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A Micro-history of Two Campaigns

Rajit K. Mazumder

By Randolf G.S. Cooper
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 437, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 9 September 2006

It must be admitted at the very outset that going through this book has been quite exasperating. Reviewing necessitated it be read cover to cover, and it was not a pleasant experience. Of course, it is not without its merits, but few will come away entirely satisfied, even if they are persuaded by the arguments.   The primary reason for dissatisfaction is that a lot is promised and little delivered. The assertion is that: This is a cross-cultural study of the political economy of warfare in South Asia. Randolf G. S. Cooper combines an overview of Maratha military culture with a battle-by-battle analysis of the 1803 Anglo-Maratha Campaigns.   Building on that foundation he challenges ethnocentric assumptions about British superiority in discipline, drill and technology. He asserts that these campaigns, in which Arthur Wellesley served with distinction, represent the military high-water mark of the Marathas who posed the last serious opposition to the formation of the British Raj. He argues that the real contest for India was never a single decisive battle for the subcontinent. Rather it turned on a complex social and political struggle for control of the South Asian military economy. The author shows that victory in 1803 hinged as much on finance, politics and intelligence at it did on battlefield manoeuvre and war itself.   Is Cooper credibly able to accomplish the tasks set out above? The book does contain greatly detailed description of the two campaigns in the Deccan and Hindustan, but this would delight hardcore military historians, or those interested solely in the two campaigns. More positively, Cooper is able to show that British manpower, weapons and strategy was not superior to that of the Marathas. One is also persuaded that 1803 was the acme of Maratha military power. But, whoever made the argument that the struggle for India was decided in one single battle? And, as far as the very significant final contention goes, not enough is provided to convincingly argue the point (more on this later).   In this age of stylish jargon posing as solid academic work it is not surprising that the first sentence is fashionably eye-catching. Cooper further explains: ‘Within my studies, “cross-cultural conflict analysis” came to mean an analysis of war’s dynamics as influenced by the presence of competing cultures. The conflicting cultures might be ethnic, racial, religious, national, political, or any combination thereof; although for me the most challenging case studies were those that ...

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