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.
Government of BombaySelections from the Records of the Government of Bombay (New Series) 531Papers Relating to the Second Revision Settlements of the Igatpuri, Dindori, Nasik, Niphad, Sinnar, Chandor, Yeola and Nandgaon Talukas of the Nasik District1916-202 vols
PerlinFrankOf White Whale and Countrymen in the Eighteenth Century Maratha Deccan: Extended Class Relations, Rights and the Problem of Autonomy under the Old RegimeJournal of Peasant Studies1977-19785172237
B. Stein, Thomas Munro: The Origins of the Colonial State and His Vision of Empire (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989): 205-8. Marx’s letter to Engels, 2 June 1853: “Bernier correctly discovers the basic form of all phenomena in the East—he refers to Turkey, Persia, Hindostan—to be the absence of private property in land.” Cited in S. Avineri, “Introduction.” In Karl Marx on Colonialism and Modernization (Doubleday: New York, 1968): 6.
K. Leonard, “The ‘Great Firm’ Theory of the Decline of the Mughal Empire.”Comparative Studies in Society and History21 (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.
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.
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.
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 Studies5 (1977-1978): 172-237.
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.
Report by H.E Goldsmid, 11 October1841, 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.
B.H. Baden-Powell, The Origin and Growth of Village Communities in India (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1908): 91.
V. Tanzi, “Uses and Abuses of Estimates of the Underground Economy.”Economic Journal109 (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.
O. Prakash, “On Estimating the Employment Implications of European Trade for the Eighteenth Century Bengal Textile Industry: A Reply.”Modern Asian Studies27 (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.