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Kings, Commoners and the State


Vanaja Rangaswami


Edited by Waltraud Ernst and Biswamoy Pati
Routledge, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 236, price not stated.

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 7 July 2008

The book comprises a collection of papers read at the International Research Symposium on ‘The Indian Princely States’ held at the University of Southampton in 2005. The topics are varied, ranging from historiography, depositions, agrarian movements and even to gender issues and states health policies.   The first chapter, ‘People, princes and colonialism’, by the editors of the book and Chapter 2, ‘Colonial and Postcolonial historiography and the princely states—relations of Power and Rituals of Legitimation’, by Hira Singh are on historiography and present overviews on recent writings on the princely states and their limitations.   The editors have rightly remarked that while politics of the alliance system and indirect rule, military conquest and integration of the states in an independent India have been dealt with, the social and agrarian structures in the Indian states and the relationship within these stratifications have not attracted much interest amongst historians. Hira Singh in his write-up on historiography ranging from the colonial period to liberal, Marxist, Foucaultian and subaltern studies, makes the same point that the constructs in historiography and constraining these to fit ideologies has ensured a focus on ‘the political and private lives of the princely elite’ to the exclusion or neglect of the area of material foundations within the states. The ‘hierarchical land relations binding the king, the lord, the priest and the peasant’ and the confrontations within, as a result of the differences between them have hardly found any mention.   The above lacuna is to a certain extent dealt with in chapter 5, ‘The Agrarian System of the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir: A study of colonial settlement policies 1860–1905’ by Shakti Kak.   From the very early years of the creation of the state via the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846, the British Paramountcy established a convention of interference in the state’s administration including in matters of assessment and collection of land revenue, in the state. Thus the state’s independence in administration was ‘at best nominal’.   All land belonged to the king and the cultivators had no rights of ownership or even of occupancy. This was a pattern in most states. Here I would like to mention that ‘the model’ southern state of Travancore, by the end of the nineteenth century, did allow the rights of ownership and transferability, while Mysore to a certain extent got round the problem by making the rights of cultivation transferable. The British, according to the author ...


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