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Geographies of Influence: Two Afghan Military Households in 17th and 18th Century South India

  • Author(s): Archambault, Hannah Lord
  • Advisor(s): Faruqui, Munis D
  • et al.
Abstract

“Geographies of Influence” follows the histories of two closely entangled Afghan lineages, the Pannis and the Miyanas, through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in southern India to show how households served a crucial role as economically and politically integrative institutions. During a period and in a region commonly seen as tumultuous, households offered continuity by operating as intermediaries between distant courts and local systems of governance. At the same time, households cultivated new connections between northern and southern regional economies.

This dissertation shows how the Deccan and Karnatak territories, separated by the Krishna and Tungabhadra Rivers, operated as distinct yet interrelated political spheres. The Miyanas and the Pannis forged their success on a capacity to move fluently across this frontier. From their bases in the Karnatak, they established secondary strongholds, developed expansive military recruitment networks, and cultivated financial relationships spanning from the northern Deccan capital of Aurangabad to the southeastern Coromandel port cities. Household networks transcended political boundaries and survived the rise and fall of individual states. In the Karnatak, it was the household that operated as the primary unit of political organization. They were sufficiently mobile, flexible, and responsive to flourish across regions with very different local political cultures. Most importantly, they were able to respond efficiently to the highly competitive, fast-paced economic conditions of the Indian Ocean-oriented economy of the southern subcontinent.

I argue that the households’ success was built as much on the cultivation of knowledge and relationships that anchored them in the regions where they operated as it was from their connections further afield. Much of the literature to date focused on these groups’ identities as Afghans, which purportedly marked them as foreign to and therefore separate from the societies in which they operated. Yet it was these households’ capacity to make themselves at home – to cultivate deep alliances with local groups – that undergirded their success. This was especially important in light of turnover at the level of more distant state governments. During the period under investigation, Karnatak territories were subject to Vijayanagara, Deccan Sultanate, Mughal, post-Mughal, and British East India Company claims to sovereignty. Panni and Miyana households relied on the intimate within the region to survive political transitions and retain their influence.

I conclude by tracing the households’ marginalization through the middle decades of the eighteenth century as they found themselves sandwiched between rising threats to the north and southeast. A combination of short-term shocks and systemic transformations meant that the Panni and Nawaiyat households were sidelined as newly confident Deccan-based Asaf Jahi and Maratha states began to organize massive campaigns into the Karnatak beginning in 1740. Affairs culminated during the period between 1748-1751, when Hyderabadi contestants to the throne sought prospective allies in the strategically important southern Karnatak. Their competition soon became entangled with a separate contest between French and British East India Companies along the coast. The affair culminated in a daring but ultimately doomed attempt by the Miyana and Panni households to force their way in from the margins of the negotiations. French and Hyderabadi elites together wreaked their vengeance on these groups, producing a political vacuum in the Karnatak that would be filled in the following decades by new kinds of powers: the Mysore Sultanate, the growing Hyderabadi and Maratha states, and finally the British East India Company.

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