Tuesday, December 1, 2009

India’s changing polity, economy and society

Dhiraj Nayyar review of Meghnad Desai’s new book The Rediscovery of India is worth reading.

Mr Nayyar writes:

  • Interestingly, Desai starts the book with India’s Vasco Da Gama moment. Fittingly for an economist, he chooses to start that the point when Indian truly began to engage the world beyond just Asia. However, he is careful to point out that this trade wasn’t with India as we know it now, but largely with the coastal areas of South India alone. North India continued to be linked by trade over land to Central Asia. A running theme through his book is that even though the subcontinent had certain strains of common identity through history, it never really had a sense of being one nation or one nation state. So, the Hindu caste system certainly provided one thread.
  • The Buddhist Ashoka’s rule may have provided some administrative unity at one point in time as did the Mughal Empire under Aurangzeb much later. But even in the revolt of 1857, which is referred to by some historians as India’s first war of independence, nobody was fighting for the India we got to know in 1947. In fact, in 1857, the revolt was largely confined to what are now the northern states of India all of whom were fighting in the name of a much diminished Mughal emperor. Much of the battle in 1857 was fought by Indian soldiers on either side. The Marathas still harboured ambitions of a greater Maratha empire.

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