(1) Debates Over 18th Century India, Change vs. Continuity and Dark Age vs. Prosperity

November 17, 2017 | Author: Sachin Kumar | Category: Mughal Empire, Colonialism, Nationalism, British Empire, Peasant
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18th century debate...







debates over 18th century India, change vs. continuity and dark age vs. prosperity UPLOADED BY

Harshita Sachan


Harshita B.A. (hons.) History IIIrd Year 0327 Daulat Ram College

Reent !ritings on "# th entury ha$e onsidera%ly altered our understanding o& the 'eriod. la%orate. I*R+D,C*I+ The eighteenth century in Indian history marks it relevance by two crucial developments-the decline of Mughal Empire and the expansion of  British Empire, which changed the social, economic and political structure !n extensive study of these two phases has resulted in diverging views There is the traditional view of a period of "#ark !ge$ which is of decline and stagnation, and the recent view of  economic prosperity Moreover, historians stress on the changing and evolutionary pattern and also a substantial continuity !urang%eb$s death in &'(' marks the beginning of Mughal decline, but his territorial expansions that put a huge dent on the )nancial structure of the state are also contributing  The break-up of the Mughal *tate was followed by the emergency of large number of independent and semi-independent smaller units These were of three-distinct types- )rstly, the warrior states established by *ikhs, +ats and Marathas in the course of rebellions against the Mughals, who adopted military )scalism secondly, independent kingdoms where subedars asserted their independence, eg awabs of Bengal, i%ams of .yderabad and thirdly, local kingdoms whose sovereignty ac/uired more substance in the &0th century, eg the 1a2put states, Mysore etc, which resorted to military )scalism within compact domains, achieving varying degrees of success in extracting revenues from trade and production Initially, the nationalist and colonialist writers focused on the weaknesses of individual Mughal rulers for the decline of the empire Marxist and !nnaliste historians dominated the revisionist work about the eighteenth century in the &30(s and &33(s and tried to uncover the structural transformations that were rooted deep in the Indian society under the


political history of empires David Washbrook   and Prasannan Parthasarthi have made interesting interventions about the status of labour in *outh India during the &0th century Meanwhile, British historians like C.A. Bayly  and David Washbrook , working on the local and provincial origins of Indian nationalism in the late nineteenth century, looked back to explore deep social histories of the Indian elites and middle classes who lead the later nationalist politics This contradicted the view that the Mughal Empire collapsed due to rebellions by resentful and oppressed landlords and peasants Muzafar Alam and Andre Wink , expressed Mughal centrali%ed power$s decline as a process in which local elites who under the patronage of Mughal started gaining more symbols and substance of sovereignty Most of the revisionist work /uestioned the economic decline theory that both imperialist and nationalist histories posed They speculated regional variations that showed signi)cant economic growth and with increased moneti%ation, agricultural and commercial expansion as evidence They did not 2ust focus on the decline of the Mughal imperial centre but on the dynamism of regional and local polities Robert Travers talks about how social history was pitted against cultural history as the eighteenth century revisionists were said to be rivals of the cultural and linguistic leaning *ubaltern studies This was emphasi%ed upon in *outh !sian history by postcolonial theory politics and critics The disputes started losing their edges as both the debates settled down and it became clear that both of them had a di4erent approach, di4erent time periods, di4erent social groups etc These debates raise many contests such as collaboration versus resistance, Indian agency versus colonial intervention, continuity versus change, social history versus cultural history

versus change, social history versus cultural history Bernard S. Cohn, one of the revisionist historian talks about the existence and interaction of multiple 5levels of power,6 from villages and local land controllers to kings, provincial governors and emperors

A*I+AI/* AD C++IAI/* /CH++In7uential historians of the early-twentieth century like adunath Sarkar   claimed that the Maratha, +at and *ikh resistance was evidence of a strong .indu opposition against !urang%eb$s religiously bigot policies and they were the reason for the ultimate collapse of the Mughal empire The nationalists further argue that .indu rulers such


as the Marathas should have been the legitimate successors of Mughals 8olonialists, on the other hand, believed that the British East India 8ompany of occidental origin with its rule of law, governance model and the 5gift6 of civili%ation were the legitimate heir to the decadent Muslims They wanted to civili%e the barbaric, oriental despots of east  The British colonialists kept trying to portray India as a timeless and stagnant land in contrast to their progress and dynamic traits, while the Indian nationalists claimed the anti/uity of their cultural and political ideals AIARH /CH++ +1 ARI/* HI/*+RIA/ The !ligarh *chool of Marxist historians focused on state-formation process and on the important role of bankers, merchants and elites who held lands in forming pre-colonial and colonial states These historians took economy as the base with politics, society and culture as the super-structure !r"an #abib argues for an agrarian crisis, he broadly accepts the centrali%ed nature of Mughal polity and the large amount of surplus that the land-tax represented .e asserts that, 9the peculiar feature of the state in Mughal India was that it served not merely as the protective arm of the exploiting classes, but was itself the principal instrument of exploitation9 .e insists that the centrali%ed Mughal rule coexisted and collaborated with the locali%ed hereditary "2unior$ ruling class ie the :amindars who shared in the surplus as well The view that Mughal agrarian system was a relationship between the state and the peasantry was replaced by the idea of a three-tier structure of the imperial ruling class, the %amindars and the peasants  The rotational allotment of land to mansabdars led to increasing pressure on the peasantry for extraction of revenue This compromised the fertility of the land and also the rising illegal demands pushed the peasantry to poverty and rebellion which weakened the Mughal authority Mu%a4ar !lam$s study of !wadh shows that it was the landlords who were refusing to pay revenue to the state-treasury and hence asserting their supremacy instead of the peasants Even with the di4erence between +ama and .asil, the estimated land revenue and the actual revenue collected, the peasants were not bene)tting


Satish Chandra o4ers an excellent synthesis on sources of Mughal political history and administration in his works .e propounds the theory of a +agirdari as well as a Mansabdari crisis .e talks about +ama and .asil where +ama is the estimated revenue and .asil is the actual revenue extracted in case of the +agirdars and :at and *awa in case of the Mansabdars :at was the rank allotted to the Mansabdar and *awa was the number of horses that he had to maintain M. Athar Ali supports 8handra$s theory, except, he asserts that the reckless expansion and expeditions of !urang%eb compromised the land revenue payments of the o;cials who maintained a ready supply of troops, thus decreasing their number .e also critici%es the elementary error of historians to assume that if the Mughal Empire was centrali%ed and had administrative unity then it was same as the i2ara? were indices of regionali%ation, commerciali%ation and growth, not of collapse of government and e/uity


 Andre Wink$s approach is somewhere along the line of Bayly$s argument, he assumes that "Mughal sources$ consist of only a few chronicles which "merely hide behind a [email protected] of moralistic or religious condemnation$ San%ay Subrahmanyam has suggested a global approach by speculating the increased connectivity of the local and the supra-local, through travel, commerce, con7ict, and intellectualAcultural exchange, as a critical and widespread feature of early modernity .e suggested the term "portfolio 8apitalist$ for the groups that were simultaneously involved in both commerce and politics like traders, bankers and merchants CA/ /*,DY +1 A4ADH AD DCCA!ccording to Muzafar Alam, the decline of centrali%ation of Mughal power must have been a complex process of decentrali%ation, in which local elites who had prospered under the Mughal hegemony began to appropriate more of the symbols and substance of sovereignty .e studied
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