'Contributions of princely India lost in narrative of modern nationhood'

A few princely states left lasting legacies in education, industry: Cambridge prof

David Washbrook, fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge University has said that certain princely states of India, including Mysore, “led the country in social development and put the backwardness and stagnation of British India to shame.”

Washbrook was delivering a talk on ‘The Princely States and the Making of Indian Modernity’ after inaugurating an international conference organised as part of centenary year celebration of historian professor Achuta Rao organised by Department of Studies in History, University of Mysore (UoM).

Washbrook said that in education, public health, industry and commerce, certain princely states like Mysore, Travancore, Baroda and Hyderabad left lasting legacies and the erstwhile princely cities of Bengaluru and Vadodara were leading centres of science and industry while Thiruvananthapuram (along with the rest of Kerala) is a pioneer of Indian medical practice.

INC ignored princely states

Washbrook said that India’s princely states have enjoyed only a minor place in the narrative of its modern nationhood. “Focused on the anti-colonial struggle against British rule, the Indian National Congress ignored them until the 1930s and later subsumed them under a programme designed to obliterate their ‘differences’. The difficult circumstances of partition and accession also made post-independent India instinctively hostile to the traces of princely privilege and power. Reviled as feudal relics, India’s Maharajas were meant to fade into history and the societies over which they ruled to blend into a single, homogeneous and continuous national modernity. Yet this perspective does little justice to either past or present,” he said.

He said after 1857, princely India may have played little public role in the political struggle against the colonial rule but this was not universally true. He said the princely states represented spheres of autonomy within which Indian actors were free to experiment with the agencies carrying their societies towards the future.

Western models

He said that no less striking, modernity – partially removed from the template of ‘Western’ models – often adopted distinctive and ‘indigenous’ forms. Hierarchy and religion were not obliterated to make way for rationalism and egalitarianism but adapted to serve new purposes. Dynasticism and heredity were acknowledged and reconstructed. As the socialism and ‘pseudo-secularism’ associated with India’s early decades of self-rule have fallen away, the significance of these continuities has become increasingly apparent. Paradoxically, the history of princely India may be more relevant to understanding the nation in the 21st century than ever it was in the 20th century.

UoM acting VC Yeshwanth Dongre, Registrar R Rajanna, History department Chairman K Sadashiva and others were present.

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