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State Centre Relations

Denys P. Leighton

By D.E.U. Baker
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. xvii 345, Rs. 750.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 9 September 2007

David Baker has been at home at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, as a teacher and scholar for nearly forty years and is presently engaged in writing a history of that institution. Baker’s work has drawn attention to central-regional dynamics in the emergence of the modern Indian state and society. His first book published in 1978 examined changing patterns of leadership in the Central Provinces and Berar during the emergence of mass nationalism before 1939. A subsequent monograph dealt with a century of colonial rule in the same region. Somewhat unusually among scholars of Indian regionalism and nationalism, Baker has been sensitive to the positions of tribal people in history and the roles of tribal societies in constituting regional identities. In the book presently under review, Baker examines aspects of ‘the nationalizing process to a point where it led to the [Baghelkhand] region’s incorporation in the Indian nation in the twentieth century’ (p. 1). He acknowledges that using regionality ‘when examining, say, prehistoric and early historic events and people is to impose an artificial geographical boundary on influences that knew no such boundaries’ (p. 2). These influences include patterns of human migration, utilization of land and other resources, and socio-cultural processes such as the spread of Buddhism and Sanskritization, not to mention the piecemeal ‘integration’ of tribal societies into a dominant, supposedly monolithic ‘Hindu’ civilizational pattern.   Baker’s Baghelkhand encompasses the districts of Rewa, Satna, Sidhi and Shahdol in the northeastern corner of the Madhya Pradesh established in 1956. Baghelkhand has no political-administrative status today, being the name preferred by Maharaja Gulab Singh (ruled 1922-1946) to indicate Rewa State and other states in its vicinity belonging to the Central India Agency. Baker takes the physiographic dimension as an important function or determinant of regionality. The first two chapters of the book examine in detail physiographic/environmental features of the region between c. 800 bc and c. 1300 ad. Because the picture of the prehistoric and protohistoric past of the region is hazy at best, and because the working of regionalizing (or centralizing and ‘nationalizing’) tendencies in the region under the Maurya dynasty is also obscured, Baker is perhaps justified in taking Baghelkhand’s physiographic character as an historical signifier. The region ‘occupies a zone of disengagement between the Gangetic plains and the Deccan plateau’ (p. 9). Citing a doctoral thesis by O.P. Mishra on the ‘floristic component’ of the region, Baker is tempted to view ...

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