Mirroring the cross-national variation in how electricity became enmeshed in polities and societies around the world in the twentieth century, within British India, too, the emerging electric systems differed by fuel source, ownership, and usage. This heterogeneity was a product of decentralized authority over electricity to provincial governments and the ambiguous freedoms of indirect colonial rule. Rather than being governed according to any discrete logic of colonial governance, electric systems became terrains in which a variety of views about the proper role of the state in industrial transformation as well as the suitable means to promote economic development were elaborated. In turn the emergent electrical systems shaped both politics and governance in the late colonial period and left a strong imprint on politics after independence. If railroads and canals—the quintessential infrastructural technologies of the colonial state—revealed a uniform sense of the state as a particular kind of engine of “development,” the far more messy political economy of electrification displayed a mixed understanding of both governance and the state’s role in the economy.

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