THE RECENT publication of The Cambridge Economic History of India in two volumes, the first covering the medieval and the second the modern priod, is an event of significance for students of Indian history. The Cambridge series have acquired over the years the reputation of being based on sound scholarly research and have become standard works of reference for students in the relevant fields. Given the importance of CEHI in this context, and the fact that it is already being widely read and discussed, Social Scientist has had plans for some time to carry a number of articles critically examining the contributions to the CEHI volumes. The current issue represents a partial fulfilment of these plans. It is devoted to a discussion only of the second volume of CEHI; we hope in subsequent issues to carry articles on the first volume as well as further papers on the second volume.
Our taking up for discussion the second volume first is not a mere happenstance; nor should it be attributed to any short-sightedness on our part in glancing backwards. There is a specific reason for it. In the pre-independence years, against the nationalist and Marxist writers, who from their different perspectives had drawn attention to the exploitative and impoverishing impact of colonialism on the Indian economy, several colonial administrators had sought to argue that British rule had brought prosperity to the country. This contention that colonialism cannot be held culpable for the backwardness of the economy, and that its overall impact was an increase, however modest, in the country's prosperity, has been recently advanced once again by a number of historians, who spice" their argument, however, with a lot more of mystifying econometric exercises, a lot more of supposedly impeccable theoretical constructs, and a lot more of protestations of objectivity. Many of these historians are to be found among the contributors to the CEHI; the dominant tendency of the volume therefore is to combat, either overlty or through judicious silences, the nationalist and Marxist positions. This is evident on a whole range of questions: the extent of ' ^industrialisation'5, the behaviour of real national income, the impact of the so-called "drain" from India, the hurdles to the growth of modern industry, the causes and consequences of the shift to commercial crops etc.