State power and the Colonial Mindset: Defining state legitimacy in postcolonial South Asia
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Abstract: This paper will argue that the way in which the Pakistani and Indian states have legitimized their rule over the past sixty year is influenced by the legacy British colonialism. This case is made by analyzing and contrasting the way pre-colonial empires legitimized their rule to the British Raj. This investigation has shown that the pre-colonial empires were accompanied by an ideology that sought legitimacy exclusively through the furthering of Dharma. Dharma in the context of state power meant the promotion of “good governance” that was specifically contingent on the fulfillment by the ruler of basic forms of citizenship rights. Absent in these pre-historic documents was an emphasis on “divine rights” or “absolutist” rule that was accorded to state authorities. As such, the administrative structures in India’s pre-colonial empires were highly decentralized and boasted many measures of checks-and-balances on the power wielded by the state. On the contrary, the British ruled India through an ideology that was tinted with a Euro-centric, racialist lens. This had the effect of delegitimizing the previous form of Indian rule and promoting a political culture in which post-enlightenment ideas founded on the premises of a powerful and coercive unitary state were imported to replace the pre-colonial political system of layered and shared power. But there was embargo on the export of rights of citizens of sovereign states to Europe’s colonies. This distortion of in ideas of state power and citizenship rights has had fundamental implications in post-colonial South Asia, resulting in a crisis of political legitimization that has plagued the Indian and Pakistani state for the past 60 years. Since this analysis has shown how ideas and discourse can affect the way states legitimize their rule, this paper concludes by arguing that the path to progress for both nations lies in undergoing an ideational shift in the way the states have legitimized their rule.