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A History of Protest

Biswamoy Pati

Edited by Y. Vaikuntham
Manohar Publication, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 246, Rs. 500.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 2 February 2005

Historians seem to have hardly directed any serious attention to the princely enclaves. During the time of India’s freedom there were more than 500 princely states, which contained more than 24 percent of the population and 45 percent of its territory. It is perhaps this factor that precipitated the idea of having a conference in 1994–which this book draws upon–where the diversities of the princely states in colonial India were taken up for scrutiny. The idea of exploring the princely states of south India is indeed laudable, though the collection is a bit uneven, with five of the fifteen contributions focusing on the state of Hyderabad.   In his editorial note Y. Vaikuntham refers to the visibility of ‘progress’ in some princely states like Baroda, Mysore and Travancore with the rulers trying to ‘emulate’ the British whereas the picture was different in most of the other states where ‘people suffered’ (p.11). As described, ‘both the economic system and the political policy’ were directed by the ‘colonial rulers’ (p. 12). If examined critically these formulations pose serious problems and confuse the issues. Thus, they seem to presuppose that ‘British’ Indians were a happy lot, living in a set-up that was ‘progressive’, not ‘medieval’ (but was ‘modern’?) where the people were involved in the governance. Besides the fact that the divisions between these ‘two worlds’ cannot be binarized in this fashion–which in itself echo colonial/middle class constructs—one needs to also grasp that the ‘enclaves of progress’ (viz. areas directly under colonial rule) were marked with repression in most of the tracts (including the zamindaris). Moreover, the so-called reformatory zeal of the handful of princely states was designed to veil the inner contradictions and in fact legitimized their existence in the eyes of the states’ people. After all, the colonial order created, preserved and controlled the so-called ‘dark zones’ in order to have access to their resources, without the responsibility of administering them. And, finally, it was through the struggles of the peasants and workers in the areas of direct British control that some changes were forced out. Consequently, Vaikuntham’s articulation veils the inner dynamics and exploitative order generated by both feudalism and colonialism, which were intimately linked with each other in the princely states.   Vaikuntham’s idea of explaining his method through diagrams (p. 14)—that the national movement was ‘basically’ an ‘anti-colonial struggle in British India’, whereas ‘in the princely states ...

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