Social Scientist. v 24, no. 272-74 (Jan-Mar 1996) p. 80.


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M. ATHAR ALf

The Evolution of the Perception of India: Akbar and Abu I Fazl

For much more than a century, the status of India as a concept has repeatedly been under discussion. Is it really anything more than a 'geographical expression1, its ring of mountains ranges in a rcjugh semicircle in the north, and that of the ocean in the form of an inverted cone in the south, making its geographical entity far more distinct than that of many other countries? Its limits formed the ideal ^scientific frontiers' for the British Indian empire and suggested a continued tradition of ambitions of supremacy over land enclosed by them, which the Raj claimed consciously to be its inheritance. Whether there was still anything beyond a territory imagined for political convenience in cultural terms was something on which spokesmen of British imperialism allowed themselves to be of two minds. V.A. Smith would assert,1 while the Simon Commission would deny,2 a 'unity in diversity'. More recently partly under the influence of works like Anderson's imagined communities,3 there has been a criticism among subaltern and/or post modern circles of the concept of the Indian nation. As Professor Partha Chatterji tells us, that 'the very singularity of the idea of a national history of India' tends to divide 'Indians' further4— though one wonders where the '.Indians' as a pre-divided lot have arisen from, if there was no India.

There should be no two opinions, therefore, that the case for the study of a history of the concept of India is strong, both for those who assert, its present or past reality, as did the spokesmen of the National Movement, and for those who deny it in the footsteps of Lord Simon. To this study, the present paper, touching on the perception of India ift the minds of Akbar and his advisors—admittedly a most elite group—, is a modest contribution.

Professor of History, Aligharh Muslim University, Aligharh

Social Scientist, Vol. 24, Nos. l-3> January-March 1996



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