University of Rochester
The oldest leftist insurgency in the world is the off-and-on struggle by Maoist rebels against the Indian state. Although Maoists have won control of hundreds of Indian districts at one time or another, their strongholds are two disjoint areas in central India. Why are some communities particularly fertile territory for insurgents' appeals? Mukherjee's answer is that variation in colonial institutions across British India laid the groundwork for militant leftism by encouraging economic inequality, poor infrastructure, and minimal ethnic integration. His carefully executed, multi-method research makes a convincing and novel case regarding the legacies of colonialism. Mukherjee is not simply rehashing well-known arguments about how European colonialism contributed to ethnic conflicts. India's Maoists don't have any single ethnic profile. Their goal is state takeover, not secession. Mukherjee's focus on the colonial origins of class conflict sets this book apart. A second innovation is that Mukherjee goes beyond the binary between 'direct' and 'indirect' colonialism – or, worse still, the ultra-reductive exercise of comparing, for example, all French colonies to all British colonies. Instead, Mukherjee grapples with the astonishingly Byzantine institutions that prevailed in British India. He guides the reader through a dozen colonial revenue systems and multiple forms of indigenous monarchy. He reduces these complexities by categorizing colonial institutions according to their tendency to produce land inequality and limited physical infrastructure. This aspect of the book provides a framework that could be fruitfully adapted for the study of colonial legacies across many economic and political outcomes.