Nikhil Menon (Princeton University)

The first port of call for my project, on economic planning and state building in early independent India, were the archival mainstays of Lutyen’s Delhi—the National Archives of India (NAI) and the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. While the location of the papers of the Planning Commission remains a mystery (one scholar having concluded that they were simply destroyed by clerks at some point), NAI’s collections on the 1950s and 1960s across governmental arms and ministries are invaluable, although uneven in their depth and yield. At NAI, the challenge for those studying post-independence India is keeping abreast of the most recent cache of documents that have been transferred from the filing cabinets of government offices, and making peace with the idiosyncratic poverty of certain archival seams.

The collection of private papers at NMML (popularly known as Teen Murti) is unrivalled for the post-1947 period. These are especially useful for South Asian economic history, hosting the Jawaharlal Nehru papers, and those of significant figures in Indian economic policy ranging from ministers and  civil servants to academics. Given the sometimes spotty nature of the official record in the National Archives, these private papers are often the best means of accessing, say, debates within the Planning Commission. Another archival destination in Delhi, for me, were the libraries in government offices, such as the Central Secretariat Library and the Planning Commission Library. Though of little help in securing primary sources, I have on occasion tracked down the more obscure government publications in their stacks.

Unexpected riches were in store at the Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis Memorial Museum and Archives (PCMMMA) in Kolkata. What the archive lacks in terms of space for scholars to peruse documents (just one table when I visited), it more than compensates for in the dedication of the staff, the quality of papers in their possession, and hospitality extended to scholars staying on site. The P.C. Mahalanobis papers—still not entirely liberated from cupboards, and incompletely catalogued when I visited— are of interest to the economic historian because of the light they shed on economic planning and policy in the 1950s and early 1960s, the establishment and operation of institutions like the National Sample Survey, and international networks of economic expertise.

In the UK, the archives that were the most useful to me was those of the Centre of South Asian Studies. In the United States, the Ford Foundation’s papers—held at the Rockefeller Archive Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York—open a window onto an institutional perspective other than that of the Indian state.

Among online archival collections on Indian history—now in better health than ever before, but not yet comparable to what is available online for twentieth century American or British history—my research benefited most from newspaper and journal collections. In tracking the development of national economic or policy debates, issues of the Times of India, The Hindu, Yojana, Kurukshetra, Sankhya, and The Economic Weekly were enormously helpful.

May 2017