The 1940s in Indian history have usually been studied in terms of three frameworks: the transfer of power by the British government; the achievement of independence by Indian nationalists; and the partition of the territory into the new nation-states of India and Pakistan. By looking at the workings of the state, it is however possible to sketch a picture which the standard interpretations have overshadowed so far. Analyzing these years in India in terms of state expansion, Dr. Kamtekar develops a fresh perspective on a period hitherto depicted in different terms. Looking at the state’s personnel, policies, social reach, coercive apparatus, resources, equipment and ambition, reveals that the Second World War initiated a transformation which was multifaceted and enduring.
For example, economic controls—often assumed in independent India to be the outcome of a socialist ideology—were actually sired by a war economy. The economic policy structure under which the citizens of independent India lived till the liberalization of 1991, was a child of the Second World War. And the war economy also fathered other children, who grew up to have lives of their own: very high rates of taxation; sales tax as a major source of revenue; very widespread tax evasion, and a bureaucratic mindset convinced that businessmen should do as they are told. The world war mindsets encouraged living with shortages rather than overcoming them; damaged the ideology and practice of the market; and opened the door to what became known as the ‘License-Permit Raj’. As things turned out, an imperial war effort moulded the shape of an independent state. Our framework of state expansion allows us to connect colonial and postcolonial history. If stretched beyond a narrow time frame to the whole of the twentieth century, the framework also allows us to assemble aspects of Indian history, politics, economic planning, sociology and public administration, under a single conceptual roof.
Indivar Kamtekar is Associate Professor of modern history at the Centre for Historical Studies of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. He has served on the faculty of JNU since 1991. He has also taught at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta; the National University of Singapore; the University of Göttingen; the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand; and Heidelberg University.
With the photographer Aditya Arya, he has co-authored a book titled History in the Making: The Visual Archives of Kulwant Roy. He is the modern history editor of the journal Studies in History. He has been a member of the Indian Historical Records Commission, and of the editorial board of the journal Modern Asian Studies. His reinterpretation of the history of the 1940s, as a time of widening class and regional divisions within India, and the differential impact of the Second World War both nationally and internationally, was published in the fiftieth anniversary special issue the journal Past and Present. He holds a B.Sc. in Physics from Delhi University, an M.A. from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a Ph.D. from Cambridge.