Social Scientist. v 7, no. 73-74 (Aug-Sept 1978) p. 95.

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Review Article

Needed: Political Economy of British South India


THE MADRAS PRESIDENCY 1870-1920, Cambridge University Press, 1976, pp 358, price £ 11.00. CHRISTOPHER JOHN BAKER, THE POLITICS OF SOUTH INDIA 1920-1937, Cambridge University Press, 197^, pp 363, price£ 11.00*

THESE TWO books together make a substantial contribution to the empirical analysis of the narrowly confined world of Indian upper-class politics under British rule. There is a wealth of material here on the who^s-who of the politicians who appear on the stage, and also on the economic basis of the power of some of them. The two books are complementary in respect of the period covered. Of the two, WashbrookS is by far the more impressive, partly because he has covered a much longer period—one, moreover, on which secondary works are rather scanty.

Political Economy of Madras

Washbrook has a chapter entitled ^Thc political economy of Madras", which I shall discuss in some detail, because it reveals both the industry of the author, and the limitations, or even inconsistency, of the theoretical framework he employs. In the introduction we read; "The Government of Fort St George wa^ much closer in type to the oriental despotisms which previously had ruled South India than it was to the circumscribed and constitutional governments of its European master's homeland ... It granted and denied its legitimacy of social and political positions right down to the level of village society; it extracted (and partially redistributed) a large proportion of the economic surplus; it gave employment to hundreds of thousands of people in its various departments; it worked as an economic entrepreneur, controlling vast commercial monopolies^, building railways and digging canals; and it

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