ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Culture and Politics in Western Colonial India

Region, Nationality and Religion by A R Kulkarni and N K Wagle (eds); Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, 1999; pp 209.

Based on the proceedings of a conference on the cultural and social history of Maharashtra organised at the University of Pune in 1987, the present volume deals with themes relating to the regional political formation in western India. This, undoubtedly, is an important area, given that after all these years, we still lack studies that combine theoretical sophistication with a nuanced understanding of the colonial legacy and its political dynamic, especially of regions outside Bengal. With its history as a pre-colonial polity where, besides forms of devotional expression (bhakti), royal epigraphs and courtly verse, quite uniquely, varieties of the regional vernacular also functioned as the language of official record-keeping, arguably, the Marathi-speaking region provides a very interesting setting to study questions of political cohesion, cultural integration and the transition to modernity. Except for two essays on the pre-colonial period, the volume focuses on the transformations in cultural identity and political culture through the 19th and the early decades of the 20th centuries. The essays included address a variety of themes including pre-colonial land relations (H Kotani), political culture, intellectual and social impact of colonial and missionary influences (A R Kulkarni, F Conlon, N Wagle, J V Naik) and forms of resistance and mobilisation (J Masselos, I Rothermund). Comprising mainly of contributions from historians, not surprisingly, perhaps, the volume is high on rich and minute archival details pertaining to specific historical interludes, rather than providing analytical perspectives on the mutations, ruptures and continuities in the cultural and political trajectory of the region. In many ways, then, the volume echoes the strengths and weakness characteristic of much of the existing work on the history of western India.

The set of articles spanning the impact and responses to colonial rule in the mid-19th century to the Gandhian period is, quite easily, the book’s strongest section. This includes A R Kulkarni’s essay on an important set of texts produced in mid-19th century Maharashtra as a consequence of the colonial impact. Quite uniquely for the time, within a few years after the efforts to produce a standardised Marathi script, by the late-1840s and the early-1850s, vernacular intellectuals were engaged in rendering important texts of political economy into Marathi. Colonial intellectuals in Bombay and Pune like Bhaskar Tarkhadkar, Bhau Mahajan, Hari Keshavji, Gopal Hari Deshmukh, the young Vishwanath Narayan Mandlik, Krishnashastri Chiplunkar and Ramkrishna Vishwanath engaged with ideas of political economy, even offering an early critique of the economic effects of colonial rule. Furthermore, they were also keen to make available some current texts like Mill’s Principles of Political Economy or Marcet’s Conversations on Mill in Marathi, in the process, laying the foundations for the vernacularisation of discourses of economic modernisation.

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