Ask for a piece on Pakistan and Bangladesh during December and you’re likely to get something about the 1971 wars — note the plural, because the eastern part of the subcontinent simultaneously experienced an inter-ethnic civil war and ethno-communal cleansing, genocide, inter-state conventional war and a war of national liberation, all climaxing in the crisp Bengali winter of 1971. Naeem Mohaiemen’s seven part series is an example, covering many aspects of that fateful year.
Let me skip 1971 in this post. Instead, I’ll begin by marking the other December anniversary, one that will have a particular relevance for Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2013. And I’ll note the parallels between the post-1971 developments in the two wings of former United Pakistan.
Sir Roger Dowler of Bengal was a terrible, terrible guy who used to spend all his time boozing and doing wicked, wicked things with women, all the while his countrymen were impoverished by rapacious men of avarice who loafed around in the capital. What? Never heard of Sir Roger? Sure you have, except you know him by his real name — Siraj-ud-Daulah, the last independent nawab of Bengal.
John Company’s men anglicised Siraj’s name. They also wrote about him being a very bad ruler, from whose misgovernance the people of Bengal had to be delivered by Clive and his men. And that historiography essentially continued with the orientalists of the 19th century all the way to 20th century Indian historians like Jadunath Sarkar and Ramesh Chandra Majumdar.
Of course, that history is not what any school child in either Bengal learns. What we learn is this:
Without the raj, none would have calculated deficit and surplus … even in those days no-Indians did calculate those. Even if money would have stayed in India, it would have been used in something else than development. The modern way of development was never in Indian genes before raj kicked in …
That’s Diganta’s comment in the post on the Raj. This goes really to the heart of the debate about the economic history of British India. While nationalist writers point to the possibility of an indigenous industrial revolution sans imperialism, others counter that there was nothing in pre-British India that suggests the likelihood of such possibility. Here is one recent example of this debate.
Work by Branko Milanovic, a World Bank economist and expert on inequality, and colleagues can help shed some light on the matter. His innovations in the study of inequality are the inequality possibility frontier and the inequality extraction ratio. The first concept is a measure of maximum possible inequality in a society — essentially, an economy that is on the inequality possibility frontier is where most people (say ‘the 99%’) are on subsistence, while the rest of the income accrues to the elite (say ‘the 1%’). The inequality extraction ratio compares the actual inequality in an economy with the maximum possible given its income level.
This paper explains the concept — the algebra is quite easy for economics, and for the non-initiated, there is a lot of intuitive explanation. An economy that is very close to the frontier, and thus has a ratio near 1, is where there isn’t any surplus left in the hands of the non-elite. And not only Milanovic and colleagues theorise about these concepts, they have also calculated them for a number of societies in history, with two entries for India — in 1750 and 1947, bracketing the Raj.