THE 18th century was a critical phase in the history of South Asia. This pre-colonial or early modern period saw changes of great importance for the political economy of the Indian subcontinent.
The author of this book begins his treatise with the establishment of the Mughal Empire in North India in 1526, leading to some changes in the nature and structure of Indian Ocean commerce. The expansion and consolidation of the Mughal Empire under Akbar (1556-1605) in the second half of the 16th century led to the formation of some fundamental political and administrative institutions that helped the Emperor to establish his political authority and control over the economic resources. The annexation of Gujarat to the Mughal Empire in 1573 and the simultaneous rise of Surat as the principal port of the empire contributed to the region’s economic growth. By the early 17th century, Surat emerged as the most important entrepot in western India, a position that Cambay formerly held.
But with the end of the Mughal rule and takeover of the region by the Marathas and their practice of farming out the land revenue to entrepreneurs opened up new opportunities for merchants to invest a part of their capital in commercial activities. The 18th-century politics in Gujarat led to constant negotiations with local power groups, including merchants.
Fiscal management of Surat offered additional income and employment opportunities to producers, manufacturers and merchants. The flourishing trade by European companies and private merchants testifies to a large output of merchandise and the Gujaratis’ tendency to consume in the second half of the 18th century.
In brief, this book attempts to answer the dynamism of Gujarat’s economy in the second half of the 18th century and economic diversities while emphasising the fact that the nature and form of interaction between the state and the economy differed immensely according to time and place. One major aspect of the political economy analysed here is the continuity in the relative autonomy of trade and production in Gujarat and the freedom of producers and merchants from state intervention.
(Koninklijke Bill NV, Leiden, the Netherlands , www.itinerario.nl)