David Gilmartin on Sovereignty in South Asia

On the 26th of January, the eminent historian of South Asia Dr. David Gilmartin arrived at the UW to deliver a lecture on popular sovereignty and democracy in South Asia. Before the lecture, there was an open question-and-answer session over chai and samosas. Both professors and students participated in this session, asking Dr. Gilmartin questions of all sorts. The discussion tended to focus mostly on Dr. Gilmartin’s intellectual career, as well as his latest book ‘Blood and Water: The Indus River Basin in Modern History,’ on which he delivered a lecture the next day at the Seattle Art Museum.

In the talk, Dr. Gilmartin began by elaborating on the German political theorist Carl Schmitt’s concept of sovereignty and political theology. Dr. Gilmartin then presented an alternative model, where sovereignty is derived not from a God-like above-and-beyond as in Schmitt, but from an idea of asceticism. Dr. Gilmartin presented two examples to argue this– the first was the figure of Gandhi, and the second was the introduction of formal elections in modern Indian history. This was followed by a lively round of questions and answers, which continued informally over more chai and samosas.