finance that they raise they're allowed to hold on to. How much can they dictate what their local government does? Can they refuse to implement a centrally sponsored scheme?

To me, these are questions of the level of decentralization and autonomy, because sovereignty is now only with the Union of India, as we know it. That's the big break post-1950 that takes place in India. It may have set in even pre-1950, but this is a big one.

There's an interesting distinction I found which I'm not able to articulate well, that was there both in your Germany paper and also your paper on Travancore, on the difference between a union and a federation. This difference is completely underappreciated now, we just don't know it. Can you tell me constitutionally, what is the difference between these two words and also, in the context of how this played out in the debates in the interwar years that you're talking about?

PILLAI: That's a great topic that I always find interest in, and especially in explaining that, as well. From a purely constitutional perspective and depending on who you read or the country that you look at, “union” in most contexts basically means that constituent states do not have sovereignty. They delegate the sovereignty to the central government. One example that the nationalists, including influential members of the Constituent Assembly like N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar for instance, thought about was the Union of South Africa Act, which was [in] 1909, which was a parliamentary act, and it was for a union. The constitution basically created a union.

In that, you will see that the sovereignty really rests with the parliament. The idea that in a union the sovereignty rests with a parliament or single unit, as opposed to in a federation where sovereignty is divided, is one that primarily distinguishes federation and union. In the Indian context, as you know, Ambedkar was very reluctant to use the phrase federation in the constitution. In fact, he said that in the Constituent Assembly. When I was reading the private papers of B. N. Rau, I was quite struck by the fact that he [Ambedkar] had wanted union to be there in the draft constitution.

In fact, in my longish review of Arvind Elangovan’s book, which appeared in “New Rambler, I write about this issue, the union versus a federation terminology, and how B. N. Rau was on the other side on this question compared to Ambedkar and other nationalists. In India, the idea that federation would mean that there is more than one seat of sovereignty was a sensitive question, and thereby to the extent that people were even reluctant to use the word federation in the constitution. We ended up having union. In Ambedkar's language, it is an indestructible union, and it is a union that doesn't permit secession.

The states cannot secede from the union. It is a permanent union. I think in some ways that is the difference. South Africa really plays a role as ideational model, at least for some of these people, in thinking about [it], because that was a colony and that was a legislation made by the British Parliament. Some people looked at the 1935 Act in comparison with the Union of South Africa Act, which was a unitary constitution whereas our 1935 Act was a federal constitution.

RAJAGOPALAN: The other reason I ask is that these words have now flipped in one sense, and I mean that in the sense of the European Union, which if we use your terminology, is actually a federation: The individual countries never gave up their sovereignty, they just decided to delegate certain things or pool certain things to create a common market. Whereas India is known as a federal state, the United States is a federal state. In some sense, it just feels like these things come in waves in different centuries and the very specific context in which the words are used, they almost flip, if you look at it 100 years later.

PILLAI: Yes, that's a good point. In fact, I reflected on the debate between union and center. In India there is a debate between… for instance, in Tamil Nadu, there was a controversy whether the state government should be using the terminology “central government” at all, and they decided that they won't use the terminology “central government.” In fact, I wrote an article in the “India in Transition” series for CASI reflecting on this question.

I basically argued that central government is equally a historical term, especially in nationalist thought. The nationalists have been using — in “Nehru Report and other nationalist documents — the idea of central government, even though it doesn't exist in the constitution. For constitution, it is a union government.

RAJAGOPALAN: It is Union of India, yes.

PILLAI: One more terminology is important for India: federal, union — and central. All three are related to each other, they are posited against each other, sometimes they sit together and so on.

RAJAGOPALAN: There are two parts to this. One, in a lot of constitutional theory and jurisprudence, there's this sense that there's a constitutional moment. Some magic happens when the constitution is adopted, which is a clean structural break between the past and the future, as we think of it. As opposed to another view, which is that constitution-making happens over decades and centuries. To me, this very much feels like an inheritance of the latter, or rather a symptom of the latter school of thought, which is [that] India was already heavily centralized because there was a tiny group of British civil servants governing things from Whitehall and the India office. Further down, of course, they had officers in India.

Then the people who take over that official machinery are either people like V. P. Menon and B. N. Rau, who were both incidentally involved in the 1935 Government of India Act and [were asking], How do we operationalize that in India? — especially when it comes to provinces and the federal status and so on. The people who are elected to the Constituent Assembly are basically… not all of them are elected: there are many people who are sent from the princely states. But those who are elected, are elected based on the Government of India Act 1935. This is the model that sets up the provincial elections.

It seems like there is a longer history to who is writing these rules and how they are interpreting these words. It might say Union of India, but it has this massive centralizing tendency because of the machinery that has been inherited over 100 years and also by those who happen to be the operators of that machinery at that point in time.

PILLAI: I think that's again, a great way to see it. There are certain scholars who see the Indian Constitution as a break with the past — it's a radical rupture. So [it’s] the social question… For instance, Granville Austin's way of thinking about the constitution as a social revolutionary document: In that model, there is a rupture, there is a break with the colonial past.

I, as a historian, would like to see continuities more than rupture because one just cannot ignore the fact that two-thirds of the Government of India Act figures in the Indian Constitution, even though we don't have much scholarship on it. Even the Indian legal history or Indian constitutional history sometimes takes this rupture of the making of independent India as a very formative moment so much so that it even sets a benchmark for scholarship pre versus post in really clear terms.

I think one of the things that I'm trying to do through my research is to actually make this problem of easy rupture, or not seeing the 1930s and '40s as formative for 1950, more complicated. It is true that these actors were sidelined and silenced in many ways. The princely states were holed up in 1950, and they really did not have any great power at that time, that's true. The Muslims had separated and gone away to Pakistan for sure, but I think the specter of these ideas really haunted the members of the Constituent Assembly. I think we need to see how these ideas would've played a role even as a specter, even if it was only that, even if there was no pure political potential of princely states remaining independent, even though legally it was possible. If you're a realist or political, if you're really interested in political realism, you could say that the princely states could never have been independent.

RAJAGOPALAN: For me, I think some of this just comes from a bit of a historical accident in scholarship, in that Granville Austin is the first one to really pull together a history of Indian constitution making as it happened between 1946 and 1950. Basically, he's relying on materials that were perfectly documented at a moment in time. He comes in about 15 years later.

The people who have in one sense written the constitution are slowly fading away. Many of them have passed on. Many of them are no longer active in politics. It's really the first moment it is important to even sit down and write it as a history, and the person who happens to do it is doing it off RP [Rajendra Prasad] papers, who is basically the president of the assembly.

That is the source material for the first historical telling of what happened. I think that became the anchor in one sense. Everything else was either a critique of that or a continuation of that. And it's taken us almost 50, 60 years to come out of it. For a very long time, that was the existing scholarship. Everything is post-independence, or at least post-1946 — Constituent Assembly debates and so on.

Now I feel like there's this big revival that is taking place almost. For instance, I learned recently from a paper that Rohit De and Ornit Shani have written about how there weren't one or two, but hundreds of different constitutions that were in the process of being written by princely states — and these are sometimes tiny princely states. I'm not just talking about the state of Travancore or the Nizam or something like, you know, people who are really important and powerful. Some of these are really, really tiny, and they're still figuring out their question of sovereignty. You have Rahul Sagar and his recent work on rediscovering T. Madhava Rao. In fact, T. Madhava Rao's draft constitution is in the appendix of his volume. You have your colleague Arvind Elangovan, who is looking at this through the lens of what B. N. Rau was trying to do in making the 1935 Act more compatible with the existing state machinery and operationalizing it for the provinces and so on.

I feel like we're rediscovering the past in a very different way. Do you get the same feeling, one, given that you are in it? Second, to what do you think we owe this revival almost against the Austinian narrative?

PILLAI: That's a great question. I am very fresh from having spent three weeks at Princeton University Library reading the private papers of Granville Austin. In fact, I got a grant from the library, so I spent three weeks just reading his papers. There are 40 boxes of Granville Austin papers at Princeton University Library, and I went through each of them.

I was quite surprised that his conception of the Indian Constitution, as you rightly mentioned, was so narrowed down to the Constituent Assembly and to the members of the Constituent Assembly. He was in good close contact with many of the members of the Constituent Assembly at that time, or the former members of the Constituent Assembly because he was researching in the late 1950s.

He had personal access to the papers of many of these former Constituent Assembly members. In some ways, it is not surprising that someone like Austin would come out with a highly nationalist account of the making of the Indian Constitution. His first book doesn't spend any time on the princely states or the Muslim states or the Muslim minorities and so on.

Seeing the Indian Constitution as a consensual document is Austin's contribution to it. I think people are questioning that now. For instance, Arvind has an article on the non-national, his “History Compass” article. So, I think that is happening now precisely because I think there is a greater scrutiny on [the] Indian Constitution now, for one, and also there is a greater recognition that this Indian Constitution was not a unanimous political document. In fact, it was shaped by political processes and ideas that exceeded the Indian Constituent Assembly. So, I think one of the things that Rohit and Ornit are also trying to show is that we need to look at what's happening outside of the Constituent Assembly. That is important.

One more thing that I would say about that question purely from a historian's perspective, is that what I find interesting about these debates and as a player in these debates is the possibility of thinking about constitution and law outside of the framework of the nation-state and nationalism.

I was interviewing for a post-doc position last year at a top law school, and I had a very difficult time explaining how constitutionalism would look like from a non-nation-state perspective. That made me realize that even in the United States with advanced legal scholarship, this is a question that doesn't really get automatically accepted or related well, in the sense that law as a discipline is very nationalist and nation-state oriented.

When you look at the 1930s and '40s, what we really see is people thinking about constitutionalism outside of the framework of the nation-state. Outside of the framework of nationalism. Outside of the framework of democracy. We are also thinking of recovering an alternative constitutionalism which is neither nationalist nor democratic nor parliamentary.

I think in this new revival, especially through the pre-history of federalism, I'm hoping that there would be space for thinking about legal history through actors who were not nationalists, or people who did not imagine nation-state and parliamentary democracy as the endpoint. And they were very legal: These were very legal debates. But we cannot really see law and constitution as only leading to nationalism and nation-state.

RAJAGOPALAN: I'll tell you what my hunch is on the reason for the revival, and I think it's been long coming. I think for the longest time we associated nationalism with some form of liberalism because the nationalist movement was anti-colonial, and we know that the colonial power is heavily infringed on individual liberty, and so on.

Now I think once you have no colonialism and you have nationalism and constitutionalism, there is now a very strange tension between the two. The allegiance to the nation-state is very different from the allegiance to constitutional principles that guarantees individual liberty and so on and so forth. In the midst of this, there is obviously the question of federalism, which is once again, against this idea of nationalism, which requires this uniformity to be imposed across all different states, all different regions — in fact, for the first four, five decades, it's a centrally planned economy. Then there is a break away from that.

To me, it almost feels like in the last 30 years, this has been long coming, because we are finally realizing that nationalism when it was anti-colonial, can be liberal, can be compatible with federalism and so on. Nationalism, post-colonialism, is not quite compatible with all the other constitutional values that we're looking for. Now suddenly the nationalist lens of looking at the constitution is not so great. It's now full of flaws. We can run a truck through this, right?

PILLAI: Yes, I think that as a historian, the way to look at that is how, at different time periods in history, opposing groups of people embrace ideas. For instance, this is happening in the United States too. Who are the people who support state autonomy when the Republicans are in power as opposed to the Democrats are in power? Even something like the powers of the state can become a shifting category in the United States.

Today someone like Partha Chatterjee who's a Subaltern historian is writing about federalism and federation. But they did not really engage with that question when the Subaltern studies group was in existence or when they were writing about it. I think what is happening is federalism is becoming a site for resisting authoritarianism and hindu majoritarianism and so on in a way that people did not really think about in the '50s or '60s and so on.

There is a shift that happens with these ideas, and the people who are propelling these ideas at different periods in history. I think there's no greater example than federalism and nationalism and all these big “-isms” that keep changing.

RAJAGOPALAN: For me, the interesting thing is that the same things that, for instance, you said the Subaltern historians are raising now, or the political theories are raising about federalism today, are the kinds of questions that Whyte and Haksar and Panikkar are raising 90 years before. I think to me, that's the interesting thing. They're trying to get the same outcome, sovereignty is part of that: It's the means to the end that they want, but the end is that they want to have control over their lives and destiny.

PILLAI: Exactly.

RAJAGOPALAN: Away from this authoritarianism. They're actually, in a sense, engaging in a very similar project. Of course now through the modern lens, it seems not so cool because they're not all for elections. They're not all for universal adult franchise. Things that we now just take for granted across the world, especially in India, those things are just not being discussed quite in the same positive light. They're very skeptical about those questions. So, it feels like, “oh, they're very regressive,” but actually they're dealing with the exact same questions that you are wrestling with in one sense.

PILLAI: That's a good way to put it. I think I completely take that. But there could be some level of discomfort in associating purely with the Panikkar or Whyte view of thinking about these questions precisely because they were not committed to democracy the way the people who are debating federalism today are. Democracy is unquestionable. No one wants to have the princes walking around in India anymore.

There are certain fundamental questions that differentiate this moment from that moment. I think what it also shows is that these are very malleable concepts and ideas, which in some way we have forgotten because we have been given to believe federalism in so and so ways, or nationalism as a nation-state and so on, so on. But I do find it really interesting how the same idea can be debated by people in different ideological positions or political positions and in different time periods.

That is not suggest that it is all the same, but I think seeing the differences and the similarities are very enlightening. I think that says a lot about the concept itself, probably more than the people who debate them.

RAJAGOPALAN: I feel like… This is particularly my public choice background kicking in. I feel like we have to have some healthy skepticism for people who were elected democratically, too. Let's not forget that in this entire loss of sovereignty, the players are people who won elections in the provincial elections in 1946. In one sense, depending on your point of view, the princely states are villains because they allied with the British crown, and they made all these side deals and never quite participated in the nationalist movement. Nizam is like the biggest of the villains because he didn't want to be part of Union of India and so on.

On the other hand, if you look at it as, “oh, if you don't take democracy as a given great thing,” let's not forget, there was a lot of coercion that was in play in stitching the union together. When we say loss of sovereignty, we're somehow, the phrase itself makes it seem like we lost a set of keys.

Whereas some of this was happening at gunpoint, some of this is happening with the military being brought in. This is not happening, except in a couple of places in Gujarat or Kashmir, with referendum. Everywhere else, it's pretty coercive. There's not much choice. It's interesting to think about these things having this a hundred-year benefit or this 80-year benefit from when the question was first posed.

One last question for you. You've written a fascinating article about not just studying the question of federalism, but how we study it depending on where the archives emerge from, versus who collects and stores and archives the documents. There's a centralizing versus federal element in that. How does that impact the scholarship all of us are trying to do on the federal question?

PILLAI: I think it has a tremendous impact. In some ways, it is no accident that I was able to write this dissertation or the articles that I've written because I had access to archives in the US and UK, which have been more successful in retaining archives from vernacular centers and regional centers than the state of India itself [has been].

What is very interesting about the Indian archival system is, as you know, there were 560 princely states, and all of them were integrated into British provinces or where combined to create new states and so on. As a result, many of these archives that all of these Princely States had, fell through the cracks, and we actually do not know sometimes where they ended up or where they are now, and so on.

So, in some ways, there is a scarcity of these materials from the 30s and 40s that would actually allow us to write, I want to say, a more expansive history of federalism than we have when we are only looking at sources from Delhi or London, and so on. I think one of the things that we must accomplish is by writing the history of federalism from the regional centers and from vernacular centers.

I think that is going to be the game changer in some ways, because then the perspectives and the questions and the stakes of these questions are going to be very different. The existing archival system has a lot of limitations because there's only one law that is legislated by the Indian Parliament, the Public Records Act, which is the only one law that guides the archival management process across the country. The states have their own rules, which makes it very difficult to access or even ensure that records are properly kept and managed, and so on.

There is that problem, but I think we should proactively consult materials at the regional and local and vernacular level to balance the views and voices and also bring to bear new voices that existed in the past.

RAJAGOPALAN: No, absolutely.

PILLAI: I don't think that exactly answers the question, but…

RAJAGOPALAN: I think you're getting at it because it's fundamentally a question of who gets to write our history. To some extent, just like we talked about in the case of Granville Austin people who are writing our history are relying on some source material. Then the second-order question becomes who gets to preserve our history or call something a historical document. I think you largely answered the question. It's not as unrelated as it seems at first blush.

PILLAI: I think the question of archive is important also because it is very politicized. One of the things that I was quite struck by is the absence of certain records about federal debates even in a progressive state like Travancore. It is quite possible that the post-colonial political circumstances of some of these states would have impacted their attitude toward the preservation of certain historical records.

For instance, Travancore wanted to be independent, it was a secessionist state, and we find little about these things within Kerala, but I can find that in London. That raises interesting questions about whether the post-colonial state of Kerala maybe was not as interested in some of these questions as… I'm just like, I don't have any clear evidence to suggest, but I think that is a certain kind of irony in saying that you can see something in London and not within the state.

RAJAGOPALAN: Absolutely, and it's not that surprising, right? They were the first to elect a communist party democratically, which wants a clear and radical break from the monarchic past. In some sense, you are right that you can't say these things for certain, we need more records, but common sense also points us to, we know there are some obvious reasons for why this is happening.

Also, London has a better record probably because they were writing to their allies in London on how to resist this huge centralizing force that was coming their way either through the Constituent Assembly of India or the transfer of power that was taking place. This is fascinating, is this going to turn into a book of some sort? What can I look forward to next?

PILLAI: That's the plan. I'm in the process of revising the dissertation for a book manuscript and, I hope to do that soon. I'm approaching some publishers by the end of this year.

RAJAGOPALAN: Great, I look forward to reading the book, and thank you so much for doing this. This was such a pleasure.

PILLAI: Thank you so much for having me. I greatly enjoyed the conversation.

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