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Decadence of a Society


Alok Sheel

LAND, LANDLORDS AND THE BRITISH RAJ: NORTHERN INDIA IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
By Thomas R. Metcalf
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1979, pp. 436, Rs. 90.00

VOLUME IV NUMBER 5-6 March-April/May-June 1980

Thomas Metcalf's scholarly work des­cribes the process by which the taluqdars of Oudh were transformed from rulers of men into modern rentier landlords. He has a small chapter on the origin of the Rajput clans—how they were super­imposed on the local cultivating commu­nity through conquest and inter-clan rivalry. On this issue, however, he has little to add to Richard Fox's excellent work, Kin, Clan, Raja and Rule. It is in the later sections, particularly those relating to the taluqdars of Oudh on whom the book focusses throughout, except for the hund­red-odd pages on the North-Western Provinces, that Metcalf has much to add to our knowledge. As the affairs of the Kingdom of Oudh came increasingly under the control of the British Resident, the Court became more and more superfluous, with the King of Oudh having little say in crucial matters. Here Metcalf turns a popular orthodoxy concerning the decadence of the Oudh Court on its head. The orthodoxy has it that it was the frivolous, luxurious and artistic (as opposed to firm and martial) disposition of the later kings of Oudh which led to a neglect of the affairs of state on their part and to financial bank­ruptcy. What Metcalf has to say makes a great deal of sense: it was the increasing control of state affairs by the British­—who were an inexorable force since they represented a technologically advanced civilization—which led the later Nawabs to take their minds away from important matters of state. Metcalf thus reverses the cause-effect relationship on the issue. When the British occupied Oudh they dispossessed the taluqdars and settled with the holders below them. How far this was a pragmatic step and how far it was the effect of the Lawrence School or Utilitarian influence is not clear: But when the Revolt broke out—within eighteen months of the annexation—the taluqdars became the centre of disaffection; and they were supported by the primary zamindars who had apparently gained by the British Settlement operations. This angered the British and hardened their attitude toward sub-settlement claimants in subsequent settlement operations. What led the taluqdars to revolt? While the chief reason remains the threat of social revolution which the British revenue settlements impended, the nature of the problem is complex. Some of the most inveterately hostile taluqdars had 1ost no land; and some of those who had, like ...


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