Dr Alok Oak is a Postdoctoral Fellow at IASH for 2023-24. Previously, he was a Visiting Research Scholar at the School of History, University of St Andrews. He received his PhD from the Leiden Institute for Area Studies, University of Leiden in 2022.
Post-Imperial historiography, focused on domestic and inter-imperial political rivalries, considered conceptual-legal debates around ‘Dominion-hood’, ‘dyarchy’, and ‘Commonwealth federalism’ either restrictive and compromising or intellectually unfashionable. However, seven decades of India’s anti-colonial struggle against the British Empire was centred precisely around these issues. The recent scholarly move towards Commonwealth Constitutional History (CCH) could help in analysing the broader legal-intellectual and diplomatic genealogy of British decolonisation and trace its multi-dimensional impact on India’s fight to attain self-determination and sovereignty.
Drawing upon the CCH framework, my project at IASH entitled 'Dominion status as a fait accompli: A.B. Keith and the History of Commonwealth Constitutionalism in British India (1919-1942)' focuses on the Scottish constitutional historian Arthur Berriedale Keith (1879-1944) and his engagement with India’s constitutional struggle for Dominion Status during the late colonial period (1919-1942). I am particularly interested in critically exploring Keith’s scholarly engagement with trans-colonial legislations and statutory agreements - the Government of India Acts of 1919 and 1935, the Imperial Conferences and the Round Table Conferences (1930-32) - located within the larger milieu of anti-imperial agitations during the interwar years. In the process, I problematise his defence of the British Commonwealth of Nations and his resolute opposition to a British colony attaining complete sovereignty.
For my project, I concentrate on Keith’s voluminous writings along with his private papers preserved at the University of Edinburgh. Focus on Keith is a part of a larger prosopographic study of legal-constitutional scholars and historians from Scotland, England and India during the late colonial and early postcolonial period (1920-60). I question the extent to which their theoretical and historical engagements with issues such as (colonial) suffrage and citizenship, federalism, the theories of self-determination and sovereignty that affected postcolonial polities while abetting Britain’s de-colonization.