South Asia Seminar: Eastminster - Decolonisation and State Building in British Asia


Convener: Dr Faisal Devji

Speaker: Dr Harshan Kumarasingham

All of the Asian States that emerged from British control in varying degrees took key substantial elements of the British Westminster system. This system was more commonly associated with the British settler countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand where “kith and kin” links with Britain seemed to make this appropriate. However, the British and the Asian indigenous elites saw advantages in applying this very British system to the very different context of the East. These Asian nations did not have centuries to interpret and adjust in order to develop their constitution as the British had. Instead within months they needed to formulate and design a constitution and therefore invariably drew upon the system of their imperial master. The local elites with the involvement of external actors like Sir Ivor Jennings determined that Westminster could work in the East. Since the Westminster system is based on convention and ambiguity and not rigid rules and clarity the same Westminster system could be adopted and manipulated to produce diverse results and reactions that would shape their countries forever. These states therefore became Eastminsters that had clear institutional and political resemblances to Britain’s system, but with cultural and constitutional divergences from Westminster. This talk broadly examines the concept of Eastminster in the eventful context of Asian decolonisation and need for rapid constitutional settlement. It explores five key deviations that Eastminster possesses from the Settler variety of Westminster. This constitution making period and the adoption of Eastminster had far reaching consequences for all of Asia.

Dr Harshan Kumarasingham is a political historian of British Decolonisation and the subsequent state-building that followed. He is Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. Prior to this he was Smuts Fellow in Commonwealth Studies at the University of Cambridge. Harshan's latest book is Constitution-Making in Asia: Decolonisation and State-Building in the Aftermath of the British Empire, from which his talk derives, and he recently edited for Cambridge University Press Constitution Maker: Selected Writings of Sir Ivor Jennings. He is presently working on a monograph that will examine the Crown and its legacy in South Asia.


Further Information

This seminar series is organised with the support of the History Faculty.

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