James Tod - Worldview


According to Theodore Koditschek, whose fields of study include historiography and British imperial history, Tod saw the Rajputs as "natural allies of the British in their struggles against the Mughal and Maratha states". Norbert Peabody, an anthropologist and historian, has gone further, arguing that "maintaining the active support of groups, like the Rajputs for example, was not only important in meeting the threat of indigenous rivals but also in countering the imperial aspirations of other European powers." He stated that some of Tod's thoughts were "implicated in colonial policy toward western India for over a century."

Tod favoured the then-fashionable concept of Romantic nationalism. Influenced by this, he thought that each princely state should be inhabited by only one community and his policies were designed to expel Marathas, Pindaris and other groups from Rajput territories. It also influenced his instigation of treaties that were intended to redraw the territorial boundaries of the various states. The geographical and political boundaries before his time had in some cases been blurred, primarily due to local arrangements based on common kinship, and he wanted a more evident delineation of the entities, He was successful in both of these endeavours.

Tod was unsuccessful in implementing another of his ideas, which was also based on the ideology of Romantic nationalism. He believed that the replacement of Maratha rule with that of the British had resulted in the Rajputs merely swapping the onerous overlordship of one government for that of another. Although he was one of the architects of indirect rule, in which the princes looked after domestic affairs but paid tribute to the British for protection in foreign affairs, he was also a critic of it. He saw the system as one that prevented achievement of true nationhood, and therefore, as Peabody describes, "utterly subversive to the stated goal of preserving them as viable entities." Tod wrote in 1829 that the system of indirect rule had a tendency to "national degradation" of the Rajput territories and that this undermined them because

Who will dare to urge that a government, which cannot support its internal rule without restriction, can be national? That without power unshackled and unrestrained by exterior council or espionage, it can maintain its self-respect? This first of feelings these treaties utterly annihilate. Can we suppose such denationalised allies are to be depended upon in emergencies? Or, if allowed to retain a spark of their ancient moral inheritance, that it will not be kindled into a flame against us when opportunity offers?

There was a political aspect to his views: if the British recast themselves as overseers seeking to re-establish lost Rajput nations, then this would at once smooth the relationship between those two parties and distinguish the threatening, denationalising Marathas from the paternal, nation-creating British. It was an argument that had been deployed by others in the European arena, including in relation to the way in which Britain portrayed the imperialism of Napoleonic France as denationalising those countries which it conquered, whereas (it was claimed) British imperialism freed people; William Bentinck, a soldier and statesmen who later in life served as Governor-General of India, noted in 1811 that "Bonaparte made kings; England makes nations". However, his arguments in favour of granting sovereignty to the Rajputs failed to achieve that end, although the frontispiece to volume one of his Annals did contain a plea to the then English King George IV to reinstate the "former independence" of the Rajputs.

While he viewed the Muslim Mughals as despotic and the Marathas as predatory, Tod saw the Rajput social systems as being similar to the feudal system of medieval Europe, and their traditions of recounting history through the generations as similar to the clan poets of the Scottish Highlanders. There was, he felt, a system of checks and balances between the ruling princes and their vassal lords, a tendency for feuds and other rivalries, and often a serf-like peasantry. The Rajputs were, in his opinion, on the same developmental trajectory that nations such as Britain had followed. His ingenious use of these viewpoints later enabled him to promote in his books the notion that there was a shared experience between the people of Britain and this community in a distant, relatively unexplored area of the empire. He speculated that there was a common ancestor shared by the Rajputs and Europeans somewhere deep in prehistory and that this might be proven by comparison of the commonality in their history of ideas, such as myth and legend. In this he shared a contemporary aspiration to prove that all communities across the world had a common origin. There was another appeal inherent in a feudal system, and it was not unique to Tod: the historian Thomas R. Metcalf has said that

In an age of industrialism and individualism, of social upheaval and laissez-faire, marked by what were perceived as the horrors of continental revolution and the rationalist excesses of Benthamism, the Middle Ages stood forth as a metaphor for paternalist ideals of social order and proper conduct ... he medievalists looked to the ideals of chivalry, such as heroism, honour and generosity, to transcend the selfish calculation of pleasure and pain, and recreate a harmonious and stable society.

Above all, the chivalric ideal viewed character as more worthy of admiration than wealth or intellect, and this appealed to the old landed classes at home as well as to many who worked for the Indian Civil Service.

In the 1880s, Alfred Comyn Lyall, an administrator of the British Raj who also studied history, revisited Tod's classification and asserted that the Rajput society was in fact tribal, based on kinship rather than feudal vassalage. He had previously generally agreed with Tod, who acknowledged claims that blood-ties played some sort of role in the relationship between princes and vassals in many states. In shifting the emphasis from a feudal to a tribal basis, Lyall was able to deny the possibility that the Rajput kingdoms might gain sovereignty. If Rajput society was not feudal, then it was not on the same trajectory that European nations had followed, thereby forestalling any need to consider that they might evolve into sovereign states. There was thus no need for Britain to consider itself to be illegitimately governing them.

Tod's enthusiasm for bardic poetry reflected the works of Sir Walter Scott on Scottish subjects, which had a considerable influence both on British literary society and, bearing in mind Tod's Scottish ancestry, on Tod himself. Tod reconstructed Rajput history on the basis of the ancient texts and folklore of the Rajputs, although not everyone – for example, the polymath James Mill – accepted the historical validity of the native works. Tod also used philological techniques to reconstruct areas of Rajput history that were not even known to the Rajputs themselves, by drawing on works such as the religious texts known as Puranas.

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