Empire and the Economist: Analysis of 19th century economic writings in Maharashtra

This is a brilliant paper by a brilliant economist – Prof Neeraj Hatkar of Mumbai University.  I just stumbled on the paper written in 2003 .

It reviews history of economic thought of scholars from Maharashtra region in the 19th century.

The pre-colonial socio-economic order was fundamentally altered by the colonial presence in the 19th century. Alongside a widespread intellectual ferment, the period also saw for the first time, the emergence of economics as a science in western India. In their interpretation and writings on economic issues, Indian intellectuals and thinkers had also to confront the dilemma of understanding the British Indian empire. This paper looks at the writings of prominent 19th century thinkers of western India of the period and asks in what ways the constraints of working within a colonial dominance and their responses to it, in turn influenced the economic knowledge that was produced.

The author reviews works of several prominent names. But we also get a list of names which most have not heard of but played an important role in economic thinking in Maharashtra:

We have chosen for analysis in this paper, the works of Ramkrishna Vishwanath, Lokhitwadi Gopal Hari Deshmukh, Hari Keshwaji and V N Mandlik, Krishnashastri Chiplunkar, Dadabhai Naoroji, Lokmanya Tilak, Mahadev Govind Ranade and Gopal Ganesh Agarkar.

As another eminent book on history of Indian economic thought says: We need to read history of thought to understand the minds of people thinking on issues back then. BY reading their views we get a sense of not just economic issues but also how they applied their minds towards those issues.

So, in reading Prof Hatekar’s reviews we get a sense of how people differed in their responses to colonialism. Some appreciated it and others just rejected it. Whereas there were others who suggested to adopt the right lessons from economic policies of the colonisers.

The basic hypothesis of this paper is that the process of creation of economic know- ledge about colonised societies by colonised people acquires a specific character from the very fact of its genesis under conditions of colonisation. Intellectuals, who were a product of the colonial rule, and whose concerns were very closely related to the nature of the colonial rule, tend to give far too much weight to the colonisers when they analyse the economic problems of their society. They tended to neglect analysis of issues which have a crucial bearing on economic well-being but were not so directly related to the colonial state. Underlying the overt economic analysis of this period are other pre-decided political positions. These political positions in their turn were decided by a wide variety of socio-economic forces, not directly perceived by these agents. All these factors left too little neutral space for a genuine debate about economic issues whose understanding was of crucial importance.

He even writes on this dilemma facing students of Indian economics. We hardly see connection between economic theory and Indian economic history. He blames this on lack of development of science of economics in India. Much of this lack of development is due to the way history of Indian economic thought has shaped in India.

But to figure all this, we need to encourage and incentivise more students to take up history of Indian economic thought. We hardly have any papers on this front. This paper reviews thinkers from Maharsthra most of whom were quite prominent on national stage. Likewise, there must be other thinkers in other regions but we know nothing about them. Their views could be as crucial especially for development of the respective regions.

Nevertheless, fascinating paper..


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