India in the Eighteenth Century
‘ The eighteenth century saw not so much the decline of the Mughal ruling elite, but its transformation and the ascent of inferior social groups to over political power’.
Christopher Bailey examines the changing degree of influence of the Nobility. This is linked to the decline in economic power, as witnessed by the breakdown of the system of assignments that was the Nobility’s instrument of subsistence. Commercial economy is said to have expanded in light of the activities of the ‘revenue farmers’. Though their households followed the pattern as laid out by the older Nobility, their relationship with the regional rulers made all the difference, as it was ‘mercenary and contractual’.
The decline of Nobility lead to a change of equation between the nobles and the traditional commercial classes. Big merchant houses lent money to rulers and nobles, and this obviously insinuates that they had a greater stake in politics.
Local gentry began to seize privileges that they were denied when the Mughal power had been strong. Prebendal lands were acquired. Propreietal rights, and conversion of non-hereditary rights over hereditary rights were some of the methods through which new players began accumulating property.
Bailey emphasizes that Commercialization is more than just the slow increase of use of money in an economy. Social relationships were beginning to be defined by use of objective monetary values.
The debate pertaining to the issue of whether the emergence of new social groups can be referred to as ‘class formation’ has been argued as follows:
Caste is not something immutable, unlike what was believed earlier. Indians of the pre-colonial period used economic power to indicate categories of social distinction. Certain terms at this point in time were being used regardless of caste, only indicative of the legal and economic status. Contemporary writers seem to be aware of social change, and lament the rise of ‘low men’ to positions of trust. But this ‘Class Formation’ is not intended, and comes about as a by-product of the decline of the Mughals. It isn’t a conscious change.
Bailey attempts to examine the shifting and realigning hierarchy, and the changes in imperial hegemony. The political system operates at various ‘levels of power’, but the levels are not rigid, and development as each level is linked to developments in the other.
Persistence of Mughal Culture
It seems that decreasing economic power is linked to an effort to revive the mystique surrounding the imperial person. Sikhs and Marathas felt the need to acquire imperial titles and rights to establish their rule. Though both the Sikhs and Marathas represented traditions and ideals that sought to refute the right of a Muslim state to rule them, they also tried becoming agents of Mughal sovereignty.
Despite the foundation of dynasties by the regional viceroys, the rulers of Bengal, Hyderabad, Awadh and the Carnatic did not...