Global Governance Centre
02 April 2024

Book Launch Vidéo: Sovereignty, International Law, and the Princely States of Colonial South Asia

Watch the launch event for Priyasha Saksena's book: Sovereignty, International Law, and the Princely States of Colonial South Asia that took place online on 14.03.2024.

What constitutes a sovereign state in the international legal sphere? This question has been central to international law for centuries. 

In her talk, Priyasha Saksena explored the history of sovereignty through an analysis of jurisdictional politics involving the princely states of colonial South Asia, which were ruled by local rulers and were not considered to be British territory. Instead, they remained subject to British influence exercised through political officers, resulting in enduring controversies over whether they were sovereign states. She traced how the language of sovereignty became the discourse for debating the legal status of the princely states and, in this way, mediated the exercise of political power in colonial South Asia. Focusing on the period between the mid-eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, she examined how international lawyers, British politicians, colonial officials, rulers and bureaucrats of princely states, and anticolonial nationalists continually redefined the concept of sovereignty. Assertions of sovereignty enabled these players to rely on the vocabulary of international law to resolve questions of legal status, the extent of rights, and the proper exercise of powers, and to construct a political order that was in line with their interests and aspirations. By invoking the vernacular of sovereignty in contrasting ways to support their differing visions of world order, these actors also attempted to reconfigure the boundaries among the spheres of the national, the imperial, and the international. Exploring the disputes and debates over the princely states is, therefore, key to understanding the history of sovereignty, the construction of the modern Indian nation-state, and the scope and stakes of international law itself.

Supported by commentators Professor Mohammad Shahabuddin, Chair in International Law and Human Rights, University of Birmingham and Dr. Sarath Pillai, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI), University of Pennsylvania and moderated by Dr. Lys Kulamadayil, Swiss National Sciences Foundation Ambizione Fellow, Geneva Graduate Institute, the talk was followed by a quick Q&A.

This event was part of the ‘Law by Colour Code: Locating Race and Racism in International Law’ project funded by the Swiss National Sciences Foundation (SNSF)

Watch the video recording below.