Cover: Geographies of Anticolonialism by Andrew Davies

RGS‐IBG Book Series

For further information about the series and a full list of published and forthcoming titles please visit


Geographies of Anticolonialism: Political Networks Across and Beyond South India, c. 1900–1930
Andrew Davies

Geopolitics and the Event: Rethinking Britain’s Iraq War Through Art
Alan Ingram

On Shifting Foundations: State Rescaling, Policy Experimentation And Economic Restructuring In Post‐1949 China
Kean Fan Lim

Global Asian City: Migration, Desire and the Politics of Encounter in 21st Century Seoul
Francis L. Collins

Transnational Geographies Of The Heart: Intimate Subjectivities In A Globalizing City
Katie Walsh

Cryptic Concrete: A Subterranean Journey Into Cold War Germany
Ian Klinke

Work‐Life Advantage: Sustaining Regional Learning and Innovation
Al James

Pathological Lives: Disease, Space and Biopolitics
Steve Hinchliffe, Nick Bingham, John Allen and Simon Carter

Smoking Geographies: Space, Place and Tobacco
Ross Barnett, Graham Moon, Jamie Pearce, Lee Thompson and Liz Twigg

Rehearsing the State: The Political Practices of the Tibetan Government‐in‐Exile
Fiona McConnell

Nothing Personal? Geographies of Governing and Activism in the British Asylum System
Nick Gill

Articulations of Capital: Global Production Networks and Regional Transformations
John Pickles and Adrian Smith, with Robert Begg, Milan Buček, Poli Roukova and Rudolf Pástor

Metropolitan Preoccupations: The Spatial Politics of Squatting in Berlin
Alexander Vasudevan

Everyday Peace? Politics, Citizenship and Muslim Lives in India
Philippa Williams

Assembling Export Markets: The Making and Unmaking of Global Food Connections in West Africa
Stefan Ouma

Africa’s Information Revolution: Technical Regimes and Production Networks in South Africa and Tanzania
James T. Murphy and Pádraig Carmody

Origination: The Geographies of Brands and Branding
Andy Pike

In the Nature of Landscape: Cultural Geography on the Norfolk Broads
David Matless

Geopolitics and Expertise: Knowledge and Authority in European Diplomacy
Merje Kuus

Everyday Moral Economies: Food, Politics and Scale in Cuba
Marisa Wilson

Material Politics: Disputes Along the Pipeline
Andrew Barry

Fashioning Globalisation: New Zealand Design, Working Women and the Cultural Economy
Maureen Molloy and Wendy Larner

Working Lives ‐ Gender, Migration and Employment in Britain, 1945–2007
Linda McDowell

Dunes: Dynamics, Morphology and Geological History
Andrew Warren

Spatial Politics: Essays for Doreen Massey
Edited by David Featherstone and Joe Painter

The Improvised State: Sovereignty, Performance and Agency in Dayton Bosnia
Alex Jeffrey

Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage
Colin McFarlane

Globalizing Responsibility: The Political Rationalities of Ethical Consumption
Clive Barnett, Paul Cloke, Nick Clarke & Alice Malpass

Domesticating Neo‐Liberalism: Spaces of Economic Practice and Social Reproduction in Post‐Socialist Cities
Alison Stenning, Adrian Smith, Alena Rochovská and Dariusz Świątek

Swept Up Lives? Re‐envisioning the Homeless City
Paul Cloke, Jon May and Sarah Johnsen

Aerial Life: Spaces, Mobilities, Affects
Peter Adey

Millionaire Migrants: Trans‐Pacific Life LinesDavid Ley

State, Science and the Skies: Governmentalities of the British Atmosphere
Mark Whitehead

Complex Locations: Women’s geographical work in the UK 1850–1970
Avril Maddrell

Value Chain Struggles: Institutions and Governance in the Plantation Districts of South India
Jeff Neilson and Bill Pritchard

Queer Visibilities: Space, Identity and Interaction in Cape Town
Andrew Tucker

Arsenic Pollution: A Global Synthesis
Peter Ravenscroft, Hugh Brammer and Keith Richards

Resistance, Space and Political Identities: The Making of Counter‐Global Networks
David Featherstone

Mental Health and Social Space: Towards Inclusionary Geographies?
Hester Parr

Climate and Society in Colonial Mexico: A Study in Vulnerability
Georgina H. Endfield

Geochemical Sediments and Landscapes
Edited by David J. Nash and Sue J. McLaren

Driving Spaces: A Cultural‐Historical Geography of England’s M1 Motorway
Peter Merriman

Badlands of the Republic: Space, Politics and Urban Policy
Mustafa Dikeç

Geomorphology of Upland Peat: Erosion, Form and Landscape Change
Martin Evans and Jeff Warburton

Spaces of Colonialism: Delhi’s Urban Governmentalities
Stephen Legg

Rhys Jones

Publics and the City
Kurt Iveson

After the Three Italies: Wealth, Inequality and Industrial Change
Mick Dunford and Lidia Greco

Putting Workfare in Place
Peter Sunley, Ron Martin and Corinne Nativel

Domicile and Diaspora
Alison Blunt

Geographies and Moralities
Edited by Roger Lee and David M. Smith

Military Geographies
Rachel Woodward

A New Deal for Transport?
Edited by Iain Docherty and Jon Shaw

Geographies of British Modernity
Edited by David Gilbert, David Matless and Brian Short

Lost Geographies of Power
John Allen

Globalizing South China
Carolyn L. Cartier

Geomorphological Processes and Landscape Change: Britain in the Last 1000 Years
Edited by David L. Higgitt and E. Mark Lee

Geographies of Anticolonialism

Political Networks Across and Beyond South India, c. 1900–1930

Andrew Davies

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Series Editor’s Preface

The RGS–IBG Book Series only publishes work of the highest international standing. Its emphasis is on distinctive new developments in human and physical geography, although it is also open to contributions from cognate disciplines whose interests overlap with those of geographers. The Series places strong emphasis on theoretically informed and empirically strong texts. Reflecting the vibrant and diverse theoretical and empirical agendas that characterise the contemporary discipline, contributions are expected to inform, challenge and stimulate the reader. Overall, the RGS–IBG Book Series seeks to promote scholarly publications that leave an intellectual mark and change the way readers think about particular issues, methods or theories.

For details on how to submit a proposal please visit:

David Featherstone
University of Glasgow, UK

RGS–IBG Book Series Editor


Whilst my research has been more or less connected to ideas of anticolonialism throughout my career so far, the research connection to the Pondicherry ‘radicals’ of the early twentieth century was made possible due to a British Association for South Asian Studies/European Consortium for Asian Field Study/British Academy Fellowship which I received in 2013. As a result, I have run up a huge number of debts to people who have supported this project in innumerable ways. During the Fellowship, I was based at the Ecole Francais d'Extreme Orient (EFEO) in Pondicherry, at that time led by Valerie Gillet, and the space and time provided by the EFEO, together with the excellent support I received from Prerana Patel, made the time spent in Pondicherry extremely productive. Much of my time in Pondicherry was spent working at the excellent research library of the Institut Francais de Pondicherry, as well as benefitting then and since from the advice and discussions with Kannan M. and Mythri Prasad, as well as from the excellent staff at the IFP Library. In Chennai, the openness and generosity of A.R. Venkatachalapathy, and the ability to stay in the guest house at the Madras Institute of Development Studies in early 2015 proved extremely helpful. Elsewhere in Chennai, the staff at the Tamil Nadu State Archives in Egmore, the Roja Muthiah Research Library and the Theosophical Society Library have all provided support at various times during the research. In New Delhi, the staff at the National Archives of India facilitated my research in 2013 during a month long research period.

My colleagues and friends in the Power Space and Cultural Change Research Cluster, and in the wider Department of Geography and Planning have helped to provide a stimulating and happy place to work in the often challenging world of contemporary academia. A sabbatical period in 2015 was essential in providing further time for work on this project collecting data, whilst a further sabbatical at the end of 2018 provided space to allow this manuscript to be completed. Kathy Burrell's support and friendship, especially in our collaboration teaching Third Year Undergraduates on our ‘Postcolonial Geographies’ module here at Liverpool has been invaluable. Speaking to students on that module, as well as discussing post/de/anticolonialism with our taught and research postgraduate students at Liverpool has certainly helped me develop the ideas present in this book. Elsewhere, Levi Gahman, Kim Peters, Mark Riley, Bethan Evans, Arshad Isakjee, Jen Turner, Lucy Jackson, Pete North, Mark Green, Dani Arribas‐Bel, James Lea, Andy Plater, Richard Chiverrell, John Sturzaker, Josh Blamire and Janet Hooke have all listened to me discuss the Pondicherry Gang or the idea of anticolonialism over the last few years with admirable patience, often in times when they'd rather I was talking about something else. Suzanne Yee created the map of South India which appears in the book, and I am grateful to work in a department which still employs her cartographic expertise alongside Tinho da Cruz. Elsewhere at Liverpool, Ian Magedera, Nandini Das, Iain Jackson, Deana Heath and Soumyen Bandyopadhyay have all helped with their discussions of South Asia at various points.

A wider geographical and South Asian circle of scholarship has also proved of huge benefit. I have presented aspects of this book in seminars at UCL, Glasgow, Leicester, Aberystwyth, Sheffield, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and at various sessions of the RGS–IBG Annual Conference, as well as at conferences in Manchester and in public lectures in Liverpool. All of the comments received have proved extremely helpful in honing my arguments. More specifically, Stephen Legg, Tariq Jazeel, Gavin Brown, Federico Ferretti, Ole Laursen, Peter Hopkins, Rhys Jones, Jenny Pickerill, Santana Khanikar and many more have provided support for this project and my ideas more generally. Thank you all.

Archival staff at the Centre of South Asian Studies, Cambridge, the British Library, London and the National Archives in Kew have all helped with documentation. Manu Goswami helpfully provided a copy of a hard to find article, whilst Jessica Nammakkal kindly agreed to let me reference her twitter discussion about Auroville.

My journey into geographical anticolonial thought would not have occurred without being supervised on a PhD by Richard Phillips and David Featherstone. Hopefully this manuscript is evidence that all of those cups of proper tea added up to something other than theft. Both have also been exemplary mentors as my career has developed, and Dave has been a thoughtful and generous editor for this book. I would also like to extend wholehearted thanks to the two anonymous reviewers of this manuscript, whose advice and commentary helped to sharpen the work as a whole. At Wiley, Jacqueline Scott has been a model of patience and knowledge. Elisha Benjamin and Navami Rajunath have been excellent production editors.

Friends in Liverpool have likewise had to learn a lot about anticolonial radicalism in India and elsewhere over the past few years, often when they didn’t really want to. Thanks to them for their patience – particularly Frazer, Nicki, Steven, Steve, Amy, Kev, Paul, Nick, Lorraine and Paul as well as others too numerous to name. Mam, Dad and Nathan have also been a huge support across these years. Lastly, but most significantly, Caroline has had to deal with my anticolonial obsession on a daily basis for many years, and has provided much needed emotional support, not least helpfully wiring cash to me when I realised my debit card had expired five days into a four‐week trip to Pondicherry in 2015. I promise never to write a book while we're moving house, to help more with the redecorating, and to spend less time with my Indian archival ‘family’ in the future.

Author’s Note

Pronunciation and Transliteration

Tamil, as a Dravidian language, is distinct from the Sanskrit‐derived languages of Northern India. I have attempted to use the current standard transliterations throughout this book, but there are areas of inconsistency. For instance, V.V.S. Iyer is often also spelled as V.V.S. Aiyar. I have opted for the latter spelling in this book, but there is no formally recognised preference here as far as I am aware. It is also worth noting that ‘zh’ is a distinct letter within Tamil and other Dravidian languages. When pronounced, it sounds something like an English ‘L’, but with a retroflex position of the tongue – produced by holding your tongue close to, but not touching, the roof of the mouth, and trying to pronounce an English ‘z’, while rolling the tongue slightly. Strictly, the word ‘Tamil’ should be spelt Tamizh in English, although I have avoided this to minimise confusion, but elsewhere, have used zh (for example, in Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, one of the main Tamil political parties of the last 50 years).

Glossary and List of Abbreviations

Alternative name for the geographical region of India, derived from Sanskrit and the ancient texts of the puranas
Madras Presidency Criminal Investigation Department. The regional intelligence gathering service for Madras, which reported to the Government of Madras, which then reported to the GoI
Department of Criminal Intelligence, Government of India. The office in charge of gathering intelligence for the Government of India, not to be confused with the CID above
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Dravidian Progress Foundation), one of the major postcolonial Tamil political parties. Its main opponent, the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) was founded when the party split in the early 1970s
Government of India
Alternative term for the geographical territory of India. Derived from Persian, but also Greek writings on India, as the lands around the Indus river, but which became synonymous with India as a whole over time
Indian National Congress
Indian Political Intelligence
League Against Imperialism
National Archives of India, New Delhi
Lit. Truth‐force, or firm adherence to the truth
Lit. Self‐rule
Tamil Nadu State Archives, Chennai