Studying a Colonial Economy— Without Perceiving Colonialism^
FROM THE SIZE of India's population alone the economic history of India constitutes an important segment of the economic history of mankind. But with the middle of the eighteenth century, it assumed a further, special significance: subjugated by the first industrial nation of the world, it offered the classic case of the colonial remoulding of a pre-modern economy. Not surprisingly, the changing nature and consequences of this process and all its surrounding conditions have formed the constant theme of a long and continuing debate.
To the editors of the Cambridge Economic History of India, Vol II (henceforth referred to as CEHI), the debate has apparently been an exercise in irrelevance. They refer condescedingly to "the sturdy classics—Dutt, Gadgil, Anstey Naoroji"—their worth being not even sufficient to justify the editors taking the trouble of placing them in a correct order. Dutt and the others have been rendered "out of date",^ the editors say, because "over the previous decades" "scholars have enhanced our understanding of the historical experience of specific regions and communities and illuminated aspects of economic activity but lightly touched upon previously". As far as increase in information is concerned, the editors are on safe ground enough. But going by their description, the field for which new information has been gained is a different one from that with which Naoroji and Dutt were concerned. In other words, the editors set out to dispense not only with the 'classics', but also with the questions raised thene. They seem determined to read modern Indian history without looking at colonialism.1
This becomes obvious from the plan of the volume. Part I, comprising more than half the book, is entitled "The Land and the People". In this Part we first have a chapter on India in mid-eighteenth century, whereafter the country is chopped up into four regions. The agrarian relations of these regions are studied separately up to 1947 in four
* Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India.
** This paper,orginally presented a at conference on the Cambridge Economic History of India, held at Cambridge in 1984, is being published in Modern Asian Studies, Vol 19, No 2, 1985, We are grateful to the editor of Modern Asian Studies for allowing us to publish it here.