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  • India, Modernity and the Great Divergence: Mysore and Gujarat (17th to 19th C.) by Kaveh Yazdani
  • Norbert Schürer
Kaveh Yazdani, India, Modernity and the Great Divergence: Mysore and Gujarat (17th to 19th C.) (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2017). Pp. xxxii + 669. $246.00.

There is a good book and strong argument submerged in Kaveh Yazdani's India, Modernity and the Great Divergence. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons that book and argument have not quite emerged.

Yazdani situates his argument in the discussion about the 'Great Divergence' (the term invented by Samuel Huntington and popularized by Kenneth Pomeranz), i.e., the question of when, why, and to what extent (or even if) Europe moved 'ahead' of Asia. As Yazdani correctly points out, most of the literature on the Great Divergence is on China, so it is important to examine if similar developments can be observed with regard to the relationship between Europe and India (or South Asia). More specifically, Yazdani examines two aspects of the Great Divergence: whether such a divergence from India existed in the eighteenth century, and what conditions in India might have contributed to such a divergence.

Yazdani proceeds in two case studies, each around 200 pages long: Mysore and Gujarat. In both case studies, he investigates rather schematically eight main aspects of those two areas: economy; politics and administration; mobility, transport, and infrastructure; the military; religion; education; foreign relations; and relations with the British.

Mysore towards the end of the eighteenth century stood out within India because of the rule of Haidar Ali (ruled 1761-82) and his son Tipu Sultan (ruled 1782-99). Both to some extent challenged the traditional organization of the economy, pursuing (especially under Tipu) what Yazdani calls 'etatization,' "state ownership of the means of production" (134). This policy had some positive effects, such as strengthening the agricultural economy and creating what by most accounts was a happy, prosperous country—but also removed any incentive for profit maximization and thus stood in the way of the development of capitalism. Tipu's military was famously well-organized and well-trained, and parts of the economy related to war were quite advanced. For instance, Mysore steel was considered by some to be superior to European steel, and Mysore missile technology was copied in Europe. Still, after engaging in several wars with the British, Tipu was finally defeated due to a combination of structural weaknesses in Mysore, betrayals by other South Indian forces, lack of assistance from the French, and strategic mistakes of his own.

As for the Great Divergence, Yazdani argues that during the eighteenth century Mysore was in many ways not 'behind' Europe, but rather comparable to [End Page 265] Britain in its agricultural output, political organization, and military technology. Yazdani also asserts (in contrast to historians such as Asok Sen and Irfan Habib) that industrialization might very well have happened in Mysore, even without capitalism, if not for the conflict with the British. He also points out that there was a severe economic depression in the decades following the defeat of Tipu and that the country's economy did not recover until the 1860s. In other words, the Great Divergence in Mysore may not have been the effect of South Asian 'backwardness,' but rather of the defeat of modernizing forces by the European colonizers.

In contrast to Mysore, Gujarat in the eighteenth century did not have a strong central government. Instead, "power was divided between the nobles, merchants (especially Banias, Muslims and Parsis), Marathas, British, Portuguese, local potentates, landlords and the piratical petty chiefs" (527). This was actually mostly beneficial for the economy, since it meant that merchants were able to keep their profits and a middle class started to emerge. On the other hand, the situation encouraged short-term rather than long-term investment, and there was no power to stop murderous feuds between merchants or protect maritime trade routes from 'pirates.'

In some ways, Yazdani argues, Gujurat had the potential for proto-industrial developments in the eighteenth century. Property was mostly secure, some merchants were production-oriented like their European counterparts, and division of labor started to develop in industries such as textile manufacturing. The caste system...


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