4 SOCIAL SCIENTIST
of the domain, function and role of state. Appeal will be made to history in this regard for guidance and support. It may not be thus out of place to cast a glance over some of the areas of our past polity. Here we shall be restricting our view to a period which in the absence of a more precise terminology has to be described as the pre-Sultanate period. Indian polity during this period has been an area that has been well traversed by reputed savants. It is clearly beyond my competence to add anything new to their researches. And it is not my intention either. I only want to remind ourselves of certain aspects of early Indian polity which have acquired an especial relevance today. I therefore crave your indulgence in a generous measure.
Association of ideology with the interpretation of early Indian polity is not of recent origin; it goes back to the very beginnings of modern historical investigations into India's past.1 The two principal contending schools, the 'imperialist* and the 'nationalist'2óboth the schools within their folds offered liberal room for substantial variations in facts and formulations and despite their differences covered much common ground. For example, the real bone of contention between the two was the question of 'modernisation* of Indian institutions, the extent to which such modernisation would be desirable and the appropriate agency that ought to be entrusted with the task. In fact, the main opposition between the imperialists and the nationalists can be located as confined to one single area, i.e., the appropriate agency for carrying on the task. Both the schools by implication pleaded for change from the then conditions: the imperialists 'advocated' a larger dose of and accelerated pace in 'Westernisation', while the nationalists pleaded for the revival of all those fine ancient institutions of India which the modern West has been able to develop only very recently. As far as the goal is concerned, goal viewed in term of institutional changes, there was not much difference between the two schools.3
Till very recent times, the approach that was brought to bear upon the study of early polity in India can be described as mechanistic. The approach was also somewhat ahistorical. It was primarily a study of government, and the government was viewed as an all-weather and an all-terrain machine. The appreciation of the fact that a government grows out of a specific social situation within which it functions and thus can be understood only in reference to that social situation is hardly found reflected in these studies.4 Attempts to understand the polity against the perspective of economic and class dimensions began in the fifties.5 Of late, considerable attention has been paid to the problem of state formation.6 In these accounts the social formations that provided the necessary background for the process of the groyth of state have been mapped in detail.