BOOK REVI EW
British Rule in Bengal
P.J. Marshall, Bengal: The British Bridgehead, Eastern India 1740-1828, The New Cambridge History of India, Vol. II. 2, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge^ 1987.
P.J. Marshall's book contains a comprehensive discussion of the major historical themes and debates surrounding the question of establishment of British rule in eastern India. A large part of the book focuses on the author's main query—how far were the socio-economic and political structures of Bengal transformed by the advent of the East India Company? Marshall argues that colonial rule was only part of a complex pattern of developments in eighteenth-century Bengal. 'British rule stimulated, modified or aborted existing patterns of change; it did not break long continuities and force India into wholly new directions.'
The first two chapters examine in some detail 'the setting for the empire' and 'late Mughal Bengal'. Beginning with a survey of the long-term ecological and socio-economic currents that were transforming Bengali society even before the advent of the East India Company, Marshall goes on to examine the political and social base of Nawabi rule to emphasise the superfluity of the changes brought by the advent of the new regime. The Company inherited an ecohomy characterised by a highly stratified agrarian structure, a flourishing trade network, both internal and external, in the context of increasing commercialisation of agriculture and a dynamic society with a growing regional and cultural identity. What the new regime achieved was largely shaped by the past.
In chapter three, giving a lucid delineation of 'the crisis' of the period and the region, Marshall argues that the Company acquired power in Bengal by occupying the space created by the instability in the relationship between the Nawab and the powerful local officials including the zamindars, merchants ancT bankers. He argues that the supply of silver, shipping and colonial trade had made the Indian merchants dependent on the Company and its private traders, a
Social Scientist, Vol. 19, Nos. 3-4, March-April 1991