At the outset, a two-minute silence was observed to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, a great man whom history will always remember who had passed away on December 5. The programme began thereafter with Professor Jayati Ghosh reading a brief but an insightful letter written by Professor Amiya K Bagchi who could not make it to the occasion. The letter traced a brief outline of the book. The book has been able to open up in a large way the life of the village society. In this context he cited the example of Rajasthan, and said that the sources of the place reveal the details of the land and do not just talk about superficial things such as ploughs etc.
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When the first edition of the book under review appeared in , it was a historic event for Mughal studies. It has been out of print and a new edition was long overdue, revised or otherwise.
It was one of the first works to have moved beyond the narrow confines of dynastic history or sectarian typecasting. The wealth of source materials, particularly administrative manuals, revenue records and court chronicles that went into the making of the text, helped enforce a new rigour into medieval Indian studies.
Indeed, it set the tone for much of the writing in the field for the next twenty-five years or so. Much water and blood has flowed through Mughal historiography since. However, Habib does not take note of these challenges in this revised edition. If anything, he is even more assertive in his conclusions. This is unfortunate.
The contradictions in the revised edition stand more exposed than in the original. To be sure, a number of new sources have been harnessed in this edition. While the sequence and titles of the chapters remain the same, the chapter on the village community has been modified and enlarged considerably. A more nuanced view of the village community has been attempted but over all this does not alter the chief arguments of the 1 book.
However, the author fails to do justice to the variety of information that he has collected. Yet, the author is keen on maintaining that the land revenue was a retrogressive tax pp. If surplus is taken to mean, as Habib does, everything beyond the subsistence need of the peasants, then the revenue regime must be progressive enough to be able to take away the entire agrarian surplus.
For, the rich will have much more to spare than the poor. This is followed by an attempt to weave through an all India pattern for the entire length of the period from mid sixteenth century to early eighteenth century.
His obsession with all India pattern probably emanates from an a priori assumption that the state and its 2 regulations must be the chief determinant of all aspects of social, economic and political life under the Mughals.
Reading through the revised edition, one is almost led to believe that the Mughal historiography today is no richer in terms of multiplicity of perspectives. It appears that all the writings that did appear in the last four decades only helped him march gracefully and unopposed to his grand set of conclusions. To be sure, he does take on Moreland at many places and there are minor expostulations against Moosvi and Saran but no sense of wading through a thickly contested historiographic terrain.
Pankaj K. Jha St.
The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556-1707
The Agrarian System of Mughal India: 1556-1707