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Making of Modern India: Linking Strands of Development


Ranjana Sheel

HISTORY OF INDIA: 1707-1857
By Lakshmi Subramanian
Orient Blackswan, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 252, price not stated

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 5 May 2011

The period 17071857 is one of the most fascinating in the history of India. It in effect laid the foundation for colonial modernity and had a profound impact on the making of modern India. As such, when a noted cultural historian writes a survey book on this period ones expectations are of a different kind. Lakshmi Subramanian is also a wellknown scholar with a focus on the history of South India. Both these specializations could have informed the text better and made this volume a meaningful entry into the world of textbooks. It falls short of the expectations that a work by such an eminent scholar arouses. Nevertheless, it is a useful summary of information and interpretations, in five interlinked chapters and an epilogue, about political, administrative, economic developments and the social and cultural changes in India under Company rule. Her focus is on the eighteenth and the first half of nineteenth century Indiaa period of high drama (p.1)when the Mughal decline followed an era of transition in which colonial penetration and the ensuing complex developments resulted in trends that signified a major social transformation. She concurs with recent scholarship that the eighteenth century can be seen as a period of the early modern and the next one as colonial modern (p. 217). The concept of early modern is utilized to understand the potentialities of regionalism with the disintegration of the Mughal empire and prior to the establishment of the British rule. Many of the ruling classes of the centralized Mughal period became integral to the new shortlived regional polities in the north and the south that emerged in the eighteenth century. The dynamism of change in the political sphere was matched by developments in the area of commerce and culture. The financier and the trader rose as dominant figures in eighteenth century India. These formed the historical scenario which impacted later developments. The establishment of Company Bahadur was not a one time event, but a long drawn process. The Company, according to the author, moved from adjustments with the British Crown due to the complications arising out of the Plassey Revolution to a clearer hierarchy of control before a complete transfer in 1858. Its impact is evident on virtually all sections of the society as it tried to justify its rule through the idea of good governance, rule of law and security of property. The tone of the narrative is one ...


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