Rethinking the Economy of Mughal India: Lateral Perspectives

in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
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This article seeks to reopen the argument regarding the economic structure of the Mughal Empire. The field saw vigorous debate in the 1980s and 1990s, followed by a stalemate. I seek to move beyond this impasse, first by studying British efforts at implementing a neo-Mughal tax system. This retrospective exhibits the practical difficulties that make it unlikely that the Mughals ever fully implemented their program. I then deploy underused Marathi sources to see what well-informed contemporaries guessed about the real working of the empire and analyze the effects of regimes of power in the creation and survival of the information that constitutes our evidence. I end by connecting key aspects of my structural analysis with the expansion of international trade and with India’s political economy in the transition to British rule.

Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

Journal d'Histoire Economique et Sociale de l'Orient

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References

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4

Cited in Joan-Pau Rubiés, “Oriental Despotism and European Orientalism: Botero to Montesquieu.” Journal of Early Modern History 9/1-2 (2005): 144.

8

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W.H. Moreland, The Agrarian System of Moslem India: A Historical Essay with Appendices (Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation, 1968): xii.

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I. Habib, “Potentialities of Capitalistic Development in the Economy of Mughal India.” Journal of Economic History 29/1 (March 1969): 32-78; Agrarian System: 364-405.

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S. Moosvi, The Economy of the Mughal Empire c.1595: A Statistical Study (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987): 106-9, 272-95, and passim.

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Raymond W. Goldsmith, Premodern Financial Systems: A Historical Comparative Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987): 108.

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I. Habib, “Economics and the Historians.” Social Scientist 37/5-6 (2009): 12-13.

33

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34

K. Leonard, “The ‘Great Firm’ Theory of the Decline of the Mughal Empire.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 21 (1979): 151-67. For an effective critique of its empirical basis, see J.F. Richards, “Mughal State Finance and the Premodern World Economy.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 23 (1981): 285-308.

35

Repr. in S. Chandra, Essays on Medieval Indian History (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003) are “The Role of the Local Community, Zamindars and the State in Providing Capital Inputs for the Improvement and Extension of Cultivation”: 247-65, and “The Eighteenth Century in India: Its Economy and the Role of the Marathas, the Jats, the Sikhs and the Afghans”: 71-127.

36

C.A. Bayly, Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion 1770-1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983; repr., Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993): 174-83.

37

F. Perlin, “Of White Whale and Countrymen in the Eighteenth Century Maratha Deccan: Extended Class Relations, Rights and the Problem of Autonomy under the Old Regime.” Journal of Peasant Studies 5 (1977-1978): 172-237.

38

I. Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India (1556-1707) (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1963): 136-88; S. Nurul Hasan, “Zamindars under the Mughals” (1969) repr. in Mughal State, ed. Alam and Subrahmanyam: 284-98.

39

A. Wink, Land and Sovereignty in India: Agrarian Society and Politics under the Eighteenth Century Maratha Svarājya ([1983] Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 1985): 3.

42

M. Alam, The Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India: Awadh and the Punjab 1707-1748 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987): 303 (emphasis added).

47

D. Washbrook, “Progress and Problems: South Asian Social and Economic History, 1720-1860.” Modern Asian Studies 22 (1988): 63.

48

D.H.A. Kolff, Naukar, Rajput and Sepoy: The Ethnohistory of the Military Labour Market in Hindustan, 1450-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990): 12-14.

49

J. Gommans, Mughal Warfare: Indian Frontiers and High Roads to Empire (London: Routledge, 2002): 95-6; 182 for Ali Mardan Khan.

50

M. Athar Ali, “The Mughal Polity: A Critique of Revisionist Approaches.” Modern Asian Studies 27 (1993): 709.

60

W.H. Moreland, The Revenue Administration of the United Provinces (repr., Delhi: Renaissance, 1984): 16-17.

62

J.N. Sarkar (trans.), Studies in Aurangzeb’s Reign (Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 1989): 127 (emphasis added).

90

J.A. Hubback, “Sampling for Rice Yields in Bihar and Orissa.” Sankhya: Indian Journal of Statistics 7 (1946): 281-94.

91

J.C. Scott, Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes for Improving the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998): 24.

92

S. Guha, Beyond Caste: Identity and Power in South Asia, Past and Present (Leiden: Brill, 2013): 143-52.

94

I. Habib, “Colonialization of the Indian Economy 1757-1900.” Social Scientist 3/8 (1975): 31-2.

97

Report by H.E Goldsmid, 11 October 1841, in Report on the Experimental Revenue Settlement of Certain Villages in the Broken and Hilly Country Forming the Kownaee Talooka of the Nassick Sub-Collectorate in Selections from the Records of the Government of Bombay (Old Series) 6: 10-11, 52. Another letter from Goldsmid, 31 May (1838), described how the hereditary officials of the Khandesh district were summoned to the collector’s headquarters and ordered to produce a record of the type and area of land together with a calculation of the rates of tax needed to yield the amount collected in previous years. “At a distance from the villages themselves, and without there being a single document extant which could throw light upon the subject, it is evident that the Zemindars could not possibly supply the required information. Desirous however of leaving a place where the cholera had broken out, they lost no time in giving a statement.” Selections from the Records of the Government of Bombay (New Series) 531: Papers Relating to the Second Revision Settlements of the Igatpuri, Dindori, Nasik, Niphad, Sinnar, Chandor, Yeola and Nandgaon Talukas of the Nasik District. 2 vols. (Bombay: Government Press, 1916-20): 2: 151.

98

B.H. Baden-Powell, The Origin and Growth of Village Communities in India (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1908): 91.

104

Moreland, Agriculture of the United Provinces, 110-1.

105

For example, Strachey, India, 97-8.

108

S. Guha, “Serving the Barbarian to Preserve the Dharma: Scribal Ideology and Training in Peninsular India c.1300-1800.” Indian Economic and Social History Review 47 (2010): 497-525.

120

P.N. Deshpande (ed.), “Svarājyācī Sanad.” Saṁśodhaka: Amritmahotsavī aṁka 70 (2002): 79-118.

122

V.G. Khobrekar, “Marāṭhī rājyāce kṣetra va utpanna.” Bharata Itihasa ani Samskriti 4/13 (1967): 79-88.

128

V. Tanzi, “Uses and Abuses of Estimates of the Underground Economy.” Economic Journal 109 (1999): 338-47; for India, see A.O. Krueger, “The Political Economy of the Rent-Seeking Society.” American Economic Review 64 (1974): 291-303, table 1. See also http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/02/business/worldbusiness/02greek.html.

134

O. Prakash, “On Estimating the Employment Implications of European Trade for the Eighteenth Century Bengal Textile Industry: A Reply.” Modern Asian Studies 27 (1993): 341-56. The ratio of full-time workers (including spinners) to looms is from data in S. Guha, “The Handloom Industry of Central India: 1825-1950.” Indian Economic and Social History Review 26 (1989): 297-318.

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