Transfer of Tribute and the Balance of Payments in the CEHI
READING THROUGH the CEHI (Vol II, 1757-1970) is certainly a somewhat surrealist experience. At the end of the thousand-odd pages making up the volume, the reader is apt to feel thoroughly bemused—as though he has sat through the thousand and one nights of the celebrated Arabian vintage. The element of fantasy is pervasive, without the saving grace of entertainment. Was it really the case that the British came to India to build railways and telegraph, stimulate economic growth through their demand for primary commodities (which, we are told, it was in Indians interest to specialise in given her factor endowments), initiate large scale industry, promote a reduction in land concentration, and withdraw gracefully, after incurring sterling debts which were of benefit to India? The majority of the contributors— though not all—appear to hold the view, which stresses the positive, growth-promoting aspects of British rule, to the virtual exclusion of any discussion of the cost to the Indian people.
Upto a point, perhaps this is to be expected: a look at the list of contributors shows that a fair number of them, entrusted with the key papers, belong on the evidence of their earlier writings to a certain definite tendency in the writing of colonial history. Adherents of this tendency claim to take a 'balanced' 'objective' and 'non-ideological' view, informed by the results of the latest research, as opposed to the 'partisan' and 'ideological' positions of the classic, and by implication somewhat outdated nationalist and Marxist analyses of the imperialist impact on India. (It goes without saying that the allegedly balanced and up-to-date view, of necessity, expresses its own ideology which in most cases amounts to an unsubtle and transparent opologia for colonialism). However, it is not this approach which is a,cause for surprise:
geven the composition of the list of contributors, it is to be expected that the dominant thrust of the volume should be in this particular direction;
nor is this an illegitimate phenomenon, for every group of academics with common views seeks to project a particular viewpoint.
* Centre for Economic Mudirs and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.