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A Biography of Citizenship in India

Radhika Mongia

By Niraja Gopal Jayal
Permanent Black, Ranikhet, 2013, pp. viii 366, Rs. 795.00


Niraja Gopal Jayal’s Citizenship and Its Discontents: An Indian History presents what she variously calls a history of ideas, a genealogy, or a biography of citizenship in India. Standing as the proxy for ‘the Indian people’, citizenship is the tragic protagonist of her story. Every story of citizenship is, necessarily, also a story of the state. In Jayal’s account, the state in India, particularly in its postcolonial iterations, is the villain, continually thwarting the possibilities for the emergence of a robust citizenship. Whether it is its abysmal record as reflected in the Human Development Index, its somnambulant approach to providing universal primary education, a developmental agenda inextricably tied to predatory capitalism, the leakages and corruption that characterize recent welfare schemes, or a bureaucratic machinery that thrives on inefficiency, Jayal’s critique of the post-Independence state is unflinching and well documented, ensuring that one cannot characterize it as polemic. Her account is a welcome riposte to those convinced that India is rising, if not shining.   However, if this is the overarching moral thrust of her narrative, the book accomplishes far more in its comprehensive and cogent account of the formal architecture of the citizenship regime in India. Its three substantive sections are organized as an exploration into three key dimensions of citizenship: as legal status describing and circumscribing membership; as a bundle of rights and entitlements; and as identity and belonging. Further, each section covers the late colonial period, an important interregnum period of the Constituent Assembly Debates(CAD) that produced the Indian Constitution, and the extended post-Independence period.   The first section leads us through a dense and diverse discussion of the particularities and peculiarities of legal membership and its entailments in the three periods. Jayal makes a fruitful analytical distinction between imperial citizenship and colonial citizenship to refer, respectively, to the entitlements of membership within the broader geography of the British Empire, and those that pertained with respect to the colonial state within India. This enables Jayal to traverse the contestations attendant on the rights attached to membership within India as well as those that obtained with regard to Indian migrants across empire, usefully complicating the un-interrogated territorial closure that often attends explorations of citizenship. Her review of the principles of jus soli (membership by birth on the soil) and jus sanguinis (membership by blood-based descent), that typically subtend claims to membership, shows how these principles, and attendant ...

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