Modern Asian Studies


The Company Army and Rural Society: The Invalid Thanah 1780–1830

Seema Alavia1

a1 Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Historians have generally explained the consolidation of Company power in terms of the superior fiscal base which it came to acquire in north India. Bayly argues that in the eighteenth century the ‘commercialisation of royal power’, begun under the Mughals, extended to meet the needs of military organization and growing bureaucratizationof the numerous small polities that succeeded the Mughals. He argues that in this perio Indian merchant capital was redeployed in the search for greater control over labour productivity through control over revenue collections of all sorts; and the unified merchant class met in the new qasbahs and the small permanent markets (ganjs) attached to them. It was here that theinfrastructure for Europea trade in, and ultimate dominion over, India was constructed.1 The efficiency and wide scale on which the Company could exercise and extend the pre-colonial practice of military fiscalism2 has provided another explanation for the dominant position it came to occupy more specifically, in south India.3 Yang highlights the role ofthe Indian elite in facilitating the Company's revenue collection and thereby contributin to its political dominance and stability in the Saran district of Bihar. He constructs a model of'limited Raj', to explain the a free flow of revenue. He analyses the dynamics ofthis 'limited Raj' by explaining its functioning at the lowest level where the power of the colonial state tapered off and the landholders' system of control took over. Yang argues that these two control systems collectively sustained British rule in the region.4 More recently the Company's superior power in north Indian politics has been explained in terms of its exclusive right to violence. R. Mukherjee, analysing the 1857 mutiny, arguesthat 'British rule in India, as an autocracy, had meti meticulously constructed a monopoly of violence. The revolt of 1857 shatteredthat monopoly by matching an official, alien violence by an indigenous violence of the colonised