Eightheenth Century Gujarat: The Dynamics of Its Political Economy 1750-1800
This research theme proposes a comprehensive study of the late 18th century Gujarat from two perspectives: the Dutch and the Indian. The former includes a quantitative analysis of VOC trade in the broader context of the intra-Asian and Euro-Asian networks focussing on various dimensions of its interaction with the regional economy of Gujarat and its policies in the changing politico-economic climate of the region.
A major aspect would be the implications of English dominance at Surat for the Dutch commercial prospects and explanation for the latter's decline.
The second perspective looks at the working of the local economy in the context of agricultural and craft production, the position and composition of the mercantile community, and Surat's struggle for survival as the premier port of the Arabian Seas.
Thematic expanse of this study covers issues like adjustments and shifts in the conduct of VOC commerce and similar adaptations in the regional economy at a time when major arteries through which ran the life-blood of Surat, the largest port of trade in Western India, were infected with serious crises. Since VOC was still a major link, integrating Surat with whole of the Indian Ocean, its trade was a ballooning agent to the arterial blockade of Surat. This period posed different sets of problem and constraints to the VOC affecting its commercial prospects qualitatively as well as quantitatively.
Surat itself was a victim of major political battle for its control between the Mughal elites, the Marathas and the English, which damaged its commercial vitality. Moreover, Surat had to face fierce competition from Bombay, where the English not only lured the rich merchants of Surat but also tried to redirect the flow of trade in Western India. Her struggle for survival as premier port of the Arabian Seas and the extent of success/failure forms a crucial aspect of this study.
It is true that the prosperous world of the Indian merchant ship-owners was in decline by the middle of the 18th century, as has been established by Ashin Das Gupta, but the fortunes of other constituents of the local economy such as processors/manufacturers, merchants (at Surat and other ports of Gujarat), as well as other practitioners of professional commercial activities (bankers and money-lenders) need to be examined.
This study attempts to reconstruct these historically less explored aspects mainly from Dutch sources, and tries to locate the hinterland, which despite all adversities, continued not only to produce and supply all kinds of merchandise to the corporate buyers but also, to consume large imports from other parts of Asia and Europe. This study of VOC commerce in the Western Indian Ocean and the economy of Gujarat would illuminate the nature of mutual adjustments and adaptations, the basic strength of the pre-modern system of commerce in Asia, in the troubled age of commercial encounter.
Prof. Dr. Dirk H.A. Kolff
Prof. Dr. Om Prakash
Dr. Jos J.L.Gommans