Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Book Review #1

[add 1500 map from book]

Title: A Concise History of india
Year: ‘02
Author(s): Metcalf, Barbara D. & Metcalf, Thomas R.
Publisher: Cambridge university Press: U.K.
Genre: Non-fiction, history

Recommended: Maybe, but not for a beginner like me


“Our time traveller in 1707, especially if he been misled by European accounts of ‘Oriental despots’, may very well have failed to appreciate the extent to which the Mughla Empire, like other pre-modern political systems of that scale, operated by a hierarchic distribution of authority among different levels of society. There was no monopoly of military force; there was no monopoly of political authority. The Mughal himself was shahinshah, ‘king of kings’, hence one sovereign among many. “ (p. 28) [Curiously, all modern nation states are much more centralized, and therefore perhaps we have less autonomy and local government than someone living in the time and place of these ‘despots’]

”The unifying ideology of the [Mughal] regime was that of loyalty, expressed through Persianate cultural forms, not a tribal affiliation (like that of the Ottomans), nor an Islamic or an Islamic sectarian identity (like that of the Safavids).” (p. 17)

“A further key to [Mughal Emperor] Akbar’s success were the administrative reforms that created an enduring framework for rule. There was nothing specifically ‘Islamic’ about these strategies; they built on Sultanate precedents, and in broad form were shared by early modern agrarian empires across Asia.” (19)

“Generations of modern historians and politicians have blamed Shaha Jahan’s successor Aurangzeb for undoing the cultural pluralism and administrative efficiency of the empire… To focus on divergent philosophies [with Aurangzeb’s brother Dara] neglects the fact that dara was a poor general and leader. It also ignores the fact that factional lines in the succession dispute were not, by and large, shaped by ideology.. It is also worth noting that a major focus of Aurangzeb’s reign was warfare directed against other Muslims.” (21)

“When the Rajput rajas of Marwar and Mewar rose at the end of Aurangzeb’s reign, Prine Akbar, sent to subdue them, instead joined them… Certainly, distinctive rituals and ideologies were important to the insurgent regimes, but these did not preclude strategic co-operation and even alliances with Muslim rulers.” (31)

“Eighteenth century [Indian] states welcomed European adventurers to train these new units of professional soldiers [adept as infantrymen with cannons insteada of traditional Mughal cavalrymen] who , unlike peasants conscripted by noble overlords for limited periods, were now full-time mercenary troops… By mid-century, Hyderabad had contingents of French-led fighters, but Germans, Dutch and others found their way to the Indian courts as well… Many of these men, while military adventurers, nevertheless adopted many indian social and cultural practices.” (36)

“It was this engagement [of the East India Company] with India, not in England itself, that Britain developed many of the institutions of the ‘modern state’.” (43)

What I read: p. 8-54

What I learned:

1. The expanding kingdom of Vijayanagar in present day Karnataka was founded by brothers who had once probably been Muslim, and served the Tughluqs (14th century Delhi sultans) for a time.

2. Two keys to Mughal imperial decline after Aurangzeb were: a) military-political - those Marathas, Sikhs and Jat zamindars, and some Rajputs, who would eventually resist Mughal control, were given military and government experience while working as subject to the Mughals [a la mujahadeen being armed and financed by the CIA]; and b) economic – the rise of Arab then Portuguese, Dutch and English sea traders increased the wealth of southern and eastern subject states.

3. Debunking ‘varna’ [4 umbrella mega-castes]: Far more importance was actually given to occupation and upward mobility than colonial writers wrote was the case.

4. Debunking Hindu-Muslim conflict: this is reading characteristics of colonial society into pre-colonial past.

5. After Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, three ‘fault lines’ 1) zamindars in north and central india resisted imperial authority, but they were not co-ordinated and many also fought each other. The three groups that were more cohesive were the Marathas of the Deccan, Sikhs of Punjab, and Jats near Agra. 2) ‘established princely rulers who accepted Mughal power but kept authority in their own compact domains’ by making tribute (typically in peripheal or inaccessible areas). Some engaged in warfare against the Mughals, some just stopped sending tribute. 3) Provincial governors who while appointed by the Emperor, but who acted autonomously, stopped participating in imperial projects. In 1720s these governors gained de facto/quasi independence, as nawabs. By the 1750s they became heads of their own dynasties.

6. ‘Robin Hood’ - 1700+, Papadu, a Telegu bandit chief recruited an army of several thousand low caste and fought against both Mughal and local zamindar authority. Outnumbered and outarmed he was captured and killed.

7. Hindu nationalists have made Shivaji (Maratha Hindu leader) and Sikhs [presumably led by Goivind Singh] into an anti-foreigner/anti-Muslim symbols. In fact, the Marathas and Sikhs both were less ideologically motivated. Their alliances were more based on expediency.

8. Guru Nanak [considered founder of Sikhism by the Sikhs themselves, although he did not in fact start any religion in his lifetime] himself served the Afghan Lodi dynasty as a revenue storehouseman for the Sultan’s government. Three of the Sikh guru successors were patronized by Emperor Akbar.

9. The Jats were confident enough in the mid-eightneeth century to build a fort in Bharatpur, close to the core of Mughal power.

10. During Maratha prime Minister Balaji Vishvanath (r. 1713-20) Marathas extended their state into Gujarat and Malwa, ‘with raids in the 1730s as far as Delhi, and to bengal a decade later.’

11. Something about the rise of revenue farmers, an economic explanation I did not take the time to understand.

12. Because mid-eighteenth century professional soldiers had to be paiod cash this ‘military fiscalism’ necessitated rulers’ needs to work with bankers, traders and financial intermediarries.

13. East India Company: Unlike the Portuguese Crown, Queen Elizabeth did not want to risk on such an uncertain trading enterprise as tapping the riches of the East. So, a joint-stock company was set up with 24 directors, an archive, and staff. They originally intended to buy spices in the East Indies, but they soon learned that the VOC, the Dutch East india Company, was too organized and financed to compete against [economically and militarily?] and instead move on to India. This cost them money since India had no spices and Indians were not interested in English goods. So, the company had to buy Indian goods with buillion. The Dutch fought petty rajas in the East Indies, but the English company had to fight off the Mughal empiure at its [military] apex. The only viable strategy was to humbly beseech favours, which the Mughals aquieced to in order to counter-balance the influence of the Portuguese and Dutch. EIC bought mostly textiles, indigo dye and saltpeter (for gunpowder). In 1617, Sir thomas Roe, James I’s ambassador to the court of Jahangir, negotiated establishing warehouses in Surat in Gujarat, among other places. One of the conditions was the English could not fortify. 80,000 hand weaving jobs in Bengal alone. The biggest profits were made by Indian middle-men who advanced cash to weavers. In the 1660s, with Mughal power faltering, Surat was raided twice by Shivaji. Fortifying their warehouse ports, Mughjals attacked, defeating the company. Nevertheless, by 1700 the company ahs secured the three ‘presidency’ capitals – of Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. Indian merchants flocked to them. Wary of Catholic conversions Portuguese Inquisition and French Jesuits, one of the conditions was that no Christian missionaries were allowed tor eside in the company’s settlements. Bombay was secured by a marriage alliance (Charles II to a Portuguese princess). Parsees came from Surat. Company personell at each settlement never exceeded a few hundred, and soldiers were the most in Madras (300). Indian cloth was sent to wset Africa, where it was used to buy slaves [hence the name ‘Guinea cloth’], and in S.E. Asia guinea cloth bought spices. Throughout the seventeenth century the company had to deal with other European competitors. In the 1680s the Dutch had been joined in pondicherry by the French and Danes. In 1717, Mughla Emperor granted the company duty-free exports from Bengal.

Weakness(es): Dry

Strength(s): Conciseness without over-simplification.

Maps: Only one relevant (1500)

Bibliography: yes, substantial, but hard to read due to no indents (saves space though). Example leads to check out a university library for suitability – definitely the New Cambridge History of India, example volumes - John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire (1993); Om Prakash, European Commercial Enterprise in Precolonial India (1998); J. S. grewal, The Sikhs in the Punjab (1990)… Important regional studies: Cynthia Talbot, Precolonial India in Practice; Society, Region, and Identity in Medieval Andhra (OUP, 2000); important studies: Stephen Blake, Shahjahanabad; the Soveriegn City in Mughal India (CUP, 1991); Sanjay Subramaniam, The Political Economy of Commerce: Southern India, 1500-1650 (CUP:1990); / K.N. Chauduri, The Trading World of Asia and the East India Company, 1660-1760 (CUP, 1978)

Glossary: yes, about the right amount for a beginner. E.g. ‘Zamindar’ -

Charts: 0

Favorite images: Map 1 India 1500

Most interesting quote(s):

That period should not be described as “’Medieval India’ of ‘Moslem India’, terms that suggest isolation and exoticism, but instead, to use the term now preferred by many historians, as ‘Early Modern’.. for the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.” (26)

Questionable info:
1. “There were no programmes of mass, much less, forced, conversion.”(27) [Sectarian books written by nationalist Hindus are twisting history?]

2. “Participation in factional competition for succession at the court in fact cost two [Sikh] gurus their lives.” (32) [This is not the official Sikh take on these events, at least at the level of religious propoganda. Must research.]

Scan %: 0 [forgot to scan 1500 map, find a better one?]

Source: Burnaby Public Library, Canada

No comments: