Social Scientist. v 13, no. 143 (April 1985) p. 17.


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RATAN DASGUPTA"

Mercenaries and The Political Economy of Bengal: 1727-63"

THE disintegration of the Mughal empire and the rise of regional power centres had within it the processes of breakdown of the imperial army and the rise of regional armies. The gradual collapse of the imperial army and the escalation of regional armed resistance against Mughal imperialism let loose a vast mass of armed men.

Mercenaries whose origin can be traced back much earlier appeared everywhere in the 18th century India where the transmutation of the imperial army or regional resistance groups into regional armies was taking place. Their incorporation in the regional armies or political structures constituted a major problem for all the rising powers that made the inner contradiction of the regional politics more acute.

The increasing use of small firearms in the 18th century Indian batde fields also influenced the nature of regional armies. ^ This process received a fresh' momentum after the appearence of European armies on the Indian battlefields. It released a chain-effect that made the musketry indispensable, although the cavalry, retained its ostentatious appearance for a long-time. The emergence of the musketry challenged also the age-old political structure dominated by and through the cavalry leaders. Thus the army became the main instrument through which the European contact first asserted its destabilizing influence on the regional political structures before their eventual transformation. This essay proposes to state in essence the story of a region where the Mughal legacy, mercenaries and the European armies were locked up in a deadly struggle.

Financial Crisis and Organisation of the Army

The withdrawal ot Mughal imperial forces from eastern India during the wars of succession and the subsequent turmoil helped Murshid Quit to tighten his grip on Bengal. It also generated the problem of having to create and maintain an army at the Subadar's own initiative. In this task he was handicapped by the non-availability of Jagir lands. Imperial Jagirs could not be resumed because that might affect the relationship with the patrons in the imperial court. Thus the old imperial Jagirs like those of the Amir Ul Umra, Amiah Assam, and others continued till the reign ofMir lafar but their existence helped litde in organizing an army in Bengal.

Other Jagirs were dispersed mainly in the provinces of Bihar and Orissa, as Bengal was transformed into ZiKhalisa area during the later days ofAurangzeb. These

Department of History, Chanchal College, Malda, West Bengal.

* This essay owes a great deal to Prof. Amalendu Guha, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta and my friend Zahirul Islam, Department of Mathematics, Malda College. I am. however, responsible for any errors.



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