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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Mwangi wa Githinji

Second Advisor

Deepankar Basu

Third Advisor

Priyanka Srivastava

Subject Categories

Economic History | Growth and Development | Political Economy


This study explores the colonial and post-colonial origins of agrarian development by looking at the role of historical institutions, class formations and the state (ICS) in shaping the process. It contributes to the “divergence debates” in economics, which make an attempt to explain the ‘fundamental causes’ of divergence between countries. While one strand of the divergence literature presents the process as being functional to ‘geography’, a second strand focuses on the institutional legacies of colonialism; what is common to both sets of explanations, however, is the view that future outcomes are completely pre-determined by one or another time-invariant factor, leading implicitly to the view that third-world countries are in fact prisoners of birth. This study challenges this assumption by pointing to the crucial role that is played by a third factor--- the agency of the post-colonial state and agrarian public policy---in mitigating the negative impact of inheriting a particularly bad geography or the misfortune of being colonized at a point in history. To do this, the study utilizes the natural experiment of the partition of the Punjab region in South Asia between India and Pakistan in 1947. While the two sides inherited relatively similar initial conditions---and hence must have converged given the ‘geography’ or ‘colonial institutions’ models of economic development---yet, a reversal of economic fortunes has taken place, so that the districts assigned to Indian Punjab systematically outperform the districts that were assigned to Pakistan at the time of partition. What explains this divergence? The study provides an answer to this conundrum by examining the evolution of institutional structures in each Punjab during the two qualitatively distinct periods, and in particular paying attention to the differential paths of post-colonial public policy across the two sides. The two-dimensional framework---with two distinct time periods (pre and post independence) and two states (Indian and Pakistani Punjab)--- allows me to build a much more holistic understanding of ICS and their colonial and post-colonial origins than is possible by looking at individual social formations without a counterfactual. Specifically, the study borrows an analogy from the empirical behavioral sciences where “twin studies” are often employed to differentiate between the impacts of “nature versus nurture”. Here, I employ a similar technique to separate out the impact of ‘historical’ and ‘geographical’ factors, from the role played by ‘post-colonial state policy’ in shaping current agricultural outcomes in the two Punjabs. Using this research design and original archival research on colonial records and statistical manuals, I design an exceptionally long panel data set on district-wise agricultural production and acreage, along with data on colonial transformation, infrastructural development, market formations and property rights, to show how colonial institutions shaped class structures in the twin states, and how these react back on the economy and the post-colonial state by shaping the investment choices (and yield achieved per unit land) of farmers in each Punjab. I pay specific attention to the institutional structure as being shaped by a “colonial entitlement system”: a complex product of class (as the organization of surplus in an economy) and power (organization of power) relations distributed by the colonial state. The study points to two ‘critical junctures’ in institutional history that shaped the evolution of the entitlement system during and after the colonial period. The first, beginning with the American Civil War in 1861 led to a severing of the existing global supply chain of cotton, which in turn, led to the emergence of Punjab as an alternative feeder of raw cotton to the empire. An ‘institutional apparatus’ was required to achieve this aim. The evolution of this apparatus came about, I argue, as a result of the contradictory goals of economic transformation (in infrastructure) and the maintenance of political order. The second period begins in 1947, where the Indian side of Punjab was exposed to a series of land reforms while the Pakistani side was not. In addition, the political structure across the two states varied substantially, with the Indian side having a much more democratic structure than its Pakistani twin. As a result of these differences, the two sides can essentially be seen as being divided into two ‘institutional islands’ with the people on each side having access to the institutions of just one of the two states. This produced two qualitatively different ‘class controls’ over the post-colonial states in each case, and its economic impact is assessed in the study by devising a Difference-in-Difference strategy to ask: To what extent are differences in the post-independence agricultural yield per unit land of districts assigned to one of the two Punjabs by the Boundary Commission of 1947 shaped by 1) their colonial history, specifically the institutional structures and class-formations inherited due to colonial transformation and 2) the set of post-colonial developments, respectively, that these districts were exposed to as a result of them being assigned to one of the two states, while holding the effects of agroclimatic variables and geography constant. The study concludes that it is a combination of ‘institutional’ reform and the ‘class essence’ of that reform that determines agrarian performance in post-colonial societies.