Towards a political economy of conquest
The changing scale of warfare and the making of early colonial South Asia
in A global history of early modern violence

Debates about the origins of a militarily dominant, territorially acquisitive regime of colonial rule in modern South Asia have invariably failed to assess the transformative impact of early colonial war-making on the East India Company state. This chapter studies the colonial regime within the framework of the bellicist origins of the modern state. Violent conquest depended on the modern state’s ability to vastly augment its capacity to author military violence. Dramatic expansion in the scale of war-making lent colonial specificities to the Company-state in India. As this scale expanded dramatically in the final decade of the eighteenth century, prolific war-making made the colonial state both colonial (in its extractive capabilities) and a hegemonic state formation. The most extensive, expensive, and politically consequential military conflict of the long eighteenth century – the Second Anglo-Maratha War in western India (1803–05) – provides a window into the crystallizing political economy of conquest. Below the surface of the image of an ever-ascendant military hegemon lies an under-studied universe centred on the extraction of resources to feed a ravenous machine of war, leading to fiscal crises and agrarian dislocation. Territorial conquest was both the principal objective and the primary mode of sustaining and expanding colonial rule across South Asia.

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