Anda di halaman 1dari 16

History and Sociology of South Asia http://hsa.sagepub.


Book Review
History and Sociology of South Asia 2009 3: 369 DOI: 10.1177/223080750900300210 The online version of this article can be found at:

Published by:

On behalf of:

Jamia Millia Islamia

Additional services and information for History and Sociology of South Asia can be found at: Email Alerts: Subscriptions: Reprints: Permissions:

>> Version of Record - Dec 1, 2009 What is This?

Downloaded from by Najaf Haider on October 31, 2013

Contemporary Perspectives Vol. 3, No. 2, July December 2009, 369383

BOOK REVIEW Book Review of The Gyanendra Pandey Omnibus, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2008, Rs 995, HB.
The Omnibus brings together in one volume three major works of Gyanendra Pandey: The Ascendancy of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh (second edition 2002, first edition 1978; The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India (second edition 2006, first edition 1990); and Remembering Partition (2001) it would be thoughtful on the part of publishers to provide the full publication history of a book in a volume of this kind. The thematic unity of the three works makes it possible for the Omnibus to be read as one book, as a study of the evolution during the late colonial period of different conceptions of Indian nationhood, of the historical processes underlying this evolution and the tragic relationship between communalism and nationalism. The geographical focus of the study is the region of the YamunaGanga doab stretching from Delhi to the Bhojpur area of Bihar. In Ascendancy of the Congress, Pandey looks at the manner in which Congress-led movements and nationalist political practices of the 1920s and 1930s shaped differing perceptions of the nation leading to a double marginalisation of the Muslims and of radical peasant demands which reinforced on the one hand the bourgeois-landlord class character of the Congress and on the other rendered the organisation ineffectual in dealing with the problem of communalism. In Construction of Communalism he goes on to examine the growth of communal consciousness and politics, tracing its roots to colonial governance in the nineteenth century, laying bare a historical process that culminated in the colossal violence of the moment of Partition. Remembering Partition seeks to retrieve something of the suppressed history of the phenomenal triumph of communalism, and its violence. It is generally recognised that during the latter half of the 1920s the post-Chauri Chaura retreat by the Congress from politics of mass mobilisation had the unfortunate, though unintended, consequence of the rapid growth of communalism, both as ideology and as political practice. Political and organisational activities in this period of mobilising for limited representation,


Amar Farooqui

based upon a restricted and sectional franchise (made possible by the 1919 Act) often meant furthering communal agendas. Many of the Congress right-wing leaders contributed to strengthening this tendency. Pandeys Ascendancy of the Congress draws attention to the communal Hindu campaign on an organised basis carried out in UP by the Madan Mohan Malaviya group during the 1926 elections. Music before mosques became an important issue (significantly the controversy over the issue subsided after the elections); the support of the Hindu Sabha was enlisted to safeguard Hindu interests; and the Motilal Nehru group was targeted for not being sensitive to these interests. So intense was the propaganda that Nehru momentarily succumbed to it, preferring to project himself as a true Hindu rather than lose electoral support for his group. During the Civil Disobedience Movement, the use of religious fairs and festivals as well as sadhus and sannyasis was an integral part of the mass mobilisation strategy. The specific religious slant which nationalist mobilisation thus acquired made it increasingly difficult for the Congress to attract Muslims in large numbers in key provinces such as UP and Bihar, where it otherwise enjoyed extensive support. The lukewarm response of the Muslims to the Civil Disobedience Movement reflected their alienation from the Congress, to which Pandey devotes a very detailed chapter. The Muslim mass contact programme launched in 1937 was in recognition of the need to seriously engage with the Muslim masses. The programme was the initiative of the Congress president, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Communist activist-scholar K. M. Ashraf. The party did not really have its heart in this campaign and thus it achieved little. It is telling, as Pandey observes in Construction of Communalism, that such a programme should have been conceived at all this was indication of the sectarian arrangement of the Indian political world and that only a Muslim [albeit a Communist] was judged fit to pilot it. Of course the Congress itself was a site of contestation. Divergent, mutually exclusive (but in some cases overlapping), notions of the nation contended for supremacy within it not surprising at all given its umbrella form. The intervention of Gandhiji and Nehru was critically important to building a consensus over a secular understanding of Indian nationhood, a consensus to which the left-wing both inside and outside the Congress contributed in no small measure. Yet the ideological shortcomings and theoretical weaknesses of the GandhianNehruvian position, usually an

Book Review 371

indication of the class outlook of the party, virtually paralysed the Congress leadership in the final phase of the national liberation struggle, 194547. The refusal to take on board radical demands of the peoples movements of these years, and the attempt to resolve the problem of communalism through high politics and top-level negotiations, eventually brought about the sterile solution of 1947 with its attendant bloodbath. This is not to absolve British imperialism of its responsibility for the horrors of Partition but to highlight the limitations even of the most sophisticated conceptualisation of the nation within the dominant section of the national movement, partaking as it did of colonial constructions of Indian/Oriental society and history while simultaneously critiquing colonial understanding. This crude, and much more widespread, conceptualisations imbibed even more of the colonial understanding and made the construction of communalism far more ideologically potent. This is a question that Pandeys seminal Construction of Communalism probes through a rich empirical study combined with great theoretical rigour. Communalism, Pandey argues, is a form of colonialist knowledge. Communalism can only be understood in the historical context of the late colonial period (Pandey is critical of attempts to search for communal conflicts in earlier periods). The classification of communities in a manner that would be intelligible to the colonial state, and the colonial construction of Indias past, produced the notion of an India comprising two megacommunities Hindus and Muslims perpetually at war with each other. This historical antagonism was, from the perspective of the west, a pathological condition, a primitive state akin to tribalism in the African context. Communalism could be explained in terms of the fundamentally irrational character of Indian society, irrationality being typical of the Orient in general, a confirmation of its inferiority. The supposed antagonistic relationship between Hindus and Muslims was emphasised through a discourse about communities having precise boundaries, denying any possibility of fluidity. The example of the popular Eastern UP cult of Salar Masud Ghazi is instructive. This cult had been incorporated into the Panchpiriya sect to which fifty-three castes in UP declared their adherence at the time of the 1901 census. Forty-four of these castes were wholly or partly Hindu. This kind of fluidity was a survival from the pre-colonial era. From the point of view of colonial knowledge such transgressions were disruptive of the order and method it attempted to achieve. Clearly defined


Amar Farooqui

Hindu and Muslim communities, internally undifferentiated, were neat and reassuring. Further, since the two communities were constantly at each others throats British rule was the main guarantee of their peaceful coexistence and therefore their transition to modernity. As nationalist critiques of the colonial understanding of Indias past, and of the denial of Indian nationhood, evolved, they incorporated several elements of the colonial discourse. For some of the most influential early nationalists, including a large number of those associated with the Congress, the Indian nation was the sum total of a number of distinct religious communities which inhabited the Indian subcontinent: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Parsi, etc. Syncretism was the distinctive feature of Indian nationhood. At another level, India was thought of in primordial terms, Indianness being marked by a (tolerant) Hindu essence (Hindu in a cultural and civilisational, rather than denominational, sense). The awakening of the Hindu community was regarded as a precondition for the awakening of the Indian nation. Hence the need to mobilise the Hindus on issues such as cow protection and Hindi. Such mobilisation did not always imply that the Indian nation was conceived as a Hindu nation, although there were ideologues who did equate the two. It was only in the 1920s that this communitarian vision came to be challenged by the idea of a secular nation constituted by individual citizens leading to a rupture whereby colonialism became the Other of nationalism. What one would like to underline is that for all their divergence, nationalism and communalism are not really opposites. Communalism is but a variant of nationalism for which reason communalism can so effortlessly and convincingly parade as nationalism. The point here is that communalism does not, as is sometimes assumed, wear the mask of nationalism to gain legitimacy and wider acceptability (given the negative connotation that the term has acquired) but is itself nationalism of a sort. It is a variant specific to colonial India, a product of the late colonial period that witnessed the emergence and advance of anti-colonial nationalism. Communalism represented one of the several contesting visions of the nation. The colonial construction of religious communities provided the framework for communal ideologies. Religion is not central to these ideologies; violence, intimidation, aggression, exclusion, anti-Communism are. As a variant of nationalism, communalism has much in common with Nazism, Fascism, Zionism and Afrikaner nationalism or Apartheid. As is well known communal ideologues

Book Review 373

of the 1920s and 1930s borrowed extensively from European Fascist ideologies while articulating their understanding of nationhood. The specificity of this variant derives from the overriding notion of the Great Antagonism between Hinduism and Islam in relation to the Indian subcontinent (replicating the clash of civilizations between Christianity and Islam). That is why it does not make much sense to speak of Sikh communalism or Christian communalism or Parsi communalism. It was the power of communalism as a nationalist ideology, built upon the notion of the Great Antagonism, which made possible the division of India into two nations. Social scientists writing on nationalism have since Elie Kedourie helped us to unlearn much about nationalism. In demystifying nationalism they have stressed on its disruptive and destructive potential. This is true of anticolonial nationalism too which can, in an instant, turn violent on a massive scale. The close connection between nationalism and communalism accounted for the violence during the Partition, though perhaps not for the magnitude of this violence. Along with Urvashi Butalia, Ritu Menon, Kamla Bhasin and Mushirul Hasan, Pandey is one of the pioneers of historical writing on Partition violence. For nearly four decades since Manto there was a reluctance to uncover the trauma of the moment of Partition. Historians preferred to distance themselves by transforming the history of the event into a history of its causes or origins. Remembering Partition has contributed significantly to advancing the debate on the historiography of Partition violence. While discussing possible ways in which histories of genocide, ethnic cleansing, the Holocaust, pogroms (it is another matter that in the Indian context pogroms are euphemistically referred to as riots), and Partition violence can be recovered, Pandey, rooted in an empirical tradition, demonstrates how such histories can be written. This he does by probing communal violence in Garhmukhteshwar (November 1946) and Delhi (September 1947 to early 1948). The Garhmukhteshwar killings have largely been forgotten. This he attributes to a tendency to relegate such incidents to the status of the local, events that are not mainstream, and therefore not worth narrating as History. The account of Delhi is moving particularly for what it tells us about Gandhijis intervention. Large-scale rioting (Partition violence) commenced in Delhi in the first week of September 1947 causing the flight of Muslims from the city. Many of those who remained within the city sought shelter in refugee camps set up for Delhi Muslims, one of the largest of which


Surajit Mazumdar

was located in Purana Qila. For the administration the inhabitants of these camps were essentially the responsibility of the government of Pakistan. The arrival of Gandhiji in the city on 9 September brought about a major qualitative change. The rioting subsided. More importantly Gandhijis visit to the Purana Qila camp and his unequivocal statement that these were our camps went a long way towards defining nationhood in secular terms at a time when the situation was very grim and hope for the secular position was fast receding. Subsequently, Gandhijis fast in January 1948 on the issue of communalism/communal violence led to his assassination. It was then that the tide really turned: Thus Gandhi[ji] achieved through his death even more than he had achieved through his fast. A disturbing question remains. Might not the project for writing histories, in vivid detail, of Partition violence be ill-conceived or ill-timed. In his critique of this genre Javeed Alam has urged caution so that socially normal everyday life could be maintained. Delhi 1984, Mumbai 199293, and Gujarat 2002 validate Alams concern. We live in a society that might not be capable of distancing itself sufficiently to be able to comprehend these narratives dispassionately. Perhaps the time has not yet come for telling these stories to the children of the subcontinent. AMAR FAROOQUI Department of History, University of Delhi

Prabhat Patnaik, The Value of Money, Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2008, Rs 500, HB.
Forming a decisive opinion on this remarkable book is not an easy matter. The Value of Money is no doubt a virtuoso performance, a rich feast of highly original ideas on capitalism and the alternative attempts to analyse it. In going beyond admiring its sheer brilliance and arriving at an assessment of its significance for our understanding of capitalism, however, obstacles have to be confronted. These do not result from the style of its writing, Professor Patnaik having an exceptional gift for producing lucid prose, but from other sources. They arise from the range and scope of the book and

Book Review 375

from the fact that Professor Patnaik often arrives at novel conclusions by approaching issues from unconventional angles. Even with a general expertise in the discipline of Economics, the intricacies of the arguments are therefore not easily negotiated. The greatest difficulty, however, lies in the fact that The Value of Money ultimately seeks to persuade its readers to move away from the comfort zone of their long-held views and to accept the fundamental theoretical reconceptualisation of the capitalist system that it offers. Irrespective of the particular initial theoretical perspective on capitalism one may start from, The Value of Money would put it to a severe test. This is one of the stellar qualities of the book which should in fact be the reason for not ignoring its arguments. The degree to which acceptance of these would involve moving away from the starting point would vary from perspective to perspective, and the implications would be more or less drastic. In no case however would the change demanded be an easy one to make. The analysis present in The Value of Money is essentially a three-stage one. Professor Patnaik first makes a distinction between two different traditions of economic thinking, namely monetarism and propertyism. Monetarism is then extensively critiqued and the case made for the superiority of the propertyist tradition. The propertyist tradition too is however found by Professor Patnaik to be characterised by incompleteness, a gap whose filling then leads to the reconcepualisation of capitalism. At each stage of the analysis there are also excursuses and digressions which reinforce, or bring out additional implications of the books core theme. Towards the end, the ideas in the book are also applied to the contemporary world context. Professor Patnaiks basis for the classification of economic doctrines into different traditions, for identifying the great divides in economics, is an unconventional one. He does not challenge the validity of the popular classical versus neo-classical divisions, but offers an alternative that he considers more relevant to the current context and doing greater justice to the contributions of Keynes and Kalecki. The division between the monetarist and propertyist traditions is centred on differences in their respective understanding of how the value of money is determined in capitalism, from within or outside the realm of demand and supply. He argues that it is this fundamental difference that underlies the inability or ability of the two doctrines to cognise the possibility of a demand constraint


Surajit Mazumdar

or overproduction in a capitalist economy. Since an ex-ante overproduction of commodities is the counterpart of an excess demand for money, if such excess demand could be eliminated by adjustments of the price-level (the relative price of commodities and money), then a capitalist economy could always achieve under conditions of price-flexibility an equilibrium where all markets clear. This is the view of the monetarist tradition defined by Professor Patnaik as the tradition where the short-run value of money is determined by the demand for and supply of it. The determination of the value of money from outside the system, which is characteristic of the propertyist or Marx-Keynes-Kalecki tradition, allows, however, for the possibility that an ex-ante demand constraint may not be eliminated by the process of equilibration in the money market. The focus on the determination of the value of money appears to be entirely appropriate in assessing the logical consistency of the monetarist tradition. This tradition asserts that Says law (that at the aggregate level supply creates its own demand) is extendable even to a money-using economy because money can be treated symmetrically with other commodities. Professor Patnaik develops in the second section of the book an extensive critique of this proposition of symmetry. At the core of this critique is the argument that money is not simply a medium of exchange but also a form of holding wealth, and cannot be the former without simultaneously being the latter. The propertyist tradition is conscious of this, and hence the name for it, but monetarism either doesnt or does not appreciate its full significance. In a situation where the value of money is variable, both its past and the future values become relevant to the present. There are inherited payment commitments whose value is invariant to changes in the current value of money but which have to be met out of current proceeds. The current demand for money in turn cannot be independent of expectations about its future value (price-expectations). In such circumstances, Professor Patnaik demonstrates, monetarism runs into severe logical difficulties and a simple inverse relationship between the demand for money and its price cannot be postulated. This is true even if one were to exclude the extreme case of zero price of money where its demand, in sharp contrast to what holds for every other useful commodity, would also be zero. From the critique of monetarism, and building on the ideas of Marx and Keynes on money, Professor Patnaik arrives at the profoundly important

Book Review 377

conclusion that to continuously reproduce itself, a capitalist economy needs the value of money to not only be fixed in a particular period but to be relatively stable across time. In other words, capitalism can scarcely operate viably for lengths of time if the value of money were indeed not bounded and completely variable as presumed in the monetarist doctrine. The superiority of the propertyist treatment of money over the monetarist one lies precisely in this recognition. Howsoever it may be fixed, in Marx by the labour value of the money commodity compared to that of nonmoney commodities and in Keynes by the fixity of the money wage; its fixity in relation to the world of commodities remains a necessity. Money thus remains a de-facto commodity even in a fiat money world (the contemporary world for example according to Professor Patnaik is characterised by an oil-dollar standard). It is this and not price or wage stickiness itself which is the problem that necessitates quantitative adjustments if there is an ex-ante excess supply of commodities. Professor Patnaik then argues that the continued viability of the capitalist system requires two conditions to be fulfilled. Firstly, that the level of economic activity fall in a range whose lower bound is determined by a minimum rate of profit that capitalists need and upper bound by the minimum level of unemployment necessary to prevent complete destabilisation of the wage unit which is what bounds the value of money. The second condition is that such a range must of course exist in the first place. His argument is that the Marx-Keynes-Kalecki tradition remains incomplete because every variant of it fails to specify the mechanism in capitalism that ensures the fulfilment of these two conditions. Professor Patnaik further reasons that the normal tendency of the capitalism system is to push the economy outside the range with there being no self-correcting mechanism and therefore no such mechanism actually exists. Yet capitalisms history is testimony to the fact that it has succeeded for long period of time to meet these conditions. It is not therefore the failure to discover a non-existent mechanism within the capitalist system that according to Professor Patnaik is propertyisms real flaw. Rather, it is the failure to conceptualise capitalism as it has actually existed in history, ensconced in a pre-capitalist surrounding with which it continuously interacts, as a necessary condition for its viability. Once capitalism is conceptualised in this way, the source of capitalisms sustenance can be discovered. The pre-capitalist periphery provides the reserve-market that serves not necessarily as a vent for surplus but which


Surajit Mazumdar

helps sustain the momentum of accumulation in capitalism. On the other side, the potential instability in the value of money that this might cause is kept in check by the compressibility of the wage claims, and claims of primary commodity producers, in the periphery. This is possible because of the existence and continued reproduction of a vast pauperised mass, a distant reserve army, in the periphery. The pre-capitalist surrounding therefore serves as the shock absorber of the system, allowing the accumulation process to continue in the core of the capitalist system without too many violent interruptions. Since this is the necessary condition for the system, Professor Patnaik argues that in the particular case of the capitalist mode, the conventional approach of looking at a mode of production in isolation will not do. Imperialism, in the inclusive sense and not in the Leninist sense as something belonging only to the monopoly stage of capitalism, is therefore intrinsic to capitalism. Marx and Marxisms failure has been that while these two elements have been recognised as integral elements of capitalisms history, their theoretical significance has not been properly grasped. Professor Patnaiks critique of monetarism is an internal critique, the emphasis for the most part being on the logical consistency of the monetarist doctrine. It, however, goes beyond the normally recognised logical problems confronted in reconciling general equilibrium theory and the quantity theory of money. By pointing out the inconsistencies of a flawed but influential doctrine, Professor Patnaik makes an extremely valuable contribution that stands on its own right, independent of the rest of the book. But there are issues that could be raised about how Professor Patnaik treats the common elements as well as the differences within the alternative Marx-Keynes-Kalecki tradition. Apart from avoiding the logical problems of monetarism on the question of money, the Marx-Keynes-Kalecki tradition explicitly conceptualises the economy, which is the object of analysis as a specifically capitalist market economy. In such an economy there are not one but two special commodities that stand apart from others and cannot be treated symmetrically, namely money and labour-power. Money in capitalism is not merely a wealth-form but capital or self-expanding value. This underlies one of the notable common features in the analysis of Marx, Keynes and Kalecki, namely the role in determining aggregate demand of the uncoordinated investment or

Book Review 379

accumulation decisions of capitalists, based on expectations about the future. Marx does recognise that the possibility of overproduction is associated, as Professor Patnaik notes, with money and the splitting up of the exchange process into two stages. But that possibility by itself is equally applicable to simple-commodity production. It is the conversion of money into capital which provides a rationale for hoarding money, which is entirely unique to capitalism, when conditions are not considered suitable to deploy it profitably. This makes possible overproduction crisis of a much larger scale and significance than in simple commodity production. It is not a specifically capitalist economy but only a monetary economy however that is inherent in the notion of propertyism, the recognition that money is always somebodys wealth or property. Propertyism thus does not seem to capture the distinctiveness of capitalist overproduction and nor for that matter the specifically capitalist nature of the opposite problem of inflation that is associated with the existence of labour-power as a commodity. This mismatch does not fit well with Professor Patnaiks central question, which is about how a capitalist economy maintains its level of activity within a range where it can simultaneously avoid both these problems. Putting Marx and Keynes in the same tradition of course also means ignoring for that purpose the fact that the former had a theory of value while the latter did not. There are, however, two different value theories underlying Marxist and Walrasian analysis, and importantly these are mirrored in the differences in their monetary theories. Marxs theory of money is tied up with his theory of value. What it has common with Keynesian analysis is that its result is the fixity of the value of money outside the realm of demand and supply. The source of this fixity is however very different in Marx and Keynes, and it is hard to see them at par. Marxs basis for instance is not extendable to the fiat money world which Keynes is concerned with. But does that mean that Marxs analysis of the realisation problem in capitalism cannot stand in a fiat money world? That conclusion does not follow if one accepts the interpretations of Marxs analysis of the realisation problem which proceed from the fact that the prior determination of the value of commodities in the sphere of production requires them to be both sold and sold at a requisite money price. This is what renders it impossible for exante overproduction to be overcome simply by price adjustments, in a fiat money world as much as in a world of commodity money. In this interpretation, the superiority of Marx over Keynes lies in precisely the fact


Surajit Mazumdar

that Marx had a value theory to provide the justification for why quantity adjustments are inevitable. If Professor Patnaik emphasises the importance of fixity of the value of money rather than the theory of value for conceptualisation of the possibility of overproduction, it is because he interprets the relationship between value and demand in Marx very differently. In his discussion of an apparent contradiction between Marxs monetary and value theories and how Marx resolved it, Professor Patnaik argues that values and prices of production themselves depend on demand because the production coefficients underlying them vary with the level of demand. There are therefore no values and prices given by the conditions of production independent of the sphere of circulation, a problem that does not appear in Keynes precisely because of the absence of a theory of value. Marx, according to Professor Patnaik, was aware of this and resolved it by assuming a normal output level, which is an average around which self-correcting demand related cyclical movements of actual output takes place, as the basis for labourvalues and prices of production. This interpretation in effect means that the values of commodities become dependent on the realisation process, on equilibrium between their demand and supply. It means that the sphere of circulation is not one where value created in the sphere of production is merely realised; it also plays a role in its determination. Professor Patnaik however does not provide sufficient textual references to back what could be called a controversial claim that Marx indeed saw things in this way, and was not simply abstracting from the problem of demand when discussing the transformation of values into prices of production. But he goes on to say that Marxs resolution of the problem was erroneous since, as the Harrodian knife-edge problem captured, there is no spontaneous self-correcting mechanism in capitalism to drag the economy back towards the normal level once a deviation has occurred. However, Professor Patnaik does not devalue the importance of Marxs value theory. In fact, he rates it along with the theory of money as one of Marxs two great theoretical achievements. He also explicitly defends the labour theory of value along lines similar to those made by many participants in the more recent debates on the transformation problem, and adds to the list of new solutions to the transformation problem with one of his own. The Value of Money poses many new questions and offers new answers. Some of these are highly insightful while others could be considered

Book Review 381

somewhat controversial. It is a book that seeks to break new ground and challenges established modes of thinking. Its conclusions are based on reasoned arguments and no one would find it easy to dismiss them offhand. At the same time these conclusions may not find instinctive acceptance. For these reasons The Value of Money is a book that needs mulling over whose true value may necessarily need time to be fully revealed. But its status as an important text on the theory of capitalism, one that should initiate new debates and discussions, is assured. SURAJIT MAZUMDAR Institute for Studies in Industrial Development, New Delhi

Margrit Pernau and Yunus Jaffery (eds.), Information and the Public Sphere : Persian Newsletters from Mughal Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2009, 480 pages, Rs 1280, HB.
Information system is absolutely essential for governments (jahanbani) and organised groups (anboh), says Abul Fazl in a chapter on news-reporting (waqia nawisi). He obviously had in mind two channels of information which existed in the Mughal Empire official and private. The official system of gathering and recording information was itself of two types. In the first type the proceedings of the court of emperors and provincial governors were recorded, archived and, in some cases, distributed. These proceedings which incorporated many administrative and political decisions or events were variously known as waqia, waqai, siyaha huzur, all meaning the same thing: news or record of events. In the second, news was transmitted to the imperial court from different parts of the empire in the form of reports or letters known once again as waqai or sawanih. The purpose of both channels of information was to run administration, exercise control and document the transactions of the imperial regime, either for official histories or memoirs. The structure of the private (or semi-private) communication network was more or less the same. Here political elites, notably higher bureaucrats,


Najaf Haider

received information from the centre through their agents (wakils) who were specially appointed for this purpose. In addition business houses had their own information system for collecting commercial intelligence, but also political news, from cities and, indirectly, from the centre. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the daily news-reports which emanated from the centre for private circulation were known as Akhbarati Darbar-i Mualla (News Reports from the August Court). Akhbarat were unofficial documents, however, the bulk of information they carried concerned the working of the state aparatus insofar as it was collected the news of provinces that were read out in the court. Akhbarat are usually brief, repetitive and less accurate than the officially documented proceedings, but they contain a wealth of information on politics and administration as well as intimate details of the lives of royalty and the aristocracy. With the decline of the Mughal empire, the character and format of news-reports began to change. With the weakening of central authority, news reporters came under pressure from different quarters and factions, and the quality and accuracy of information suffered. At the same time, they began to sell their services and news-reports to interested parties, notably to merchant houses including the Dutch and English companies. These changes were reflected in the drafts of Akhbarat-i-Darbar-i-Mualla. News-reports now became less cryptic or formulaic. Multiple entries gave way to concise descriptions with greater editorial interventions. The manuscripts of official and private news-reports have survived in different measures in libraries and archives although much of this body of literature is lost beyond any hope of recovery. Some of them have been published such as news-reports sent to the rulers of Amber, Maratha chiefs or Company officials. Since all news-reports are in Persian, written mostly in cursive hand (shikasta), scholars have found them difficult to decipher or translate. As far as I know, apart from Marathi Calendar, the only published translation is of akhbarat of the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh which were acquired by the English rulers. The book under review is therefore a very important contribution to the study of akhbarat both as devices for recording and transmitting news and for the historical value of the information they contain. It is a translation of two sets of akhbarat of three years, 1810, 1825 and 1830. One set is of news-reports coming from the court of the Mughal emperor, Akbar Shah

Book Review 383

II, and the other set comprises events recorded at the Delhi Residency. The latter is more in the nature of court waqia. The authors provide a useful introduction to the nature of the material contained in the book and, in addition, raise two important issues. The first is the interrelation between Indian (indigenous) and colonial models of intelligence gathering and reporting. The authors argue that the British were primarily interested in getting ready access to the traditional information networks without altering the way information was gathered or presented even when the British interest in Delhi changed from the control of an advanced post for expansion to the Northwest, to the establishment of permanent bureaucratic rule. The implication of this was that the boundaries between British and Indian production of knowledge remained fluid leading to cultural adaptation rather than imposition and resistance. This is a counterpoint to the argument about the rigidity of the colonial categories of knowledge although one would still like to retain the relevance of a colonial construction of knowledge for the exercise of power. The second issue relates to the influence these akhbarat had on the emerging printed newspapers in Persian and Urdu and the colonised public sphere. On this issue the material presented in the book has little to contribute insofar as it pertained exclusively to the political and financial interests of the Mughal king and the British Resident. The authors believe that the intertwining of news brought about a public opinion constituted through common knowledge of persons and events and a common frame of reference, but they also argue that this creation of public opinion did not take place in a space which was public in the sense that it was accessible to all, nor were the events reported public in this sense (p. 11). The issue of public sphere in nineteenth century India and how far inclusive it was is quite important, and the book will certainly evince greater interest in its exploration. NAJAF HAIDER Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi