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The Colonial Project Defined

Meena Bhargava

By Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Primus Books, New Delhi, 2013, Rs. 1895.00 1895.00 1395.00 1595 1950.00 respectively


The Calendar of Persian Correspondence in 10 volumes was originally published by the Imperial Record Department, subsequently incorporated into the National Archives of India. These volumes span the period 1759 to 1793 providing details of the circumstances and processes by which the English East India Company consolidated its control over Bengal in the eighteenth century subsequent to its victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The eleventh volume covering the period 1794-95 was published in 1969. The volumes under review (I - V) have been re-issued and published as a special edition with an exhaustive Introduction by Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam.   The first volume of the Calendar of Persian Correspondence was published in 1911, the same year that the Imperial Durbar was held in Delhi to mark the accession of King George V, by the Imperial Record Department established in 1891 under the stewardship of G.W. Forrest. His successors, C.R. Wilson and E. Denison Ross, initiated and took ahead the task of calendaring the entire series of Persian records. These records, as observed by Alam and Subrahmanyam in the Introduction, were a part of the large corpus of ‘ancient papers’ of the East India Company in various languages that were kept in various secretariat offices at Calcutta. The Calendar was conceived to present to the public a summary of some of these, namely the Persian language letters that were exchanged from 1759 onwards ‘between some of the (East India) Company’s Servants and Indian Rulers and Notables’.   The ten volumes, argue Alam and Subrahmanyam, were prepared to serve a rather explicit teleology, in which colonial rule was portrayed as an inevitable historical consequence. However, they suggest, after the end of the colonial rule and in view of the expanding South Asian historiography, such teleology becomes untenable in both political and intellectual contexts. Yet, by its very nature, this collection prompts the historian of South Asia to re-examine such historiographical issues that were enmeshed with the colonial project.   The first five volumes, covering the period 1759-1780, were initially concerned with the ‘Affairs in Bengal’ although later, the Series took into consideration other parts of India as well. The focus of the Series was on the first phase of indirect rule by the British in India, mediated by the East India Company. Providing details of the foundation of the English East India Company, the factional conflict among its Servants, quarrels with the Parliament, the early scandals, ...

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