From Baroda to "Free America": Maharaja Sayaji Rao III of Baroda's Engagement With Anticolonialism Through the United States
Panel:09 | Crossing Boundaries of British India: New Perspectives on Connected Histories of Princely States
Timeslot:07/27 | 14:10-14:30 UTC+2/CEST
The paper examines the role of a hitherto unacknowledged actor in the anticolonial links between India and the United States in the early twentieth century: Maharaja Sayaji Rao III of Baroda (r. 1875–1939), ruler of the leading state of western India. As the Maharaja’s discontent with British rule in India grew, he developed a fascination with the history and politics of the United States, praising the country as an emerging world power ready to challenge British supremacy. From 1905 to 1934, the Maharaja toured the land he called “Free America” on four occasions.
The Maharaja used his visits to obtain first-hand knowledge on subjects as diverse as agricultural development and child-rearing practices — knowledge he then adapted to Baroda through social reform, allowing him to establish Baroda as a state that was ‘modern’ while bypassing European modernity. As the British Resident in Baroda bemoaned what he referred to as the Maharaja’s “American tradition”, his tours acquired another worrying anticolonial slant: he established links with diasporic Indians in the US at a time of growing British paranoia about global anticolonial networks. Through an examination of the Maharaja’s US tours, the paper argues that the ruler deployed them on several levels: to escape from British interventionism at his court; to carve out a place for himself within the anticolonial movement; and to give his state a global presence. In this way, the paper provides a layered perspective on the global character of the Indian anticolonial movement, while expanding the study of those who participated in it on a world stage to Indian rulers.