The History of Indian Economic History Prasannan Parthasarathi May 2012 Introduction



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The History of Indian Economic History

Prasannan Parthasarathi

May 2012

Introduction

While there is a long tradition of both historical and economic thinking in the Indian subcontinent, modern economic history may be dated from the late nineteenth century. From the early pioneers of economic history, including Mahadev Govind Ranade and Romesh Chander Dutt, the field reached a high level in India, giving rise to a stellar set of practitioners and an impressive body of scholarship, ranging from Irfan Habib’s studies of the Mughal empire to Amiya Bagchi’s analyses of the colonial economy.

In the last century and a half, three main lines of thinking may be identified in Indian economic history. The first is the early nationalist school inaugurated by Ranade and Dutt. The turn to history for these thinkers was part of an agenda to develop an “Indian economics,” which was attuned to the peculiarities of India. A historical approach was essential to this intellectual project. The search for an Indian economics went largely into decline from the 1930s and in faculties of economics the study and teaching of economic history was of secondary importance for several decades. The second line of economic history may be dated from the 1950s and emerges from a growing influence of Marxism, whose enormous impact was felt by both economists and historians. The final line emerged in the 1960s at the great powerhouse of both economics and economic history in recent decades, the Delhi School of Economics. This represented to some extent a revival of economic history within the ranks of economists.

The flourishing state of economic history in India in the 1960s and 1970s represented a confluence of different forces. Similarly, the decline of economic history from its highpoint of those years is due to multiple factors as well as broad changes in both historical practice and economic thinking.

The focus of this essay is on the evolution of economic history within India itself. Important contributions to Indian economic history have come from scholars located outside the country, but that work is for the most part not taken up in this essay, although references to some of these contributions is inevitable, especially those that shaped economic history writing in India itself. Nonetheless, the purpose of the essay is to chart the development of this branch of history in modern India.

Nationalism and Economic History

Mahadev Govind Ranade is widely acknowledged to be the father of Indian nationalist economics, or Indian political economy. He was born in western India in 1842 and was in instructor in economics at Elphinstone College for a decade and a half where he taught Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, who was the main figure on the syllabus, but to give his students a “wider perspective of political economy,” he studied Malthus, Bastiat, Ramsay, McCulloch and Senior.1

Indian nationalist economics had two goals. The first was the well known critique of the economic impact of British rule in India. The second goal, although less recognized but no less important, was to reject the universalism of economic theory and to construct a framework which captured the unique features of the Indian economy. As Ranade put it in his seminal essay, “Indian Political Economy,” delivered as a lecture at the Deccan College in Pune in 1892, “The same teachers and statesmen, who warn us against certain tendencies in our political aspirations . . . seem to hold that the truths of economic science, as they have been expounded in our most popular English text-books, are absolutely and demonstrably true, and must be accepted as guides of conduct for all time and place whatever may be the stage of national advance. Ethnical, social, juristic, ethical, or economical differences in the environments are not regarded as having any influence in modifying the practical application of these truths.”2

Indian political economy was an economics rooted in the social, cultural and political conditions of India. One inspiration for it was John Stuart Mill, who rejected the universal claims of political economy. Mill wrote in his autobiography that his teachers tried “to construct a permanent fabric out of transitory materials; that they took for granted the immutability of arrangements of society, many of which are in their nature fluctuating or progressive; and enunciate, with as little qualification as if they were universal and absolute truths.”3 Such statements found an appreciative audience among Indians of the late nineteenth century.

The more important inspiration, however, was the German historical school, which gave Indian economics a firm rooting in the study of the past. (Ranade wrote, “The German school regards that universalism and perpetualism in economic doctrine are both unscientific and untrue.”4) Between these two influences, B. N. Ganguli gives primacy to the German historical school and he reconciles them in the following terms: “Parts of the British economic theory, which had assimilated some of the contentions of the continental thinkers, were readily acclaimed by Indians. But where assimilation was doubtful and the resulting ‘compromise’ or rather ‘balance,’ uncertain, there was preference for the conclusions of the Historical School.”5

Among the German economists, Friedrich List was to be the most influential. According to Ranade, “It was the writings of List, which gave the fullest expression to the rebellion against the orthodox creed . . . The function of the state is to help those influences which tend to secure national progress through the several states of growth and adopt free trade or protection, as circumstances may require.”6 List was representative of a larger historical method in economic analysis. Again, to quote Ranade, “The method to be followed is not the deductive but the historical method, which takes account of the past in its forecast of the future; and relativity, and not absoluteness, characterizes the conclusions of economical science.”7

Romesh Chander Dutt’s two volume Economic History of India was the most important historical work produced in this nationalist historical tradition. Dutt was a polymath, one of the first Indian entrants into the Indian Civil Service, the elite administrative cadre that governed British India. He resigned from the government after twenty-six years and devoted himself to politics and writing. He was active in the Indian National Congress and he produced novels, several historical works, translations from the Sanskrit, as well as important political tracts. His two-volume study of the Indian economy under British rule established the contours of a nationalist economic history which endures even in our times.8 (One commentator writes of the first volume, “In several respects this book would rank as the most valuable of books on India under the British rule.”9)

Agriculture is given pride of place in both volumes, perhaps not surprising given the importance of the land revenue for the British Indian state. Much attention is given to the formation of the land revenue systems in the different provinces of British India and their revisions. Industry, internal and external trade, finance, and railways and irrigation are all explored as well, however. The Listian influence is also made explicit. After quoting a long passage from The National System of of Political Economy in which List discussed the economic relationship between Britain and India, Dutt concludes, “While British Political Economists professed the principles of free trade from the latter end of the eighteenth century, the British Nation declined to adopt them till they had crushed the Manufacturing Power of India . . . [I]n India the Manufacturing Power of the people was stamped out by protection against her industries, and then free trade was forced on her so as to prevent a revival.”10

The commitment to a distinct Indian political economy continued into the early decades of the twentieth century, as did a commitment to a historical approach. As late as 1957 the economics department at the University of Madras was still called the “Department of Indian Economics.” In the early twentieth century a number of the leading economists combined research in historical topics along with studies of contemporary Indian problems. P. J. Thomas, who became Professor of Economics at Madras University in 1927, wrote his Oxford doctoral thesis on British trade with India in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century, the now classic Mercantilism and the East India Trade.11 He also produced, along with B. Nataraja Pillai, a seminal study of the depression of the 1820s-1840s in South India.12 The rest of his oeuvre, however, was devoted to analyses of the Indian economy of the 1930s and 1940s and he served on the Provincial Banking Enquiry Committee, the Agricultural Economic Council, the among other government bodies. Thomas took leave from the university in 1943 to take up a position in the Government of India, eventually resigning from his professorship three years later.13

Similarly, the publications of Radhakamal Mukerjee, who began his career as a lecturer in the department of economics at the University of Calcutta and then served as professor and head of the department of economics and sociology at Lucknow University, ranged from economic history to contemporary village studies. He published his The Economic History of India: 1600-1800 in 1939.14 Earlier in his career he was part of a sociological investigation in the Madras Presidency of Dravidian village communities, published several works on the foundations and postulates of Indian economics, housing and slums in urban India, comparative economics and demography.15 Mukerjee is best remembered today as a founder of the Lucknow School of Sociology.16 He was committed to both history and serious field work, however. In his autobiography, he wrote, “In the early years of my own teaching I deeply felt the necessity of relating economic theories and doctrines not only to economic history but also to the concrete social and economic environment.”17

Most famous of all is D. R. Gadgil, who was a major figure in Indian economics from the 1920s to the 1970s. His first book, The Industrial Evolution of India in Recent Times, was submitted as a MLitt thesis at Cambridge University. Ostensibly, it was a study of industry from 1860 to 1914 (subsequent editions brought the story forward into the 1920s and 1930s), but it was in reality a broad economic history of the period.18The work was a critique of British rule and in the later editions this critique, particularly of British laissez faire, was made more explicit.19 (Gadgil provided an introduction to a Government of India reprint of Romesh Dutt’s Economic History of India.) Gadgil later undertook important investigations on the impact of World War II on the Indian economy, industrial labor and wages, the urban economy of western India, and planning and development in post-Independence India. Gadgil was also a staunch proponent of cooperatives for development and this, along with other positions sympathetic to the plight of labors and peasants, led S. A. Dange, Chairman of the Communist Party of India, to produce a pamphlet in appreciation of Gadgil after the economist’s death in 1971.20

The economic histories of India produced by Indian nationalism did not go unchallenged by the defenders of British rule. Among the most enduring are the writings of W. H. Moreland, the former civil servant turned historian, who concentrated his energies on the economics of the Mughal Empire. 21 In Moreland’s interpretation of Mughal rule and its economic impact, the problems of British India, including low standards of living and widespread poverty, were portrayed as long-standing features of the Indian political economy. Others defended British rule along similar lines and attributed Indian economic problems to the deficiencies of culture and society, the most prominent being Vera Anstey, who was located not in India but at the London School of Economics.

From the 1930s the historical bent in Indian economics went into decline and a new generation of economists focused on the contemporary problems of India with little appeal to history and little interest in the past. The independence of India from British rule in 1947 reinforced these choices and the finest economic thinkers in the country turned their minds to the problems of development and planning, which preoccupied both academic and government experts in the 1950s. Perhaps no figure better symbolizes the new practices of Indian economists than V. K. R. V. Rao. Rao was born in South India in 1908 and he was only seven years younger than D. R. Gadgil, but of a different generation in several important respects. He, as did Gadgil, studied economics at Cambridge where he was a student of John Maynard Keynes. Rao’s early work was on the national income India in the 1920s and 1930s. His subsequent research focused on macroeconomics, public finance, education, and development planning, as well as a variety of other topics. Unlike his predecessors, however, Rao did not venture into economic history.22

Why the turn from history, which had been a hallmark of Indian political economy since the late nineteenth century? In his “Rise and Decline of Development Economics” Albert Hirschman credits the Keynesian Revolution for creating the intellectual space to make development economics possible. He wrote, “Development economics took advantage of the unprecedented discredit orthodox economics had fallen into as a result of the depression of the thirties and of the equally unprecedented success of an attack on orthodoxy from within the economics ‘establishment.’ I am talking of course about the Keynesian Revolution of the thirties . . . The Keynesian step from one to two economics was crucial: the ice of monoeconomics had been broken and the idea that there might be yet another economics had instant credibility.”23

Just as the Keynesian Revolution made possible an economics of development, it created the economic justification to develop an approach to the Indian economy, an Indian economics, which did not need recourse to history. On theoretical grounds alone, as Keynes showed, there are compelling arguments for multiple approaches to the study of economics. It was this door, which Keynes created, that Rao and his successors entered, leaving history behind. It would not be till the 1960s that Indian economists would seriously reckon with economic history.

Marxism

While economists, especially those of a more mainstream persuasion, abandoned economic history in the 1940s and 1950s, the growing influence of Marxism, most strikingly among historians, infused economic history with new life and energy. Even in the early decades of the twentieth century historians of India had dealt with economic questions, such as A. Appadorai’s monumental two-volume study of economic conditions in medieval South India.24 In the 1950s there were figures such as N. K. Sinha in Bengal, who wrote a path-breaking three volume economic history of Bengal from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century.25 However, the bulk of historical research focused on political history and the state.

A Marxian interpretation of the Indian past emerged after Indian independence in 1947, displacing the high politics that had reigned supreme for several decades. According to Sumit Sarkar, the change in historical sensibilities emerged from the “conjuncture of the 1950s and 1960s, marked by a strong and apparently growing Left presence in Indian political and intellectual life . . . It was not mainstream British or American historiography, not even writings on South Asian themes, but a journal like Past and Present, the ‘transition debate’, and the work of historians like Hill, Hobsbawm and Thompson . . . that appeared most stimulating to Indian scholars exploring new ways of looking at history.”26

The injection of Marxism into history writing in India opened up whole new worlds of possibilities. One of these was economic history, which flourished in major history departments of India from the 1960s. Many of the contributions to Indian economic history made in those decades were closely connected to research in social history, which too was energized by the Marxian turn.

The impact of Marxism and its contribution to a deeper engagement with economic life was felt across the long span of the Indian past. The study of ancient India was reinvigorated under the influence of D. D. Kosambi and his highly original use of Marxism as a starting point for historical inquiry. As Romila Thapar writes, “The outstanding exponent of the Marxist interpretation of Indian history in all its complexity and the one, who ushered in a paradigm shift in the study of ancient Indian history, was D D Kosambi. The paradigm shift was the move away from colonial and nationalist frameworks and the centrality of dynastic history to a new framework integrating social and economic history and relating the cultural dimensions of the past to these investigations . . . For him history was the presentation in chronological order of successive developments in the means and relations of production.”27

Kosambi also influenced scholarship in medieval history with his arguments for the utility of the concept of feudalism in the study of India, in the usage of Kosambi from the classical to the medieval period.28 R. S. Sharma developed these ideas further.29 The debate on Indian feudalism sparked a major comparative exchange in the Journal of Peasant Studies on the appropriateness of the category for understanding societies outside Europe. Harbans Mukhia initiated the exchange with his essay, “Was There Feudalism in Indian History?”30

The influence of Marxism was felt elsewhere in the study of medieval India, perhaps most strikingly in studies of the Mughal Empire where the focus shifted from the personalities of the ruling emperors to material conditions. Investigations were undertaken on the agrarian order, technology, commerce, banking, feudalism, and the potentialities of capitalism. Irfan Habib was the giant who loomed over the field of Mughal studies and his great work, the Agrarian System of Mughal India, was published in 1963. His structuralist interpretation of the empire and his articulation of lines of class conflict to explain the crisis of the empire and its decline took Mughal history by storm.31

Modern history as well came under the Marxian rethink. While the study of the nationalist movement continued to be of great importance for historians of modern India, the rise of social history led to a greater emphasis on material conditions and, therefore, economic life. Sumit Sarkar sees the development of economic history one of the major areas of advance in the study of modern India, which was also furthered by the fuller development of the nationalist paradigm “enriched through more sophisticated tools and empirical detail the basic critique of colonial policies and structures that had been initiated by the first generation of nationalist economists and developed by Marxists like R. P. Dutt.”32

Modern economic and social historians tackled a broad range of issues, including demography, external as well as internal trade, finance, banking and currency questions, and national income estimation. However, the economic and social history of modern Indian has centered on agriculture and industry, which is not surprising given that these sector loomed large in policy discussions on economic development after independence. Nevertheless, it is somewhat surprising that important issues such as India’s place in the global order, which had been a longstanding concern for nationalist economic historians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, received so little attention from historians. Dadhabai Naoroji, Romesh Chander Dutt and others were deeply concerned with the drain of wealth from India to Britain, which they saw as operating through the international payments and settlements system. G. Balachandran sees the neglect of this topic as due to the “canonical status of the ‘nationalist economists’ who wrote on the subject . . . the tightening of India’s external economic controls since the 1950s; and the complicit evolution of disciplinary regimes in both mainstream economics and history.”33 The last point, on the divergent paths of history and economics, is one that this essay will return to.

While the study of India’s place in the world economy has been neglected for the modern period, it has flourished with respect to the period between 1500 and 1800. These centuries were traditionally considered to form part of the medieval history of India, but they are now increasingly considered to mark the flowering of an early modernity, manifest in economic, as well as political, social and cultural life. In the 1960s and 1970s Indian economic historians, most notably, Ashin Das Gupta, produced major studies of subcontinent’s maritime connections and lay the foundation for the new field of Indian Ocean studies.

Despite these exciting developments in pre-colonial trade history, when it came to the colonial period, agriculture and industry ruled the day. The agrarian turn was part of a larger “return of the peasant to South Asian history,” in Eric Stokes’ evocative language and from the 1960s enormous numbers of regional and local histories of agriculture were produced. These ranged from investigations of the British revenue settlements, a well-worn path of research, to the land market in colonial India, class relations in the countryside, to studies of famine. The richness of this scholarship defies easy summary and the continued value of many of these studies cannot be overstated.34

The most important Marxian debate in the agrarian history of India has come to be known as the “mode of production” debate and it took place in the 1960s and 1970s with many of the major contributions published in the Economic and Political Weekly.35 The essence of the debate was empirical and theoretical disagreements on how to categorize the mode of production in agriculture in India. The exchange began in the early 1960s within economists who were attempting to understand the nature of capitalist relations of production in contemporary Indian agriculture. The debate broadened quickly, however, to ask if the contemporary agrarian order could be even labeled capitalist, with feudalism and semi-feudalism proposed as alternatives. The debate also broadened its temporal focus to include commercial relations in the countryside during the period of British rule and the extent to which the coming of independence represented a break in the development of agriculture. In terms of the historical dimension of the debate, the contributions of Jairus Banaji, especially his “Capitalist Domination and the Small Peasantry: Deccan Districts in the Late Nineteenth Century,” were to be of the greatest importance. Although the debate was at times highly technical, and occasionally appeared to be overly concerned with semantics, its impact was felt widely in the writing of Indian agrarian history.

The bulk of the participants in the mode of production debate focused on contemporary India, which reflected the larger disconnect—even within Marxian economics—between economics and history, which as we have seen emerged in the 1930s. Nevertheless, the vigor with which economists embraced the historical dimensions is reminiscent of Indian economic thinking in the early decades of the twentieth century, at the time when the discipline was searching for an Indian political economy. This may be attributed to the historicism of Marxism, but as we shall see, in the 1960s there was to some extent a rediscovery of history by Indian economists.

Industrialization and deindustrialization was the second major area of research within an economic and social history inspired by the Marxian turn. The deindustrialization of nineteenth-century Indian regions was a key plank of the nationalist critique of British rule and figured in Romesh Chander Dutt’s economic history of India. Amiya Bagchi’s study of manufacturing employment in nineteenth-century Bihar may be the most important modern study of deindustrialization and sparked a renewed discussion and debate which drew participants from India as well as around the world.

Bagchi is also the author of what may be the most important study of industrialization in twentieth-century India, Private Investment of India. While the work is influenced by Keynesian macroeconomics, with its emphasis on demand as a crucial limit on private investment in the early decades of the twentieth century, its larger thesis is that “before the First World it was the governmental policy of free trade, and after the war it was the general depression in the capitalist system combined with the halting and piecemeal policy of tariff protection adopted b y the Government of India, that limited the rate of investment in modern industry.”36 With this argument Bagchi took on a long line of thinkers who had argued that the problem of slow Indian growth and development was due to supply side factors such as lack of capital, entrepreneurship or Indian values.

Bagchi combined his historical interests with research on contemporary themes. Both interests were brought together in his Political Economy of Underdevelopment, which ranged beyond India to include discussions of Latin America, Indonesia and China, as well as the analysis of several problems in economic development, including land reform, labour, capital and the state, population growth, and planning.37 Bagchi’s work then has investigated some of the classic themes in Indian economic history as inaugurated by the nationalists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, including deindustrialization, the constrained industrialization of British India, the extraction of resources through agricultural taxation and the drain. (Bagchi has also produced seminal works on the financial history of British India.38)

The continuity between nationalist economic history and Marxian economic history illustrates what Sumit Sarkar has called a “Left nationalist-Marxist consensus.” He wrote, “As the example of economic history indicates, there was considerable scope in modern Indian history for a kind of Left nationalist-Marxist consensus, a rough counterpart perhaps in historiography to the Nehruvian consensus which, at least in retrospect, seems to have characterized middle-class Indian intellectual life during those decades.”39

This consensus, along with an admixture of social and economic history, dominated major history departments in India from the 1960s. Even as late as 1997, a volume celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of Delhi University, which was founded in 1922, described the history department, one of the leading in India, in the following terms: “Almost every member of the present Faculty has been constantly working on various aspects of socio-economic history cutting across chronological frontiers of Indian history . . . The Department has, over the years, set to achieve itsobjectives, viz. l’historire (sic) integrale: the study of ‘total history’ over the long (sic) duree.”40



Economists Re-Engage with the Past

While Marxism was reshaping the writing of history from the 1950s, economists at what had become the preeminent center for research and teaching of the discipline, the Delhi School of Economics, began to re-engage with the study of the past. In the closing years of the decade V. K. R. V. Rao, who established the Delhi School in 1949 and later became the Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University, invited Tapan Raychaudhuri to join the economics department, which he did in February 1959.41 In the early 1950s Raychaudhuri received a PhD in History from Calcutta University with a dissertation on the social history of Bengal in the Mughal period, after which he embarked upon a teaching career in Calcutta. Several years later he completed a DPhil in History at Oxford on the trade of the Dutch East India Company in South India. Upon returning to India he took up a post as the Deputy Director and Acting Director of the National Archives of India.

It is not clear why Rao, who as previously noted showed little inclination towards economic history in his own career as an economist, asked a historian to join the economics department. It is clearer, however, why Rao had to turn to someone trained as a historian and not as an economist: the decline of economic history within economics had meant that very few—if any—Indian economists had been trained in that field in recent decades. Raychaudhuri describes feeling lost in the midst of “very high-powered theoretical economics.” This period was perhaps the heyday of the Delhi School as it boasted on its economics faculty K. N. Raj, Amartya Sen, Sukhamoy Chakravarty and Jagdish Bhagwati. Raychaudhuri writes in his memoir that he realized that he had made “a mistake in coming.” At the same time, the colleagues were extremely accommodating. In 1964 a chair in economic history was created, to which he was appointed, and the department took a decision to specialize in economic history and economic development. This allowed for the addition of a reader in economic history, to which post Dharma Kumar was appointed, and the establishment of a visiting professorship in economic history, which drew top economic historians from the United Kingdom, including M. M. Postan, John Habakkuk and Peter Mathias, the United States, Japan and the USSR. According to Raychaudhuri, “My colleagues were aware of my predicament, the professional isolation from which I suffered, and did their best to make me feel at home.”42 With the growing presence of economic history at the school other members of the faculty were encouraged to venture into the field. Amartya Sen, for example, undertook studies of industrialization in India in the second half of the nineteenth century.43

In 1963 Tapan Raychaudhuri and Dharma Kumar launched the Indian Economic and Social History Review, which remains the leading journal of Indian economic history. The initial editorial committee included R. S. Sharma, Nurul Hasan, Ranajit Guha, K. N. Raj, M. N. Srinivas, Amarty Sen, Irfan Habib and Dharma Kumar with Tapan Raychaudhuri as the Managing Editor. The journal, as suggested by the name and this group, had an interest in economic questions but broadly defined to include the social and political dimensions. (Over time cultural questions came increasingly under the purview of the journal as well.) This broad approach characterized the articles as well. The first issue of the journal contained essays on the nature of land rights in Mughal India, the pattern of public investment in early twentieth-century India, and two pieces on the nationalist movement and the agrarian economy.

Dharma Kumar and Tapan Raychaudhuri teamed up again to produce the Cambridge Economic of History. The former (with the assistance of Meghnad Desai on the statistical parts), edited the second volume, which covered the period from the mid-eighteenth century to the present. The latter, along with Irfan Habib, edited the first volume, which ranged from 1200 to 1750.44 It was an unlikely editorial team. Tapan Raychaudhuri was a staunch nationalist, who had been jailed in 1942 during the Quit India movement and Habib was a leading Marxist historian. Dharma Kumar, in the meantime, had made her name with an important critique of the nationalist narrative, arguing in her Land and Caste in South India that landless labor in South India was not a creation of British rule but predated it.45 The second volume of the Cambridge Economic History did not subscribe to the nationalist line and was criticized widely for this.46

In the 1970s economic history (along with econometrics) flourished at the Delhi School.47 Economic history benefitted from the fact that it made sense for students to remain at the school to pursue doctorates in it, as opposed to going to the UK or the USA.48 From the 1960s the Delhi School produced a number of very fine economic historians, including Om Prakash, Omkar Goswami and Sanjay Subrahmanyam. Much of this work was not narrowly economic in its focus and included the social and political domains, as did the articles in the Indian Economic and Social History Review, and the interests and methods of the economic historians at the Delhi School shared much with historians in Delhi and elsewhere in India. While fine quantitative work emerged from the Delhi School, such as that of S. Sivasubramaniam on national income, cliometrics did not find a home, perhaps not least because of the poor quality of much Indian data.49



Conclusion

In retrospect, the two-volume Cambridge Economic History of India marked the end of the heyday of economic history in India. While excellent work continued even after its publication in 1982, economic history slowly lost much of its glamour. The Delhi School of Economics has no faculty in economic history. The leading history departments in India have shifted from social and economic history to social and cultural history. From the history recounted in this paper, the decline of economic history may be seen as the outcome of two developments.

The first is the decline of Marxism, which had been the source of the economic turn in history departments from the 1950s. Of course, historians were not narrow economic historians and placed economic life in a broader context, but the economic came to be less central with the dwindling appeal of Marxism. For some, the shift from the economic was a reaction to crude reductionism, but for many it was a slow evolution as new concerns came to the fore. The career of Harbans Mukhia may be illustrative in which a shift from Marxism came from a deepening engagement with the Annales and the total history of that approach. 50 (This tension has already been seen in the Delhi University history department’s commitment to social and economic history as well as total history.)

The second is the rise of a universal economics, or monoeconomics, within departments of economics. The search for an alternate paradigm drove the turn to history in Indian economics in the late nineteenth century. In the 1960s economic history appears to have flourished in tandem with development economics as they both sought to construct a framework that could help untangle the problems of the Indian economy. The growing influence of neoclassical economics and its universalization has eliminated the need for a historical approach in contemporary Indian economics.





1 B. N. Ganguli, Indian Economic Thought: Nineteenth Century Perspectives (New Delhi, 1977), p. 164.

2 Mahadev Govind Ranade, C.I.E., “Indian Political Economy,” in his Essays on Indian Economics: A Collection of Essays and Speeches, 3rd edn. (Madras, 1920), p. 2.

3 Cited in Ganguli, Indian Economic Thought, p. 69.

4 Ranade, “Indian Political Economy,” p. 20.

5 Ganguli, Indian Economic Thought, p. 76.

6 Cited in Ganguli, Indian Economic Thought, pp. 78-9.

7 Ranade, “Indian Political Economy,” pp. 20-1.

8 Romesh Dutt, The Economic History of India, 2 vols. (London, 1902-4)

9 P. K. Gopalakrishnan, Development of Economic Ideas in India (1880-1950) (New Delhi, 1959), p. 147-8.

10 Romesh Dutt, The Economic History of India, vol. 1, Under Early British Rule (Delhi, 1960), pp. 215-6.

11 P. J. Thomas, Mercantilism and the East India Trade (London, 1926).

12 P. J. Thomas and B. Nataraja Pillai, Economic Depression in the Madras Presidency (1820-1854) (Madras, 1933).

13 History of Higher Education in South India, vol. 1, University of Madras 1857-1957 (Madras, 1957), pp. 161-3.

14 Radhakamal Mukerjee, The Economic History of India: 1600-1800 (London, 1939).

15 Post-Graduate Teaching in the University of Calcutta 1919-1920 (Calcutta, no date of publication), pp. 65-6; Satish Chandra Ghosh, The Economic and Commercial Publications of the Post-Graduate Teachers of Calcutta University (Calcutta, 1948), pp. 44-5.

16 P. C. Joshi, “Founders of the Lucknow School and their Legacy Radhakamal Mukerjee and D. P. Mukerji: Some Reflections,” Economic and Political Weekly, 21 (1986), pp. 1455-69.

17 Radhakamal Mukerjee, India: The Dawn of New Era (An Autobiography) (New Delhi, 1997), p. 119.

18 D. R. Gadgil, The Industrial Evolution of India in Recent Times (London, 1924).

19 Bhabatosh Datta, Indian Economic Thought: Twentieth Century Perspectives 1900-1950 (New Delhi, 1978), p. 51.

20 S.A. Dange, Gadgil and the Economics of Indian Democracy (New Delhi, 1971). For Gadgil’s writings on cooperatives see his Writings and Speeches of D. R. Gadgil on Cooperation (Poona, 1975).

21 W. H. Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar (London, 1920) and From Akbar to Aurangzeb (London, 1923).

22 For more on his life, see S. L. Rao (ed.), The Partial Memoirs of V. K. R. V. Rao (Delhi, 2002).

23 Albert O. Hirschman, “The Rise and Decline of Development Economics,” in his Essays in Trespassing: Economics to Politics and Beyond (Cambridge, 1981), p. 6.

24 A. Appadorai, Economic Conditions in Southern India (1000-1500 A.D.), 2 vols. (Madras, 1936).

25 N. K. Sinha, The Economic History of Bengal, 3 vols. (Calcutta, 1956-70).

26 Sumit Sarkar, “The Many Worlds of Indian History,” in his Writing Social History (Delhi, 1997), p. 37.

27 Romila Thapar, “Early Indian History and the Legacy of DD Kosmabi,” Resonance, June 2011, p. 553-4.

28 D. D. Kosambi, “Stages of Indian History,” in his Combined Methods in Indology and Other Writings (Delhi, 2002), pp. 57-72.

29 R. S. Sharma, Indian Feudalism (Calcutta, 1965).

30 T. J. Byres and Harbans Mukhia (eds.), Feudalism and Non-European Societies (London, 1985).

31 This is how several years ago Harbans Mukhia described the impact of the book to me.

32 Sarkar, “The Many Worlds of Indian History,” p. 39.

33 G. Balachandran, “Introduction,” in G. Balachandran (ed.), India and the World Economy 1850-1950 (Delhi, 2003), p. 1.

34 For a sense of the richness and range of agrarian history in recent decades see Binay Bhushan Chaudhuri, Peasant History of Late Pre-Colonial and Colonial India (New Delhi, 2008).

35 For a selection of key contributions to the debate see Utsa Patnaik (ed.), Agrarian Relations and Accumulation: The ‘Mode of Production” Debate in India (Delhi, 1990).

36 Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Private Investment in India 1900-1939 (Cambridge, 1972), p. 19.

37 Amiya Kumar Bagchi, The Political Economy of Underdevelopment (Cambridge, 1982).

38 See his The Presidency Banks and the Indian Economy, 1876-1914 (Calcutta, 1989) and his multi-volume history of the State Bank of India, The Evolution of the State Bank of India.

39 Sarkar, “The Many Worlds of Indian History,” p. 39.

40 R. B. Jain (ed.), The University of Delhi: Faculties and Departments, A Profile (Delhi, 2000), p. 165.

41 Tapan Raychaudhuri, The World in Our Time: A Memoir (Noida, 2011), p. 274.

42 Raychaudhuri, The World in Our Time, pp. 278-9.

43 “The Commodity Pattern of British Enterprise in Early Indian Industrialization 1854-1914,” in the Proceedings of the Second International Conference of Economic History (Paris,1965); “The Pattern of British Enterprise in India 1854-1914: A Causal Analysis,” in B. Singh andV. B. Singh, eds., Social and Economic Change (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1967).

44 Raychaudhuri, The World in Our Time, p. 280.

45 Dharma Kumar, Land and Caste in South India (Cambridge, 1965).

46 Irfan Habib, “Studying a Colonial Economy without Perceiving Colonialism,” Modern Asian Studies, 19 (1985), pp. 355-81.

47 Interview with Dilip Mookherjee, May 9, 2012.

48 Dharma Kumar and Dilip Mookherjee (eds.), The D. School: Reflections on the Delhi School of Economics (Delhi, 1995).

49 S. Sivasubramaniam, The National Income of India in the Twentieth Century (Delhi, 2000).

50 See the intellectual biography of Mukhia by Rajat Datta in Rajat Datta (ed.), Rethinking a Millenium: Perspectives on Indian History from the Eighth to the Eighteenth Century, Essays for Harbans Mukhia (Delhi, 2008).


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