Subjects or Citizens? India, Pakistan and the 1948 British Nationality Act

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Independence in the case of British India occurred at relatively short notice in August 1947, but tying up the loose ends of empire stretched over years. Under these circumstances, the realignment of subjecthood and citizenship necessitated by decolonisation was protracted, and raised complex questions about identity in both the new states of India and Pakistan and the former imperial power itself. This article thus takes as its focus the drawn-out process of disengagement that followed formal independence in relation to one case study: the various ways in which Britain sought to square the working of its 1948 Nationality Act with Indian and Pakistani citizenship legislation that took shape in the 1950s. India and Pakistan faced the common challenge of establishing who now belonged within their new borders. Britain likewise was forced to recalibrate its ideas about nationality and think afresh about the rights of its subjects in view of the new sets of relationships that now linked colonies, old dominions and the ‘mother country’ within the Commonwealth. In practice, applying the 1948 Act’s provisions in relation to India and Pakistan became infused with anxieties about ‘race’, which surfaced repeatedly as British officials in London, Delhi, Karachi and consulates around the world sought to manage its operation to suit British interests.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-312
Number of pages28
JournalThe Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Issue number2
Early online date21 Mar 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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