Sana Aiyar

Transnational Nationalism and the Politics of Diasporic Claim-making: Kenya’s Gandhi and Khadi Caps

Using the Indian Ocean as its main spatial realm of analysis, this talk examines the political strategies, rhetoric and specific claims made by South Asians and Africans in the aftermath of the First World War. In so doing, it broadens the contours of colonial and nationalist history to accommodate the experience of diasporic South Asians from whose perspective the neat historiographical spatial separation of India and Kenya does not reflect the reality of the transcolonial – and eventually trans-national – economic and political spaces within which they operated. It traces the political aspirations of Indians who went from being sub-imperialists in Kenya demanding to be made equal partners in the colonial project to developing an anticolonial critique by linking their claims with both the Khilafat non-cooperation movement in India and an anti-settler agitation led by Harry Thuku who declared himself the “Gandhi of Kenya” in the early 1920s. In highlighting the transnational material, ideological and political connections that shaped the political imaginary of South Asians and Africans beyond the colonial boundaries of India and Kenya, the talk suggests a new framework for re-conceptualizing anticolonial history that unsettles singular and bounded narratives of imperialism and nationalist politics.

Sana Aiyar’s research and teaching interests lie in the inter-regional, colonial and post-colonial history of South Asia and South Asians across the Indian Ocean. She currently working on a political history of the Indian Diaspora in colonial Kenya between 1910-1968.