Revenue Administration and the Formation of a Regionally Oriented Ruling Group in Bengal, 1700-1740

Calkins, Philip B.

     This thesis is about the revenue and political administration of Bengal during the first half of the eighteenth century. It is an attempt to analyze the administrative structure of a Mughal province, and to describe the changes in both administrative practices and in the political balance of power, during a period when the central structure of the Mughal empire was declining in strength and efficiency. It has been written, in part, in order to question the all-too-common view that the decline of the central imperial system was accompanied by a decline in the efficiency of the provincial units and in the moral character of the political actors of the day.
     The principal argument of this thesis is that the changes in the administrative structure and in the political balance of power that occurred in Bengal during the period 1700-56 represented reasonable and usually quite successful adaptations to relatively rapidly changing political circumstances, both within and outside of the province. Faced with the problem of increasing unrest and a lack of security of position outside of Bengal, a small group of Mughal officials set about developing a semi-autonomous governmental structure within Bengal. By weakening their ties with the Mughal imperial structure, they hoped to gain a more permanent place in a smaller but more stable administrative and political structure.
     At the same time, the growing autonomy of the Mughal political unit in Bengal naturally increased the relative power of the local landholders, the zamindars, and a policy of encouraging the growth of larger zamindaris only expanded the dimensions of the problem. Thus, the Mughals had to work out a new accommodation with the zamindars, which would reflect more realistically the changing balance of power within Bengal.
     Perhaps most significant, however, is the fact that the zamindars and Mughals together continued to increase the amount of revenue collected throughout the period, and there is little evidence to suggest that they had to employ more than the usual amount of pressure upon the cultivators and under-tenants to do it. It is difficult to imagine a period of political decay and decline where revenue collections not only were maintained, but were enhanced systematically and at more or less reasonable levels. . . . Finally, it . . . [is] argued that perhaps the major flaw in the new provincial administrative system that developed was not that it lacked sufficient military strength to maintain its territory against invasions from other parts of India, due to the growing weakness of the central imperial structure. Instead, the principal defect may have been the increased size of the major zamindaris. The system of revenue collection appears to have worked reasonably well up to the time of the British conquest in 1757, but, as the British discovered, the existence of extremely large zamindaris was likely eventually to decrease both the efficiency of the revenue system and the amount of revenue collected.

Bernard S. Cohn, Edward C. Dimock, Ronald B. Inden