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Book Reviews
IMRAN ALI, The Punjab under Imperialism, 1885-1947, Oxford
Press, New Delhi, 1989, 265 pp., Rs. 225.
Punjab was one of the last states to be annexed to British India. Nevertheless
in a short span of time, it assumed significance with regard to the strategy
of imperial rule. As has been pointed out by several researchers, this was
largely due to the question of the army. Imran Ali’s book stands out amongst
these precisely because it goes beyond the level of general observations to
actually outline the process of how this question came to assume importance.
In the Canal Colonies, -the region Ali studies, the imperial government
undertook the exercise of settling over eleven million acres of secure agricultural land with ’colonists’ who were to act as pillars of strength for a
beleaguered imperial state. Ali establishes the linkages between the army
and the landed classes of the province. Together, these were to determine
the politics of this region as well as the policies adopted.
Ali traces how the classes supplying recruits were wooed, placated and
favoured in the process of selection of colonists to be settled on this prime
land. IIi the chapter on militarisation, Ali records the details of how the
military figured prominently as a recipient of land; and how original colonisation plans were altered to accommodate these interests.
Not surprisingly, loyalty was a condition both implicit, as well as explicitly
stated. The network stretched from the village upwards to the legislatures
through lambardars, zaildars, district board officials and nominees to the
Provincial legislature. By and large this chain held together, in a systematic
attempt to prevents Punjab from joining the nationalist mainstream. Ali
argues that the state was successful in this because it enjoyed special authority in a hydraulic society! He does not, however explain or justify the use
of this concept.
Undoubtedly, the long arm of imperialism, extended down to the smallest
village as canal water reached the interiors. This gave the canal bureaucracy excessive control and power of interference as well as tremendous
scope for mismanagement and corruption. Disaffection with British rule
therefore, not ruled out, for colonisation set in motion a process of
differentiation and classes other than the rural elite did emerge. What was
their political behaviour? Ali does not address himself to this problem.
What Ali does touch upon is, however, no less interesting. He sets out to
examine the British contention that Punjab was a ’beneficiary’ of colonial
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rule and that its experience was qualitatively different from other regions.
Ali argues against this, citing his work as an instructive case study on the
fortunes of a subject economy under imperialism. There can be little disagreement with him on the point that colonisation policy compromised on
the professed objective of agricultural development; that the military, far
from being a modernising force was indeed based on classic feudal lines
with its accompaniment of service tenures. Ali rightly sees these as a &dquo;retrogressive phenomenon which consumed vast inputs of land, capital, labour
and managerial effort for half a century.&dquo; He holds this overriding concern
for the army specifically, and protection of rural vested interests in general,
responsible for the colonies not making a transition from traditional modes
to modern capitalist agriculture. The social organisation of agriculture remained &dquo;tied to its traditional moorings&dquo; and its practice too, consequently,
was largely &dquo;unredeemed and unprogressive&dquo;, he maintains.
In this context he briefly examines the problems of production and
proprietory rights. Here the handling of the problem as well as source
material is quite inadequate. Ali largely relies on a few assessment reports
for the Chenab Colony alone. Other assessment reports, though mentioned
cursorily in the course of discussion on technological change, remain by
and large unused.
This is largely because the indicators of change or development are not
intensively examined and the discussion remains confined to a very quick
survey of some statistics relating to crop output, rotation and adoption of
new implements. Whereas the role of state policy in the context of extraction
is fairly deeply probed, the question of surplus generation and appropriation
is not
touched upon. Consequently one does not get a true picture of
the shape of the economy as it emerged. What happened in terms of the
forms of production, the trade and credit network, the returns from cultivation and, lastly, the formation of social classes? An examination of these
would have only further strengthened Ali’s argument that colonisation did
not foster agricultural growth.
True, the colonies provided spectacular statistics in terms of expansion
of cultivation and, therefore, trade. But these apart, there was an absence
of any remarkable increase in yields. Meanwhile a grave imbalance arose
from excessive dependence on an international market for wheat and cotton.
When this market completely crashed in the twenties what impact did it
have on the economy of this region? What factors contributed to the
continuing high returns from land monopoly as compared to cultivation?
And what was the nature of links between this region and the rest of the
Punjab? These are some of the questions that arise. These aspects had
tremendous bearing on the politics of this region. The preservation of
patterns, &dquo;rooted in traditional practice and consciousness whose main~pring lay in semi-feudal rather than capitalistic urges&dquo; provided the backdrop
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for emerging social tensions and spelt out the responses of different social
groups in the unfolding political scenario. The control which the state had
over the economy was matched by its manipulative strength in the politics
of this region.
Ali concludes that a closer examination of the &dquo;sucoess story&dquo; of the Punjab
gives a very different picture. The book bears out the claim that it acts as a
corrective to the assumption that the Punjab was a long-term beneficiary of
colonial rule. Lastly, Ali is not unaware of the impact of the processes set
off under imperialism. Can the lineages of authoritarianism in Pakistan be
traced backwards, he asks, to the retardation of nationalism; to the retaining
of loyal legislatures; to the undeniable eminence of the military and the
arbitrary privileges of bureaucracy? Anyone interested in the history of the
subcontinent would welcome this contribution which goes a long way in
tracing the genesis of the ruling triad of landlords, the bureaucracy and the
military in this region.
Indu Agnihotri
Nehru Memorial Museum and Library
BOOMGAARD, Children of the Colonial State: Population Growth
Development in Java, 1795-1880, Free University
Press, Amsterdam, 1989, x + 247 pp. Figures, graphs, maps, tables,
and Economic
No index. Price not stated.
This book, like a teenage child, is alternatively engaging and infuriating.
At its best, it is a brilliant and challenging example of the fruit that may be
obtained from a combination of fastidious data collection, the marshalling
of a great range of evidence, penetrative and imaginative analysis and a
sure grasp of the general theoretical terrain. At its worst it is petty, disorganised and self-indulgent. Fortunately, the good far outweighs the bad.
The book originated in an attempt ’to set the record straight about Java’s
population growth in the nineteenth century’ (p. ix). It eventually grew to
a ten chapter work, organised into three parts. The first provides the background of Java’s political, administrative and economic structure around
1800 and the nineteenth century colonial economic policies which reshaped
it. The second discusses the impact of those policies on iandholding, village
social structures, agricultural production and the non-agricultural sector.
The third part, the heart of the book, is a heavily detailed and complex discussion of demographic determinants, leading to a painstaking reconstruction
of Java’s major demographic patterns through the nineteenth century.
This is a work of great industry and creativity. It is the first comprehensive
and systematic statistical analysis of social and economic change in nineteenth
century Java, using data collected from a huge number of divergent sources
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