Crisis, custom, and capital: The political thought of Bombay’s ‘moderate’ nationalists

Vikram Visana

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract / Description of output

Until the 1860s political and social reform were conceptualised and carried out in autonomous realms by Indian activisits and early nationalists. Constitutional reformers like Rammohun Roy pushed for greater political representation on the one hand and attempted to rationalise Hinduism in an effort to mimic Western norms in these separate spheres. My paper identifies the mid-nineteenth century, and specifically the economic crisis that ravaged Bombay in 1866, as a turning point in Indian nationalism. I suggest that following this crash the businessman and ‘father of Indian nationalism,’ Dadabhai Naoroji developed a decidedly global perspective on ‘civilisation’ and its progress, one that was intimately linked to business and political economy. His political paradigm suggested that economic development was foundational to the progress and development of all the other spheres of civilised life: political, social and religious.

In particular I show how Naoroji, who was based in England during the ongoing debates surrounding democracy, municipal reform, labour rights and so forth, came to be heavily influenced by the works of John Stuart Mill. Appropriating Mill’s specific conceptualisations of custom and capital, and their relation to creating modern citizens, Naoroji and his coevals’ formulated a notion of British imperial citizenship that was decoupled from the cultural and racial biases in which British liberalism was otherwise embedded. Indeed, Naoroji’s economic and social activism in Britain, as a Liberal MP, showed the extent to which this recalibrated Indian liberalism allowed Indians to regard Britain as not yet fully civilised. I hope to show how political ideas are bounded by the institutional mediums in which they are received – in this case the world of global business and the impact this has had on the secularity of Indian nationalism.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2013
EventOxbridge Critical Exchanges: Rethinking Globalism and Foreignness - St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Jun 2013 → …


ConferenceOxbridge Critical Exchanges: Rethinking Globalism and Foreignness
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period7/06/13 → …


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