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Economics as a Public Science, Part II: Institutional Settings

A Nationalistic Framework for Political Economy: Textbooks on Indian Economics during the Early-Twentieth Century

Un cadre nationaliste pour l’économie politique : les manuels d’économie politique indienne au début du vingtième siècle
Sharmin Khodaiji
p. 459-480


La fin du XIXème siècle voit émerger l’idée d’une théorie économique indienne, concentrant tous les espoirs de ses promoteurs pour trouver une méthode scientifique appropriée à l’étude de l’économie indienne, et pour ouvrir la voie au développement économique. Les manuels d’introduction à l’économie politique indienne, écrits au début du XXème siècle, sont une source précieuse pour étudier ce projet théorique. Cet article se penche ainsi sur la manière dont les manuels traitent ces problématiques.

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1This paper will discuss textbooks written in English as introductions to the emerging field of Indian Economics during the early-twentieth century, aimed at providing undergraduate and graduate students with an overarching view of the contours of the Indian economy. They are important because the authors took divergent positions on the relevance of classical political economy to Indian conditions and discussed certain aspects of British economic policy like trade. These textbooks are amongst the earliest sources available where a vision for the field of Indian Economics as the scientific method of studying economics was laid out more systematically, which the paper will elaborate upon.

  • 1 See Maria Bach (2018) for a detailed account of Ranade’s views on progress; see John Adams (1971) f (...)
  • 2 Anti-colonial nationalist sentiments emerged in India during the late-nineteenth century, aided by (...)
  • 3 Manu Goswami (2004) illustrates the territorialization of abstract notions of the economy by Indian (...)

2Most textbooks on Indian Economics referred back to a lecture titled ‘Indian Political Economy,’ delivered by Mahadev Govind Ranade (1842-1901), the Maharashtrian social reformer, in 1892.1 Ranade found that the teaching and dissemination of political economy, during the nineteenth century, by colonial administrators, educators and English textbooks, was not suited to Indian historical conditions (Ranade, 1906, 2).2 He specifically targeted English writings following David Ricardo, for their universalism, and favoured the work of Friedrich List, the German economic nationalist, and the German Historical School, borrowing from them the view that the body politic was the centre of modern thought, and not individualism and universality (ibid., 20-22). In order to be scientific, economics had to base itself on ‘Relativity’ and not ‘Absoluteness’ (ibid., 23). Ranade wanted to induct history and nationalism to the study of political economy in India. 3

  • 4 Based on university records of Calcutta University and Bombay University, their education included (...)
  • 5 Nationalist political mobilization increased rapidly by the early-twentieth century, including many (...)
  • 6 The authors highlighted here are Jadunath Sarkar, Pramathanath Banerjea, Vaman Govind Kale, Radhaka (...)

3While Ranade’s lecture expressed discontentment with British economic policy, he appealed for a developmental agenda based on an understanding of Indian historical particularities. This influenced economists to follow, who worked upon this notion of the scientific study of the Indian economy, exemplified by these textbooks on Indian Economics during the early-twentieth century. They were authored by a generation of scholars trained in history, political economy, philosophy, and the natural sciences in Indian universities established by the British state in 1857.4 Notably, some of the earliest textbooks were authored by British administrators and educationists, such as Theodore Morison in 1906, who urged Indian students to not get swayed by public opinion critical of British economic policy, and offered a defense of classical political economy.5 The Indian authors being covered in this study, while displaying diverse views, took a contrary position and questioned the applicability of classical political economy in India.6

4The argument being made here is that the emergence of Indian Economics towards the early-twentieth century was linked to the political environment of the time and two important factors contributed to this. The first was increasing political agitation by nationalists, who were also discontented with the teaching of political economy and wanted a framework more suited to Indian developmental requirements. The second factor, also a response to the first, was the governmental imperative of having a better grasp of Indian social and economic conditions, which led to the encouragement of research in economics by the 1910s (Savur, 2011, 11-12). Pedagogy and politics were intimately connected, and academic economics became an arena of contestation between the colonial government and nationalist forces. Textbooks on Indian Economics are being treated here as a site of this political contestation.

  • 7 The early-twentieth century witnessed the crystallization of the discipline of economics with the f (...)
  • 8 A clarification on the category of science used throughout this paper needs to be made. ‘Science as (...)

5This paper is utilizing the approach of viewing textbook-writing in tandem with the institutionalization of political economy in India, and more specifically the attempt to create an Indian Economics responsive to national interests. Textbooks are being considered as the form of representation of this process of institutionalization (Augello and Guidi, 2012, 2).7 Section Two of the paper will provide a historical background to the textbooks on Indian Economics by flagging important educational policies in colonial India and briefly trace the development of political economy as a discipline. The following section on textbooks will elaborate on the inter-relation between politics and academic economics during the early-twentieth century by focusing on certain themes covered by textbooks on Indian Economics. A distinction is made between British and Indian authors of textbooks as they advocated the task of economics as a science differently to students. The category of science was utilized by the authors to put forward their positions on the scope of Indian Economics, with an underlying political motive.8 A sub-section on the critique of British trade policy has been included as it was an important point of public discussion and was covered extensively in the textbooks authored by Indian economists. Lastly, the text by Radhakamal Mukherjee has been discussed separately since it was a unique communitarian approach to Indian Economics, thereby setting itself apart from others.

1. The Discipline of Political Economy and Educational Policy in Colonial India

6A few salient moments in the history of education would help contextualize the world of textbooks better. By 1835 Western education and English as the medium of instruction was officially adopted. The Education Despatch of 1854, commonly known as Wood’s Despatch, led to the establishment of universities in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras in 1857, modelled along the lines of the University of London (Ghosh, 2000, 79). The universities were only examining bodies that conferred degrees, while teaching took place in recognized colleges, and a system of grants-in-aid was instituted, giving government funding to many schools and colleges (ibid.). Departments of Public Instruction were set up in all the provinces, headed by a Director of Public Instruction (ibid., 78). This body finalized the syllabi and list of textbooks for schools and colleges, thereby enhancing government control over education.

  • 9 Low rates of literacy in India during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries meant that, nume (...)
  • 10 Iman Mitra (2016) discusses three Bengali textbooks based on Richard Whately’s primer for children (...)

7Political economy was a popular subject amongst students, and instruction in the subject in vernacular languages was officially adopted by 1856 (Mitra, 2016, 511). It was subsequently introduced to the college curriculum due to the popularity of vernacular textbooks and the satisfactory performance of the younger students who sat for examinations (ibid.).9 Jane Marcet’s Conversations on Political Economy, J.S. Mill’s Principles of Political Economy, Richard Whately’s Easy Lessons on Money Matters, Millicent Fawcett and others were translated to a few languages.10 However, the officials of the Education Department also believed that Indians lacked the scientific temperament required for the comprehension of principles of political economy, the misinterpretation of which would lead to political discontentment (Education Branch, West Bengal State Archives, 1899). Therefore syllabi and textbooks in subjects like history and political economy were closely monitored by the Education Department.

8From the mid-nineteenth century, textbooks became central to pedagogy in the vernacular and anglo-vernacular government aided institutions. Increased bureaucratic control of education, which promoted the cultural values and economic interests of the colonial state, created a centralized and impersonal system of examinations which required the standardization of education across a region. Students at the university level studied European political economists, reading texts abstracted from their own conditions. The syllabi and texts were alien to the context and experiences of students, leading to a ‘textbook culture’ in schools and colleges, based on the memorization of prescribed textbooks (Kumar, 1988, 454). This problem persists till date, with prescribed economics textbooks being unrelated to the experiential referents of students (De and Thomas, 2018). The lack of original textbook-writing in colonial India has been attributed to an ‘imperial symbiosis’ in the university system, whereby the syllabus at the University of London was followed in the wider empire (Tribe, 2012, 44). The discontentment expressed by Ranade can be attributed to these features of the education system during the nineteenth century.

  • 11 The Minto Professorship was instituted after Lord Minto, who became the Viceroy and Governor Genera (...)

9George Curzon, the Viceroy and Governor-General from 1899 to 1905, believed that the growing nationalism was directly linked to the liberal education of Indians, which needed curtailment (Basu, 1974, 9). He therefore enacted the Indian Universities’ Act of 1904, which allowed for a university department to directly teach and engage in research for the first time, but also increased the hold of government officials over colleges and the governing bodies of universities (Habib, 2017, 57). It was viewed as a measure to contain political agitation on the part of students and teachers, leading to protests from several quarters against the perceived government interference in academic life (ibid.). As the government’s role in higher education went up, the officials of the Education Department felt that a better understanding of Indian economic, political and social conditions was required, out of which emerged an emphasis on research to be carried out in Indian universities (Education Department, Maharashtra State Archives, 1914; Savur, 2011). Teaching departments were established at the university level, starting with the first Department of Political Economy and Political Philosophy at Calcutta University in 1908. Manohar Lal, a former student of Alfred Marshall, was appointed the first Minto Professor of Economics at Calcutta in 1909. His job was to lecture and encourage research on topics in Indian Economics (Education Branch, West Bengal State Archives, 1913).11

10This context of politics and pedagogy laid the ground for the writing of textbooks on Indian Economics. By 1906, when the first recorded textbook was published, a decade and a half had passed since Ranade spoke of an Indian political economy and the nationalist movement had gained further ground. Once courses on Indian Economics were introduced in universities around this time, textbooks on the subject were required for students.

2. Textbooks on Indian Economics

11Courses on the Indian economy were introduced towards the beginning of the twentieth century, throwing up a demand for adequate textbooks. The books are classified as textbooks since they explicitly targeted students, and certain books such as Vaman Govind Kale’s Introduction to Indian Economics (1917), addressed general readers as a secondary audience. These texts charted new terrain by defining the composites of the national economy. They served a dual function, the first of which was to serve as reading materials for examination-based courses. The books were organized in a manner similar to that of standard textbooks written for pedagogical purposes, but comprised of an introductory chapter or preface dealing with the applicability of classical political economy to India, the answer to which varied amongst authors. The remaining chapters detailed the overall geography of the national economy of India, and covered different concepts such as production, consumption, exchange, currency, commerce, banking, capital, the cooperative movement etc. They were more descriptive than analytical in nature (Datta, 1978, 21). The second purpose of these texts was political in nature, encouraging their readers to adopt a specific interpretation of classical political economy, which in their view was scientific. Some of the earliest textbooks were written by British educationists and administrators, which will be discussed first. They critiqued the teaching of classical political economy in Indian universities, but ultimately upheld the canon of political economy. In contrast, Indian nationalist economists were critical of the established canon and asserted that economics had to be based on history and nationalism, with the exception of Jadunath Sarkar, who occupied a more unique position between these strands. The textbooks and authors have been demarcated on the basis of their varied objectives in writing these texts and their view on the scientific study of the Indian economy which students should adopt.

12Nineteen books were written in English between 1906 and 1930, identifiable through library and archive catalogues in India and Britain. All the authors were either college lecturers or university professors. The textbooks of the most prominent scholars, who were also public figures, have been selected for this paper. Theodore Morison and William Harrison Moreland have been selected since their textbooks were part of university reading lists, while J.R. Cornah’s book was selected for its explicit position on the task of economics as a science. The Indian authors were important figures in educational institutions, being instrumental to the creation of departments of economics, and contributed significantly to upcoming journals and associations of economists. The following sections will explore how these textbooks were defining political economy as a science in the colony and the manner of its recasting as the result of nationalist critique.

2.1. Defense of Classical Political Economy

13The earliest textbook on Indian Economics on record was Theodore Morison’s The Industrial Organization of an Indian Province, published in 1906. Morison was the former Principal of the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh (now known as Aligarh Muslim University). The text was based upon information gathered from the United Provinces of British India. Morison found that there were many official studies available on particular economic problems in India but none that were suitable for students, and there was no existing study of industry in India written from the point of view of the economist (Morison, 1906, vi).

14This text represented the concern of British officials to assuage the claims of economic nationalists that the doctrines of political economy adopted by the administration were not in tune with the reality of the country. Morison felt that Indian students were taught economics far too abstract for their comprehension because the ‘industrial facts’ provided by English texts were drawn from Europe. His stated objective was to ‘review the principal facts in the society,’ which students could connect with, and to build the relation between those ‘facts to the abstract economics’ which they had previously studied (ibid., v). Since no textbooks on Indian economics were recognized by the Education Department during the early 1900s, texts had to be written by collecting material from government publications, which Morison relied upon.

15Morison addressed nationalist critiques of classical political economy by stating that the part of ‘economic science’ considered universally applicable only comprised of a few concepts. The majority of economic doctrines were not universal in nature, but only statements on general principles which may be applicable in specific conditions. The most prominent economic theories which influenced public opinion were those based on industrial organization in Europe and America (ibid., 1).

  • 12 Morison had stated in another work of his, Imperial Rule in India (1899), that Indian students were (...)

16Contrary to the conventional position of the colonial administration, Morison acknowledged that any study of Indian economic conditions was ‘not the type tacitly assumed in most books upon abstract economics’ (ibid., 2). This stance on the limitations of classical economic theory to empirical conditions in India, was indicative of the larger shift within British educational policy.12 Morison almost suggested a relativistic view of political economy by stating it should aim at the creation of ‘an independent body of economic doctrines which could be logically deduced from the observed facts of Indian society’ (ibid.). However, it was not realizable since the materials at hand for such a study were insufficient (ibid.).

17An often-quoted textbook prescribed to university students was An Introduction to Economics for Indian Students by William Harrison Moreland, published in 1913 and reprinted for the sixth time by 1923. Moreland was the Director of Land Records and Agriculture in the United Provinces for many years. He wrote two handbooks on agriculture and revenue administration in the United Provinces, and later worked on Mughal history (Case, 1965). An Introduction to Economics was not a textbook on Indian Economics but a book on general economics. Its uniqueness lay in the explicit reference to Indian society and history to illustrate general concepts, by incorporating examples based on familiarity and experience, which differentiated it from previous textbooks.

18Similar to Morison, Moreland highlighted the historically contingent nature of economic laws to students. However, Moreland went further by trying to remove the sense of universality, rigidity and prescriptiveness associated with a term such as ‘law’ while upholding the position of economics as a science, defining science as the knowledge of a subject which could be expressed in terms of laws or generalizations: ‘in science there is no idea of telling people what to do. In science a Law is simply a statement that something is likely to happen in certain conditions … we are referring to the conclusions that have been drawn from experience as to what is likely to happen when certain conditions exist’ (ibid., 5). Laws were conclusions drawn from experience and observation, and were not to be mistaken for commands, with people being free to accumulate and spend their wealth in any manner they pleased. The economic law was contrasted with laws in the natural sciences, where the former could be conclusively arrived at through observation, while the latter could also avail of the method of controlled experimentation (ibid., 6). Moreland identified this as the cause behind the divergent interpretations of economic phenomena, as changes in economic conditions could not be controlled but only observed. He used this point to caution Indian students against reports in the press as they ‘may attribute a result to a cause which, in fact, has had little or nothing to do with it, just because they have overlooked the true cause or causes’ (ibid., 7). He instead urged students of economics to focus on the acquisition of ‘facts on which the laws are founded,’ based on an extensive study of economic history and statistics (ibid.).

  • 13 Cornah referred to Francis Walker’s Political Economy to provide the student with an introduction t (...)

19A lesser known textbook was J.R. Cornah’s Simple Economics for Indian Schools and Colleges (1912).13 Cornah had studied at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and was the former Vice-Principal of the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh. At the time of writing Simple Economics, he was the Assistant Principal at Aitchison Chiefs’ College, Lahore. Cornah openly expressed his concern that the results of teaching economics in India from a Western standpoint were ‘mischievous’ (Cornah, 1912, v). He hoped to address the ‘misrepresentation and prejudice’ that had built up and ‘train the mind of young India towards sound judgement and fair inquiry’ (ibid.). Cornah was attempting to steer students away from an association of political economy with normativity by not paying heed to the ‘moral view … which one may feel is the truly right and just view of what should be the aim and scope of the Economist’ (ibid., 1). The notion of economics as an amoral, positivist science was harnessed to ‘take facts as they really are, and to leave the question of what they should be to teachers of social reform’ (ibid.). However Cornah did not consign economics to value neutrality and ahistoricism. In discussing two different approaches to the discipline, he first quoted J.S. Mill to pitch economics as a ‘pure science,’ concerned only with the relation between cause and effect. For the second approach, Cairnes’ views on imbibing social institutions and custom were put forth, termed as economics’ attempt to fashion itself as an ‘art,’ or that which spoke of desirable ends. The objective was to combine the two approaches by which the laws governing production, exchange, distribution, and consumption of wealth would be arrived at in a scientific manner, in the first place, only after which this foundation would be used to build an economics committed towards social purposes (ibid., 6). The student was instructed to prioritize the scientific or dispassionate reading of economics, or ‘to apply the Science to build up the Art’ (ibid.).

  • 14 The swadeshi movement emerged towards the end of the nineteenth century for the promotion of indige (...)

20The period under consideration was during the aftermath of widespread protests in 1905, when the government announced the partition of Bengal. Students participated in these protests in large numbers which saw a campaign for swadeshi14 and the boycott of British manufactured goods (Habib, 2017, 59). Alternative educational institutions, like the Technical College at Jadavpur, Calcutta, was established in 1907 in response to events in Bengal, maintaining itself through private contributions (ibid.). In retaliation against the Indian Universities’ Act of 1904, the National Education Movement was initiated in Bengal in 1905, which aimed to establish educational institutions more suited to national requirements (Mukherjee and Mukherjee, 1957). The following set of textbooks by Indian economists should be considered as flowing from this tumultuous period in Indian politics.

2.2. The Critics of Classical Political Economy

21Ranade gave an impetus to the scientific study of the Indian economy, resulting in a number of textbooks by authors who were the first generation of academic economists in India, having studied in Indian universities and a few studying abroad at London, Cambridge, and Germany. The number of reprints and revised editions of these textbooks suggests that they were being widely read by the student community.

  • 15 See Dipesh Chakravarty’s The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth (2015) (...)

22The earliest textbook was by Jadunath Sarkar (1870-1958), titled Economics of British India (1909), and by 1917 the fourth edition of the book was printed. Sarkar is better known for his contributions to history as an academic discipline in India. His prominent works are several volumes on the last major Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb, and the seventeenth-century Maratha ruler, Shivaji.15 Sarkar was knighted in 1929 and was the first Indian historian to become an honorary member of the American Historical Association. Sarkar’s text differed in one crucial manner from the rest of the textbooks by Indian economists. While others tried defining Indian Economics or addressed the question of the applicability of classical political economy to India, this issue remained untouched by Sarkar. Other Indian authors acknowledged Ranade for his contribution to Indian Economics, but Sarkar did not mention Ranade in this regard.

23The textbook was an exposition of Indian economic affairs, stating the ‘advantages’ and ‘disadvantages’ of British rule. Sarkar was not an avowed critic of Empire and favoured some of its effects on Indian social structures and values. In his chapter on ‘The State,’ Sarkar considered the ‘modernisation’ of the Indian economy as beneficial, since it brought India out of isolation and within the circuit of global commerce (Sarkar, 1917, 113). The British had introduced competition in the economic sphere, by rewarding ‘merit’ and creating ‘opportunities’ not possible in medieval India. The ‘collectivism’ of Indian society regulated and restricted individual economic activity, but it was being replaced by ‘individualism,’ which would be socially destructive at first, but would eventually become the ‘root of invention’ (ibid., 115). Sarkar believed that the British had ‘placed Science at the service of man’ by not leaving room for old customs and conventions. The advancement of science would usher in a social and economic reconstruction (ibid.). This contrasted the views of Sarkar’s contemporary, Radhakamal Mukherjee, who felt that modern exchange relations had disrupted the indigenous village-based economy and social structure (Mukherjee, 1916). However Sarkar’s endorsement of the modernization of Indian economic life was not absolute. He quoted J.S. Mill and List to support the protection of infant industries in India (Sarkar, 1917, 318-321). Being amongst the earliest textbooks on economics in India, Sarkar’s text was initially proposed for inclusion in the list of books for students of Bombay University in 1912. Its inclusion was supported by some members of the Board of Studies for History and Economics in 1912, but due to unknown reasons it was cut from the final list. Theodore Morison, who had left India by that time, also supported its inclusion (Education Department, Maharashtra State Archives, 1913).

  • 16 Lees-Smith visited India to draft a report on the state of the study of Indian economics. He mentio (...)
  • 17 Banerjea’s textbook was reprinted several times. The first edition was reprinted once in 1912. The (...)

24The second textbook on Indian Economics written by a prominent economist was A Study of Indian Economics by Pramathanath Banerjea (1879-1960), published in 1911. Banerjea completed his M.A. from Calcutta University and D.Sc. (Econ.) from the London School of Economics in 1916, writing a thesis on public administration in ancient India under the supervision of H.B. Lees-Smith, who was interested in the project of Indian Economics (Lees-Smith, 1909).16 Banerjea was appointed the Minto Professor of Economics at Calcutta University in 1919, and was amongst the founders of the Indian Statistical Institute in 1931, being closely associated with the statistician, P.C. Mahalanobis. In the preface to the first edition of the textbook, Banerjea wrote that it was from the point of view of a ‘scientific inquirer,’ implying an absence of political bias (Banerjea, 1927, vii).17 Indian economists upheld the project of national political economy as a science, defending it against accusations of prejudice and misinterpretation, in order to gain legitimacy for the scheme of building an Indian Economics.

25Indian and British authors diverged on the question of the applicability of classical political economy to India. Morison, Moreland and Cornah stated that classical economists did not intend for economic laws to be universal, while the Indian critics believed there was an assumption of the universal validity of economic doctrines akin to laws in the physical sciences, with the exception of a few classical economists. This divergence signalled the contentious relationship between political economy and the colony. Following Adam Smith, political economy consolidated itself as a body of knowledge during the nineteenth century. However, in its filtration down to the public, students, and its role in framing economic policy, the corpus of ideas coalesced around a few principles considered to be universal, ignoring the nuanced views of Smith and later political economists (Ambirajan, 1978, 26). For instance, state intervention in the economy is not altogether absent in theory, but in practice the laissez-faire doctrine was considered the foundation of British economic policy in India, and was received as such by students of political economy and civil servants during the nineteenth century (ibid.). Emergent economic nationalism during the late-nineteenth century opposed the British policy of one-way free trade and demanded the protection of Indian industries, attacking the tariff policy on cotton and sugar (Chandra, 1966), or the economic drain becoming a focal point of nationalist discourse. The Indian nationalist intelligentsia was responding to this sense of the universality of political economy, and were less liable to acknowledge the qualifications built in by theorists, as opposed to British administrators and educationists.

  • 18 Kale co-authored a Marathi textbook in 1929, titled Bharatiya Arthashastra, based on An Introductio (...)
  • 19 1100 copies of the first edition were printed in 1917 (Catalogue of Books Printed in the Bombay Pre (...)
  • 20 Datta cited the edition of An Introduction to the Study of Indian Economics published in 1925. This (...)

26In opposition to this perceived universality of the principles of political economy, Vaman Govind Kale (1876-1946) worked on the incorporation of history into Indian Economics. Kale graduated from Fergusson College in Pune and was Professor of History and Economics for many years at the college. Kale was Ranade’s reader and writer for a short while and was influenced by his political work. He was a member of the Indian Council of States from 1921 to 1923, and served on the first Indian Tariff Board from 1923 to 1925 (Krishnamurty, 2009, 1). He founded the Historical and Economic Association at Fergusson College in 1916, creating a platform for students to present papers on various issues (Karve, 1941). Kale’s most prominent work was his textbook, An Introduction to the Study of Indian Economics, published in 1917.18 Multiple editions of the book were published within the span of a few years, making it one of the most popular textbooks on Indian Economics.19 Bhabatosh Datta (1978) mentioned that while Banerjea’s textbook was widely considered, it was not analytical in nature. Students found Kale’s textbook more up to date (Datta, 1978, 21).20

27Kale argued for a ‘scientific investigation’ of the ‘peculiar’ conditions in colonial India. In contrast to Moreland and Cornah, Kale set out the task of economics in India for the student and general reader, very differently:

Indian Economics … is not an independent science, because it does not seek to discover new laws which were not known to earlier thinkers. We have indeed to observe things as they are, describe the economic activities of the different classes of the population and to study the different economic phenomena like high prices, low wages, expanding trade and increasing rents, and have to point out the relation of cause and effect. But we have also to indicate how improvement may be effected by individual and collective action, and how evils may be prevented and remedied. It thus suggests an application of economic laws to Indian conditions and partakes more of the nature of the art of Economics or of a normative science. It is, besides, national in this sense that it deals with the peculiar conditions of India and has in view the special requirements of the material advancement of its people. [emphasis added] (Kale, 1920, 9)

28These assertions by economists in textbooks and other forums such as the conferences of the Indian Economic Association, has led existing literature to classify the economists of the early-twentieth century as the early development economists of India (Krishnamurty, 2009; Krishnamurty and Kale, 2009; Omkarnath, 2016). By setting the task of Indian Economics as the ‘material advancement’ of people, it was labelled as a normative science by Indian economists, thus distinguishing themselves from the British authors. Since Indian Economics did not aspire to be an autonomous discipline but set the pragmatic goal of creating a national developmental agenda, it ‘located its standpoint of critique within and against the structural and experiential contradictions of colonial state space’ (Goswami, 2004, 235).

29Kale advocated the historical method for economics, believing that any meaningful study of contemporary economic conditions mandated an inquiry into the evolution of ‘practices and institutions’ through its historical stages in India, starting from antiquity. Responding to the view that Indian spirituality and culture were responsible for its passivity and lack of economic growth, Kale devoted a chapter to provide ‘evidence from history’ that prominent social institutions such as religion had not hampered prosperity in India (Kale, 1920; Krishnamurty and Kale, 2009). He drew a comparison with Europe to show the dominance of churches in social and economic life. The reasons for India’s lack of economic development lay not in its culture, but in extraneous factors which arrested its progress. Kale, like many contemporary Indian economists, was not willing to give up on tradition in the hope of modern economic advancement (Kale, 1920, 40). Yet, Kale’s views in the debate on tradition versus modernity in India were more complex since he believed that spirituality and material prosperity could coexist. He did not accept the colonial construction of the ‘spiritualism’ of India, which distinguished him from many contemporary Bengali swadeshi nationalists, who embraced the orientalist reading of India (Goswami, 2004, 236). Kale defended Ranade against the interpretation that Western economic theory had no role to play in the ‘economic progress’ of India. In his estimation, Ranade pitched different schools of Western theory against each other, to guide economists to follow, who had to repeat the process to find the most suitable model for the Indian economy (Krishnamurty and Kale, 2009, 303).

30The books discussed thus far were not in-depth analytical studies or research based publications. According to Datta these texts only served the purpose of drawing the attention of readers to major facts of India’s economy (Datta, 1978, 22). Consequently, Datta claimed that ‘a new stage in the world of textbooks was reached’ with the publication of the first edition of the two-volume, Indian Economics: A Comprehensive and Critical Survey, in 1928, by G.B. Jathar and S.G. Beri. For two decades following its publication, Jathar and Beri’s textbook was the predominant text on Indian Economics (ibid.). Its popularity can be gauged from the fact that the seventh revised edition of the book was printed by 1942, within a span of fourteen years. The authors claimed not to have a ‘viewpoint,’ and every chapter began with a historical analysis where ‘different viewpoints of the crucial issues were presented objectively’ (ibid., 22). Jathar and Beri wrote on agriculture in the first volume and the second volume focused on various aspects of industry, finance and exchange in India, treating these subjects in much greater detail than previous textbooks. They belonged to a generation of economists trained in economics at Cambridge University, and their interpretation of economics was influenced by the Marshallian exegesis. Nonetheless, their essential understanding of the scope and meaning of Indian Economics did not differ from the authors discussed before. They argued in favour of the unity of economics as a science, based on the assumption that basic human nature held true everywhere, and so the fundamentals of economics held good (Jathar and Beri, 1937, 3). However Indian Economics could be considered as a separate subject of study where the economic conditions of the country needed to be studied in detail (ibid.).

31In the preface to the first edition of the textbook, Jathar and Beri claimed ‘absolute impartiality and moderation’ and that their aim was ‘to be accurate rather than exciting, useful rather than polemical’ (ibid., vi). However, in contrast to Datta’s opinion of this textbook, Jathar and Beri positioned themselves in favour of protection for Indian industries. The objectivity that Datta referred to perhaps stemmed from the style and syntax of the textbook, which was closer to what is today accepted as an academic text.

32As mentioned earlier, these textbooks fulfilled both pedagogical and political functions. The impact of the policy of free trade on the Indian economy was a major issue in political discourse at the time. One of the major points of focus in these textbooks, which was addressed to students, was a critique of the trade policy of the British state.

2.3. Free Trade and Protection: The Nationalist Critique of British Economic Policy in Textbooks

33The nationalist economic critique of colonialism coalesced around a few crucial issues: free trade and protectionism; an economic policy of laissez-faire or a state that developed the ‘productive powers’ of the nation, with reference to List; the industrialization of India and its confinement as an agrarian economy that produced raw materials in the global division of labour; a debate on deindustrialization and the immiserization of the peasantry; land revenue policies; and the question of whether British investments in India were beneficial or did they imply an economic drain (see Chandra, 1966; Ganguli, 1977). In principle, many Indian economists had no objection to the idea of free trade, provided that economic conditions were advanced enough to no longer require the protection of industries. On the issue of protection, the opinion in India was not uniform, with support and opposition for tariff protection. Some economists, such as Gyanchand, proposed tariff protection as a policy of last resort after providing state assistance, cheap capital, communications, and subsidies to promote industrial activity (Krishnamurty and Kale, 2009, 310). Ranade promoted the idea of state assistance to industry in the absence of any prospects for tariff autonomy (ibid.), with tariff protection for industry in India only being enforced a few decades later. Pramathanath Banerjea positioned himself against the free trade doctrine in his textbook, terming the trade relations with Britain a ‘drain’ upon the resources of India (Banerjea, 1927, 180).

34Kale found it important to introduce the student to the debate on free trade, in a chapter titled ‘Commercial Policy,’ which opened with the salvo that trade had to be regulated if it was to benefit the nation (Kale, 1920, 218). Kale argued for protection by referencing contemporary international relations to support his ideas on national interest and patriotism. He drew an analogy with the ‘pacifist,’ represented by the creation of the League of Nations and the drafting of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points for international peace. The cosmopolitan ideals of international cooperation and harmony, which also rested on free trade, were stated to be desirable but could not ignore the existence of nationalist sentiment (Kale, 1920, 225). In support of the protectionist lobby, Kale argued that if nations were left free to develop their resources in their own capacities, the international community would be better off as it would comprise of ‘a commonwealth of fully developed peoples’ (ibid.).

35Ranade and Kale were reformists who attempted a historical and institutional analysis of Indian society and economy. Their understanding was that if India wanted to be a member of the global capitalistic community, it was necessary to replace caste and status with contractual relations as the principle of economic organization (Ranade, 1906). While the application of the tenets of classical political economy—its reduction to laissez-faire as economic policy—was the object of criticism, there were some economists who saw it as an ideal, provided the nation had the same advantages and historical conditions from where the principles of political economy emanated. There was no agenda for the structural transformation of national and global society but to bring the nation on a level playing field with industrially developed nations, which also entailed a degree of social reform within the nation. However, in this debate on the influence of colonial social and economic policy on the socio-economic fabric of India, the work of Radhakamal Mukherjee has to be included, as he provided a divergent approach to the matter. Amongst the set of prominent authors of textbooks on Indian Economics, Mukherjee gave a communitarian view on the subject.

2.4. The Communitarian Approach to Economics

  • 21 Geddes was appointed the first Professor of Sociology when the School of Economics and Sociology wa (...)

36The work of Radhakamal Mukherjee (1889-1968) requires separate consideration from the texts and authors discussed thus far. Mukherjee completed his education at Presidency College, Calcutta, later becoming the first Chair of Sociology at the Department of Economics and Sociology at Lucknow University in 1921. He was deeply influenced by his teacher, Patrick Geddes, the urban planner and a critic of Empire (Madan, 2011, 21).21

37Mukherjee wrote The Foundations of Indian Economics in 1916, with an introduction by Geddes. Geddes stated that the purpose of the text was to draw attention back to village society, which had lost its self-sufficiency as a result of Western notions of progress, based on industrialization and urbanization. Mukherjee emphasized on the communitarianism of Indian social life and that the essence of the nation was found in its villages. His views were part of a body of economic thought during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century called the Bengal school, which rose to eminence during the period of anti-colonial swadeshi politics, concerning itself with issues such as the restructuring of the land revenue system, agrarian relations, rural indebtedness, and the revitalization of indigenous institutions and practices (Goswami, 2004, 236). Radhakamal Mukherjee’s brother, Radhakumud Mukherjee, was closely associated with the efforts of the National Education Movement, initiated in Bengal in 1905 (Mukherjee and Mukherjee, 1957).

38Mukherjee believed there was a ‘relativity of economic life and institutions,’ and ‘theories,’ ‘practices’ and ‘economic systems and methods,’ which had not been successful in the West, were imposed on India. Instead a proper study of ‘the regulative social and ethical ideals of India’ was required, and the adaptation of ‘economic institutions’ to it (Mukherjee, 1916, xix). According to him the ‘historico-comparative method,’ taken from sociology needed to be applied to economics, thereby widening the ambit of the ‘science of pure economics’ (ibid., xx).

39The method adopted by Mukherjee in Foundations of Indian Economics was the inductive study of cottage and village industries, and the examination of ‘socio-economic data drawn from caste and the joint family as well as the economico-religious ideas and institutions … and special features of Indian consumption’ (ibid.). The main source of information was his field research of these industries and their systems of trade, credit and transport. Mukherjee wrote of the laboriousness of his research, moving from village to village collecting data from artisans and traders, making them overcome their ‘fears and suspicions’ of him. The researcher’s place in the field was important as ‘the real sources of information are accessible only to sympathy and fellowship with simple labour and life, in its distress and sufferings, its aims and aspirations’ (ibid., xx-xxii). He established a cooperative credit society in Murshidabad district for agriculturalists and traders in the countryside (ibid., xxii).

40Mukherjee’s edifice for the construction of Indian Economics differed from other texts. He acknowledged Ranade’s contribution to the growth of Indian Economics but utilized methods from the emergent field of economic sociology, using Ernst Engels’ method to collect statistics on consumption (ibid., xxii). Mukherjee also drew on the observations of Werner Sombart, the German historical economist, and quoted selections from Marshall’s Principles of Economics, to create an argument in favour of workshop- and home-based industries, and cottage industries, instead of large enterprises as the basis of industrial and agricultural organization (ibid., 356-376; Goswami, 2004, 237). For a few industries, such as mining, iron works, steamers and ship-building, not in competition with cottage industries, Mukherjee supported large-scale production to take advantage of the economies of scale (Mukherjee, 1916, 344). A sound policy of development entailed space for both small and large industries (ibid., xxi). He supported a cooperative system for cottage industries to facilitate access to credit through cooperative societies. Development entailed a revitalization of the village for Mukherjee, who believed in diminishing the increasing divorce between the urban and the rural, manifested through the exploitation of the countryside by the city. He put forward two social institutions as fundamental to the organization of economic life in India: caste, which was the social ideal and took the shape of a community for artisans; and the joint family system as the basic unit of economic organization, in opposition to individualism, considered a product of Western civilization.

41Mukherjee’s ideas based on rural economic development were challenged by his contemporaries, such as Brij Narain, who dismissed the notion of a civilizational difference between India and the West based on spirituality (Krishnamurty and Kale, 2009, 302). Although Mukherjee’s analysis explained the ‘historical production of forms of unevenness on multiple scales’—urban versus rural, metropole versus colony—he sought to revive the autonomous village economy built on the social hierarchies of caste, making his ideas deeply problematic (Goswami, 2004, 239). Mukherjee’s communitarianism offered a different conception of the priorities of economic organization and economic development from the authors discussed previously, indicating the heterogeneity amongst nationalist economists.

3. Conclusion

42A study of textbooks on Indian Economics has made apparent the close relationship between pedagogical political economy and the evolving political forces during the early-twentieth century. Public discourses that were critical of British economic policy and were envisioning an economic future for India (Ranade for example), made their mark on academic economics. Even though nationalist critiques of classical political economy overlooked subtleties in the body of economic thought, the challenge was serious enough that textbooks prescribed at the university level, like those by Morison and Moreland, had to clarify the task of economics as a science in India. The British authors were compelled to defend classical political economy and its place in India, while Indian economists used these textbooks to advocate for a national developmental agenda, invoking the category of economics as a ‘science’ to try and further historical analysis in Indian Economics. Through the textbooks authored by Kale and Mukherjee, we get a sense of the different methods that Indian economists were borrowing and looking to apply in India. Kale’s was a modernist vision based on the Listian developmental framework, looking to develop Indian Economics by focusing on Indian historical particularities. Mukherjee, in contrast, gave an institutional analysis of Indian social and economic life, building his developmental framework on the indigenous village economy.

43These textbooks represent an important phase in economics in India, both chronologically and intellectually, as they set the stage for the later, more far-reaching work on development. Indian Economics, as presented in these books, was a forerunner to the debates on development and planning that took place in India from the 1930s onwards, culminating in the consolidation of the post-colonial Nehruvian developmental state.

I am grateful to Keith Tribe, Shivani Kapoor, Alex Thomas, the participants at the conference on “Economics and Public Reason” held at the University of Lausanne in May 2018, and the two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and comments on the paper. The Inlaks Research Travel Grant helped in gathering information that contributed to this paper.

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1 See Maria Bach (2018) for a detailed account of Ranade’s views on progress; see John Adams (1971) for his view of Ranade as an institutional economist.

2 Anti-colonial nationalist sentiments emerged in India during the late-nineteenth century, aided by the growth of a class of elite English-educated intellectuals, who voiced their opposition to colonial economic policy.

3 Manu Goswami (2004) illustrates the territorialization of abstract notions of the economy by Indian economic nationalists of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, who created a discourse around the composition of the national economy of colonial India.

4 Based on university records of Calcutta University and Bombay University, their education included a familiarity with the established canon of political economy starting with Adam Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, J.S. Mill, and the marginalist school. By the 1890s, Alfred Marshall’s Principles of Economics was introduced to the M.A. syllabus.

5 Nationalist political mobilization increased rapidly by the early-twentieth century, including many college students, which concerned the Education Department of the government.

6 The authors highlighted here are Jadunath Sarkar, Pramathanath Banerjea, Vaman Govind Kale, Radhakamal Mukherjee, and G.B. Jathar and S.G. Beri.

7 The early-twentieth century witnessed the crystallization of the discipline of economics with the formation of university departments for postgraduate teaching and research on Indian Economics from 1908 onwards (Krishnamurty, 2009, xvi). Simultaneously, the Indian Journal of Economics was established in 1916 and the Indian Economic Association was established in 1917 for the growing community of economists to create platforms for the discussion and dissemination of Indian Economics (Krishnamurty, 2016).

8 A clarification on the category of science used throughout this paper needs to be made. ‘Science as legitimiser’ was widely used by people of varying political hues in colonial India as the category broadly implied ‘rational’ and ‘progressive’ activities (Zachariah, 2001, 3692). It was used to counter the colonial construction of the ‘backwardness’ of Indian society, economy, and knowledge. Works on economic development and nation-building tended to invoke ‘science’ alongside. Most claims to science were not well thought out in terms of a philosophy of science, but ‘science,’ when used as a universal category had the ability to legitimize the colonized and their work, placing it on an equal plane with the colonizer (ibid., 3693). This could possibly explain the heavy invocation of this category in textbooks on Indian Economics.

9 Low rates of literacy in India during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries meant that, numerically, a ‘mass reading public’ would refer to some thousands of readers and not tens of thousands (Stark, 2008, 17).

10 Iman Mitra (2016) discusses three Bengali textbooks based on Richard Whately’s primer for children during the nineteenth century, examining the modality of translation and linguistic exchange necessitated between different social contexts; Veena Naregal (2018, 204) briefly mentions four Marathi translations of J.S. Mill during the mid-nineteenth century, in her work on translations in the Indian social sciences; Neeraj Hatekar (2003) covers the same Marathi translations as Naregal (2018), but considers their economic thought as being constrained by colonial dominance.

11 The Minto Professorship was instituted after Lord Minto, who became the Viceroy and Governor General of India in 1905. The Minto Professorship was supported by a grant from the government.

12 Morison had stated in another work of his, Imperial Rule in India (1899), that Indian students were not inherently ‘disloyal’. They were capable of ‘correct reasoning’ only if ‘facts and arguments’ were placed before them, which textbooks at the time were not providing (Alston, 1910, 152).

13 Cornah referred to Francis Walker’s Political Economy to provide the student with an introduction to wealth, production, consumption, and distribution; and Theodore Morison (1906).

14 The swadeshi movement emerged towards the end of the nineteenth century for the promotion of indigeneous manufactures.

15 See Dipesh Chakravarty’s The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth (2015) for a detailed analysis of Sarkar’s place in the tradition of historiography in India.

16 Lees-Smith visited India to draft a report on the state of the study of Indian economics. He mentioned that that there was neither ‘perpetualism nor cosmopolitanism’ in the larger discipline and that a proper textbook on Indian Economics for students was required (Lees-Smith, 1909, 20-22).

17 Banerjea’s textbook was reprinted several times. The first edition was reprinted once in 1912. The second edition of the book, published in 1915, was reprinted eight times until 1926.

18 Kale co-authored a Marathi textbook in 1929, titled Bharatiya Arthashastra, based on An Introduction to the Study of Indian Economics. He also published a textbook, Indian Administration (1913), intended for Bombay University students.

19 1100 copies of the first edition were printed in 1917 (Catalogue of Books Printed in the Bombay Presidency, 1918), which was a significant number at the time for a book in english. This information was catalogued because it was printed by an Indian publishing house, Aryabhushan Press.

20 Datta cited the edition of An Introduction to the Study of Indian Economics published in 1925. This paper is referring to the third edition published in 1920.

21 Geddes was appointed the first Professor of Sociology when the School of Economics and Sociology was established in Bombay University in 1919. For a more detailed history of the discipline of sociology in India, and its relation to the pedagogical imperatives of the colonial state, see Sujata Patel (2011) and Manorama Savur (2011).

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Sharmin Khodaiji

Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University,

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