Crossing the Tracks: Railway Workers and the Terrain of Popular Politics in Late Colonial Lahore, c. 1919-47 (Modern Indian History, funded by DFG)

  • Research Group: Modern Indian History
  • Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Ravi Ahuja
  • Researcher: Ahmad Azhar M.A.
  • Funding: German Research Council (DFG)
  • Duration: November 2010 to February 2014

Project Summary:

This research project identifies the railway workshops of Lahore, in the inter-war years, as a point where apparently distinct currents within the popular politics of late-colonial India converged. Railway workers, drawn to Lahore from various urban and rural locations, furnished a nucleus for intersecting political strategies and practices. Neither the product of elite engineering, nor spasmodic outbursts disconnected from wider ideological and political contexts, the sphere of popular politics was a field of force where elite and plebeian currents encountered one another. Such encounters ranged from the co-option of subaltern movements by dominant structures, to active contestation. They were visible in the anti-colonial non-cooperation campaign, the pan-Islamic khilafat movement, religious revivalist tendencies, communist mobilizations of workers, Muslim separatism and lower caste uprisings. The aim of this research is to explore such tensions and complementarities between elite and plebeian political discourses, in order to grasp the extent to which elite ideologies of the time either became hegemonic or were forced to accommodate popular pressure, and to ask whether there were fundamental breaks with the languages of class, religion and politics of the pre-war period.