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Ikegame: Princely India Re-Imagined 2013-1-030

Ikegame, Aya: Princely India Re-Imagined. A prehending these notions has more than the-
Historical Anthropology of Mysore from 1799 oretical relevance in sharpening everyday ne-
to the present. Oxford: Routledge 2012. ISBN: gotiation and solidarity with popular politics
978-0-415-55449-7; 212 S. in the subcontinent.
Aya Ikegame’s book is a pioneering study
Rezensiert von: Milinda Banerjee, Presidency because it begins to address some of these
University, Kolkata / Universität Heidelberg questions. Her focus is on Mysore, one
of colonial India’s most important princely
Kingship in modern South Asia has long re- states in terms of size, population, revenue
mained an unjustly neglected research area in contribution, as well as (from the late nine-
scholarship. While studies on precolonial In- teenth century) the forging of cultural nation-
dia proliferate with arguments about the na- alism, mass politics, and carefully engineered
ture of kingship in the subcontinent, scholars economic dynamism. Ikegame is influenced
working on the colonial and postcolonial peri- by Burton Stein’s conceptualization of the seg-
ods of South Asian history remain (with a few mentary state in precolonial South India, i.e.,
important exceptions) largely taciturn when the idea that before the advent of the British,
it comes to acknowledging the significance the core state apparatus in South India was of-
of regimes and discourses about kingship in ten weak, and had tenuous ritual control over
shaping South Asian modernities. Kingship, the peripheries. The state-system was indeed
however defined, seems to be relegated to multi-nodal. Power therefore was not mo-
the domain of the antique and the outmoded, nopolized by the kingly centre, but actively
with little lasting contribution to the pressing negotiated in conversation with diverse peas-
concerns of mass politics and contestations ant communities and Brahmanical and com-
over social power in the present age. mercial groups. Ikegame also engages with
As a result of this relative silence, it remains Nicholas Dirks’ research into the importance
inadequately understood whether kingship is of kingship in reflecting peasant power in
merely a vertical institution that can only ob- precolonial India. For Dirks, the decline of
struct the emergence of popular politics, or this martial peasant-dependent kingship in
whether kingship can also play a dynamic the colonial period (due largely to British poli-
role in facilitating the institutional and cul- cies centring on demilitarization of peasants
tural bases for popular power and democrati- and rising fiscal pressure on them), and the
zation. Moreover, the practical reality of king- colonially-aided rise in the power and uni-
ship as a political institution (as evident in the versalization of Brahmanical caste laws and
princely states or the British imperial monar- hierarchies, constituted a revolution in South
chy in colonial India) remains to be distin- Asian structures of governance.
guished from images of ideal kingship in pop- Ikegame argues that the early colonial pe-
ular imagination in the past as well as now. riod indeed witnessed a massive transforma-
It may well be that even as practical realities tion of the power structures in Mysore, as a
are entangled with extortionate hierarchies, more or less segmentary state form – where
the images of moral kingship may ironically the kingly centre subsisted through dialogue
articulate popular aspirations for justice and with the ruled, and royal revenues were of-
empowerment precisely against those hierar- ten re-directed back to the localities through
chies. Are the practical and imaginative re- largesse-distribution and land-grant mecha-
alities, moreover, so poignantly distinguish- nisms – began to come under attack from
able, or are there interactions between them as British expectations about government. In the
well? These constitute crucial research gaps in first three decades of the nineteenth century
existing scholarship on colonial and postcolo- alone, at least 15–20 percent of land revenue
nial India. As such, and perhaps most impor- assets were allocated in Mysore in the form
tantly, they constitute a critical vacuum in our of inam: in Western and Southern India, inam
understanding about, and engagement with, was tax-free or tax-privileged tenure given for
popular conceptions of power, social justice, devotional purposes, charity, public works,
and political expectation in South Asia. Com- and the reward of various services. Together

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with pre-nineteenth century allocations, this To Ikegame’s credit, she does not limit her-
meant that a considerable proportion of gov- self to the princely elitist channels of power,
ernmental fiscal resources was alienated in but goes into popular contestations and in-
favour of local groups and communities by surgencies against social hierarchies of colo-
the indigenous rulers of Mysore, something nial, princely, and Brahmanical origin. Here
which irritated the British government with her focus is on non-Brahmin politics, and
its differing expectations about more cen- how it emerged through the local commu-
tralized fiscal discipline. The colonial state nities, kin networks, and mathas (monaster-
started exerting pressure to alter the system. ies), which even in the colonial heyday re-
A peasant rebellion in 1830–1831 against colo- tained substantive powers of self-regulation
nial revenue maximization policies led to the and control of social activities such as ed-
British taking Mysore virtually under their di- ucation, healthcare, and dispute resolution.
rect control, which led to a massive crisis of These were sometimes instrumental even in
older arrangements of decentralized political coordinating peasant protest and rebellious-
economy and the imposition of new forms of ness. The resilience of the segmented system
centralized revenue extraction. Under colo- of partially decentralized power assumed crit-
nial rule, Mysore bore the brunt of paying ical weight in the late nineteenth and early
half the total revenue collected from all the twentieth century. The peasant networks be-
princely states. came instrumental in organizing local com-
Where Ikegame parts company with Dirks munities for purposes of social uplift and
is in arguing that the older segmentary sys- assertion of claims to political entitlements.
tem did not totally crumble under the colo- While initially this facilitated the rise of the
nial onslaught. To substantiate this, her ini- dominant peasant communities of Okkaligas
tial focus is on the palace as an institution, and Lingayats, it also gradually paved the
and how it managed to retain partial control way for the self-assertion of more subaltern
of largesse-distributing powers, especially to groups as well. Ikegame demonstrates that
religious and charitable institutions. This these communities – and especially their rep-
in turn enabled the partial continuation of resentative mathas – adopted kingly mark-
older segmentary forms of cultural economy, ers of legitimacy to assert their claims to
which would prove useful to the mahara- sharing governmental authority and power.
jas of Mysore after powers of state admin- Taking a cue from the researches of Pamela
istration were returned to them in 1881, at Price, and basing herself on a wealth of em-
a time when the princes and landed elites pirical detail, Ikegame suggests that politi-
across India were being re-configured by the cal democratization in colonial and postcolo-
empire as loyal props of colonial legitimacy. nial Mysore has heavily depended on utiliz-
Across the late nineteenth and early twen- ing moralizing South Asian visions of just and
tieth century, the princely elites of Mysore largesse-bestowing kingship, segmented and
combined South Asian and Anglo-European distributed power, and religiously-charged
forms of education, cultural rhetoric, aristo- kingly honour. These have framed the aspi-
cratic self-assertion, and public ritual (most rations of subaltern communities for wealth,
crucially the Dussehra durbar) to strengthen power, and status.
their power. They used older forms of ap- To the present reviewer, it seems that mod-
pealing to local religious-intellectual commu- ern idioms about democratic responsibility of
nities and rural elites, couched in vocabularies the state to the people emerged in the Mysore
of rajadharma, as well as newer ‘Western’ id- region through conversation with older ide-
ioms of social ‘improvement’ and industrial- als of (raja)dharma, and that the growth and
commercial success to bolster their power. endurance of postcolonial democracy owed
Mysore city, the capital of the princely state, much to precolonial forms of segmentary
was a microcosm of this transcultural enter- power. Can such conclusions also be drawn
prise: a city that was packaged as being ‘mod- about other parts of South Asia, including
ern’ and ‘progressive’, but also simultane- about the non-princely cores of British In-
ously ‘Hindu’ and ‘traditional’. dia? We have to await further research to test

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A. Ikegame: Princely India Re-Imagined 2013-1-030

such hypotheses. Ikegame’s focus remains on

Mysore, though she also invokes some com-
parisons with other parts of Southern India,
as well as with the princely state of Bastar
in Central India. But this is a rather minor
quibble to make with an otherwise conceptu-
ally path-breaking study, which has the po-
tential to transform the field of South Asian
historiography. The present reviewer recom-
mends this book to all who are interested in
understanding the contribution of precolonial
South Asian patterns of segmentary power to-
wards the evolution of modern Indian democ-
racy. Most importantly, the book will fasci-
nate all those desiring a sharper understand-
ing of how extra-European social expectations
about governance and modes of popular par-
ticipation in administration interact with Eu-
ropean institutions and ideas of liberal poli-
tics in shaping the formation of democratizing
public life and global political modernities.

HistLit 2013-1-030 / Milinda Banerjee über

Ikegame, Aya: Princely India Re-Imagined. A
Historical Anthropology of Mysore from 1799
to the present. Oxford 2012, in: H-Soz-Kult

© H-Net, Clio-online, and the author, all rights reserved.