Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Comparative Literature


Nandi Bhatia


My thesis investigates the discursive strategies employed by the East India Company during the early colonial period to legitimize mercantile imperialism as an act of preservation for the fast-disintegrating political order that was the Mughal empire in India. By arguing that the interrelationship of myth, history and archive was essential to networks of trade and the establishment of political domination, my thesis offers a new reading of the representations of the political debates surrounding the Company’s scandals and imperial ambitions in the English public sphere. It further demonstrates the centrality of the India question in defining the contours of some key ideas of Enlightenment thought such as universal sovereignty and vigilant citizenry in Britain, while simultaneously legitimizing mechanisms of colonial control in an overseas empire. In order to exhibit the proximity of early imperialist discourse to the broader representative structures of European modernity, I revisit these canonized moments of eighteenth-century British imperial history: the Battle of Plassey, the Black Hole incident, the Company’s acquisition of the Diwani of Bengal, and the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings. I further examine the interpretations of these events during the nineteenth century in order to trace the genealogical connections between the early representations of colonial encounters and the later writings of high imperialism. In so doing, I demonstrate the fallacy of current theoretical positions which inadvertently ignore the role of colonized cultures in the construction of modern democratic concepts like citizenship and civil society in both South Asia and Europe.