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From Wakīl to Numā’indah

A History of Urdu Concepts for Political Representation in North India, 1858–1919

Eve Tignol


This article explores the (contested) concept of political representation in Urdu during the colonial period to address “deceptive familiarities” and highlight multilingual and transnational influences on contemporary Indian Muslim claims. Drawing on official documents, letters, speeches, and newspapers from the late 1850s to 1919, it argues that the “politics of presence”—or descriptive representation—of “Old Party” leaders stemmed from their aristocratic concept of representation as trusteeship (wakālat). Despite changes in terminology, the concept was only challenged in the 1910s by the “Young Party” and by the embracing of democratic values. Conceptual change was then materialized by the appropriation of the Persian numā’indagī in Urdu—a term that might have consecutively accredited descriptive claims and the use of religious symbols in election campaigns.