The author addresses the fundamental issue of eighteenth-century Indian history: the rise and consolidation of independent regional polities during the fragmentation of the Mughal Empire and their encounters with the growing power of the English East India Company. Awadh, the largest and most enduring post-Mughal state in North India, typified the historical persistence of regional resilience in first exploiting the Mughal emperor's dwindling authority, pragmatically building its own elites and institutions, and opposing the advancing British Empire.
India in this era has been labelled chaotic, egotistic, mindlessly violent, effete, and decadent. Barnett's systematic analysis, using a novel explana-tory typology of political resource exchange within the constraints of the Indian social and historical setting, shows that Awadh relied for its success on the dispersal and redistribution of its resources and on the studied manipulation of recognized political rules rather than on planned violence or chronic warfare. Major political entrepreneurs called revenue contractors, dismissed by British observers as rapacious parasites, and noble widow dowagers, by being allowed to retain wealth, status, and continuing access to the state's surplus produce, prolonged its internal sovereignty by shielding its resources from the acquisitive grasp of the British East India Company.
Intended as a contribution to the study of India's early modern political evolution, this account is useful also as a basis for comparison with processes of decentralization, recombination, and cultural persistence in other pre-colonial areas. It is equally relevant to the study of British expansion in India, which has sometimes been viewed as the only success story of the century. Barnett shows that the confrontation between Awadh and the Company was much more complex than either the existing historiography or the English documents alone suggest.
Richard B. Barnett is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of History, at the University of Virginia.
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