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The course of history changes when the power shifts from the hands of one beholder to next. After all, history is indeed a report of events from the point of view of survivor, who most of the times is also a victor in the conflict for power-inheritance. If the change in power-centre of a particular region is sudden and drastic, so is the change in Geo-Political and Socio-Economic outlook of individuals, societies, nations and civilizations. Thus, we see that the flow of power determines the course of history. Softer the transition of power, smoother is the change in the course
In India, usually it is just a sequence of small insignificant chain of events which brings about a change in the history, sociology of a civilization over the period of time, rather than big events which rarely influence the course of history as much. Moreover, a vast country like India in term of space, time, population and diversity, trait of accepting the changes rather slowly is typically observed when viewed from neutral perspective.
As stated earlier, the shift of power-centre is a result of complex web of forces which are acting in tandem. The net direction of the forces decides the inheritor of power. The method in which power transition occurs successively, largely depends upon the inherent power-structure of the region. The inherent power-structure of a region largely depends upon climate, geography, social and religious customs and world-view of the power-holders. It also depends upon the outlook and the world-view of the rival meme intending to shift the equilibrium in its favour.
Buffering of power transition by local power-centres.
The power structure of Indo-Gangetic plains is primarily feudal in nature. The Zamindari OR feudal lords of the region have vested power-interests of self-preservation in spite of all the global changes. Thus, it rarely mattered to a peasant who the king in Delhi was because his immediate ruler, the feudal lord and his system, remained unchanged in average life-span of an ordinary citizen. The feudal set-up is deeply entrenched within the social hierarchy and power-structure of Indo-Gangetic plains.
This deeply entrenched feudal system had a very favourable impact on preservation of Indic identity during 800 long Islamic onslaught on North Indian plains. Every conqueror OR invader from central asia who succeeded in displacing the incumbent ruler of Delhi Sultanate, had to enter into some sort of power-sharing agreement with these local power centres (who were primarily Indic) which possessed very high degree of mercantile and mercenary character. For example, Mughals had to initiate Mansabdari system (by Raja Mansingh under Emperor Akbar) to accommodate and share power with these very feudal lords. In fact, this system was encouraged and strengthened in order to enlist the help of feudal lords in imperial conquests of Mughals.
This tremendously dilutes the ability of the conqueror/invader to flawlessly project his power. The chain of local power-centres throughout Indo-Gangetic plains made the progress of invader (in terms of implementing drastic change in existing socio-economic and political system) rather slow.
Thus, India was saved from suffering the fate of Zoroastrian Persia and was able to retain the Indic identity in spite of all the onslaughts.
Emergence of North Indian local Satraps - A Historical Perspective
The region of Magadha (modern Bihar, eastern UP and West Bengal) has been the traditional powerhouse of India since the dawn of civilization. This region is blessed with all natural resources, fertile land, amicable climate and above all, its a very large reservoir of extremely talented human resource. This remained (and to certain extent, still remains) the core and the heartland of India. The zeal with with Bimbisara, Nanda, Maurya, Sunga, Gupta, Vardhan, Pratiharas consolidated the power over entire swathe from Khyber to Assam time and again, shows the character of Indian polity. The mercenary and Mercantile character which we see today in this region was by and large minimal in Indic rulers of ancient and early-medieval times.
Something happened over the course of history. After defeat of Harshavardhan of Kannauj at the hands of Chalukya king Pulikeshi in 640 AD, the tendency to consolidate the power for longer and farther started evaporating from Gangetic plains. Even though Gurjara-Pratiharas consolidated much of North and entered into tripartite struggle for control of India with Paal dynasty of Bengal and Rashtrakoot dynasty of Deccan, this evaporation did not stop. Pratihara dynasty had to invest lot of energy in consolidating the feudals of gangetic plains and could not strike back at Rashtrakutas when Dhruva Dharavarsh and later Govind-3rd, defeated Pratiharas and conquered Varanasi and Kannauj.
The decentralization that set in Indo-Gangetic plains since defeat of Harsha could not be undone. The local feudal lords started garnering more power than any central authority. Thus, power became dispersed and impermanent. The last effort of successful consolidation of power in Indo-Gangetic plains was during Battle of Bahraich (1033 AD) when confederacy of all the kings from Punjab and Ganga plains united to defeat Masood Gazni decisively. Since then there has not been a single instance of an Indic power from Indo-Gangetic plains which successfully tried to consolidate entire North Indian plains from Attock to Guwahati. All the subsequent consolidations of this region (until 1947) were achieved by foreign invaders.
The mercantile mentality of buying off temporary peace and power at all costs without complete consolidation power set in and became deeply ingrained in the psyche of people from Indo-Gangetic plains.
Brief comparison with South Indian Power-Structure
If we carefully study the politics of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar of modern Republic of India, we see the tendency of pampering to the local dissipative forces by all the political parties to sustain in power at all costs. On the contrary, the South Indian politics strives for consolidation of power. Irrespective of political party, the ruler tries to consolidate the power centrally while correcting all the local anomalies. Certain regions were under rule of one dynasty for as long as 5 to 6 centuries. Compared to north, the south Indian politicians tend to consolidate absolute power in their hands. The local nuclei or the power centres tend to coalesce to form a larger power-droplet in South, where as in north, they tend to remain segregated.
When government consolidates total power of the state in its hand and provides an environment of stability, prosperity sets in no time. The region which was ravaged by Tughlaqs, Khiljis and Bahmanis, became the most prosperous region of India within 30 years when Vijaynagar kings consolidated the power. Same goes for Mughal Consolidation of Indo-gangetic plains brought about by Akbar. Permanent power encourages trade. Trade brings in prosperity and resources to protect and expand the power over space and time.
What was it that led to the loss of consolidating tendency of North Indic polity? Perhaps it was the flight of intellectuals to the south during Islamic onslaught. But then, the decay was set in long before advent of Islam. Was it because of too much of prosperity for too long? The uprising of 1857 showed a momentary promise, but soon it died out as well.
What is the reason for all this brain-storming??
The Gangetic plains still is the largest reservoir of talented human resource. Most of the IAS come from this very region. The issues of this region still are very relevant while thinking of rise of India in coming times. Without consolidation of Gangetic plains and eradication of this mercantile mentality which dissipates and discourages the consolidation of power, India cannot rise. This mercantile mentality is still seen in policies of Indian government which in turn comes partially due to mental shackles on the minds of bureaucrats and people from this region. The enormous zeal for political consolidation of entire subcontinent shown by Chanakya, Chandragupta, Samudragupta and Vikramaditya has to return in this region.
Unless this happens, India's rise on India's terms will continue to remain a distant possibility.
* Discussions with Mr. Kartik Srinivasan and Mr. Niraj Patel sparked the basic idea for this article.