Political warfare in British colonial India

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Political warfare in British colonial India aided a British minority in maintaining control over large parts of present day India, Pakistan, and Burma.

The East India Company obtained a foothold in India in 1695 and from that start expanded the territory it controlled until it was the primary power in the subcontinent. After the Indian Rebellion of 1857 the British Government nationalised the Company creating the British Raj. The Company lost all its administrative powers; its Indian possessions, including its armed forces, were taken over by the Crown pursuant to the provisions of the Government of India Act 1858. A new British government department, the India Office, was created to handle the governance of India, and its head, the Secretary of State for India, was entrusted with formulating Indian policy. The Governor-General of India gained a new title (Viceroy of India), and implemented the policies devised by the India Office. As a result of their relatively small presence in the country the British resorted to many methods to retain control of India.

Economic manipulation[edit]

Once it had established its factories (trading bases) in India the East India Company started to highlight the benefits of trade with them to the local merchant classes in Surat and Bengal. This helped lure the merchant class away from local rulers to the East India Company as when it persuaded local financiers to abandon the Bengali nawab in 1756.[1]

The East India Company recruited James Steuart in 1772 to help advise on the political aspects of the Indian and Bengali economy. Steuart recommended creating a central bank and making local bankers and moneylenders directors to soak their pooled wealth back into the economy, as well as a more efficient system of taxation to keep that wealth from falling back into their hands. While this policy was not adopted, the Company did establish a more universal currency based on the sicca rupee to restrain the power of the shroff moneylenders.[2]

Later when the Company had increased its power and influence in the subcontinent it started acting as a government. In 1793, Lord Cornwallis abolished the right of local landholders to collect dues on trade which cut back on the feudal powers of the princes, limiting their martial strength and turning them into landlords.[3]

Indian Civil Service[edit]

After the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the new British administration created a close partnership with certain land-holders and princes to strengthen their grip on power. This was either to create a hierarchy of racial types arose, "each arranged into appropriate social classes, whose spiritual and material improvement were entrusted to the paternal direction of gentlemanly rulers"[4] or 'a single hierarchy all its subjects, Indian and British'.[5]

The Army and the Civil Service were the main instruments of British power, staffed by only a small number of white officials. This imperial service became, "a large vested interest of the educated upper middle class. By 1913–14, for example, the Government of India devoted no less than 53 million pounds (65 percent of the total budget of 82 million pounds) to the army and civil administration. Imperial service enabled the mainly southern, professional and public-school culture to reproduce itself abroad and also...create facsimiles among elites in the new colonies established. The Indians in the Civil Service were to be brought up as gentleman and an "Eton in India" was established, thereby perpetuating a political ruling class of Indians owing their position to England.[6] The native Indians in the Civil Service became the bridge by which Englishmen governed the masses or as the official Zachary Macaulay said in 1834, we "must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, opinions, in morals, and in intellect."[7] The Indian civil service held nearly every senior, non-military, position in the government and through the creation of a new ruling caste, and propaganda, "invented an ideology of imperial service and amassed a scholarly literature in which India’s history, society, economy and culture were interpreted as a story of chaos from which only the "steel frame" of Civilian [Indian Civil Service] rule had been able to save them."[8]

In 1885 after the founding of the Indian National Congress, native Indians began campaigning against the power of the Indian Civil Service by attacking it with a slogan that stressed the "unBritishness of British rule." In response, the Service rejected the idea of more Indians in its ranks, but instead offered concessions to allow more Indians in local legislative councils; however as the ICS integrated the councils, they carefully included members of different religions and castes to inhibit effectiveness and largely neutralise any check on their power.[8] In addition, membership to the legislative councils was by appointment, rather than election, and the councils were restricted to a consultative role.[9]

Political Manipulation[edit]

The East India Company increased its power in India by playing local rulers off against each other and the declining Moghul Empire.

Lord Dalhousie, the Company Governor General between 1848 and 1856 established a principle, the Doctrine of Lapse, that if any princely state or territory under the direct influence (paramountcy) of the British East India Company would automatically be annexed if the ruler was either "manifestly incompetent or died without a direct heir".[10] This allowed the Company to remove rulers it viewed as troublesome.

After the Indian Mutiny and the transition of rule from the East India Company to the Crown, “the British attempted to prevent future disturbances by strengthening indigenous elites in some regions of the colony and allowing them to rule local lands along supposedly traditional lines.”[11]

Parallel developments affected the Indian Civil Service after the Company’s system of patronage came to an end with Company rule; there was renewed effort to tie the Indian landholders to the princes and the Raj, endorsing their power and privilege, revitalising the nobility, and then tying it to the Queen by proclaiming her empress of India.[12] In this way, Britain increased the power of local nobility and made it known to them that their power came from the Queen. "Many of them [princes] owe their very existence to British justice and arms...The situation of these feudatory States, checker boarding all India as they do, is a safeguard. It is like establishing a vast network of friendly fortresses in debatable territory."[13] Also, to appease some of the nobles' concerns in the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny, princes were allowed to adopt heirs rather than have their estates automatically ceded to British control at their death.[14]

Direct and Indirect Rule[edit]

Direct rule required replacing of pre-existing political institutions and replacing them centralised, territory-wide, and bureaucratic legal-administrative institutions that were controlled by colonial officials.[15] Indirect rule was a form of colonial domination via collaboration with indigenous intermediaries who controlled regional political institutions.[15]

Colonial India was a mix of the two types of rule. While the Civil Service ran a large portion of the country, "in peripheral regions, chiefs, princes, sultans, and other indigenous leaders controlled "customary" legal-administrative institutions that were organised along patrimonial lines."[15] Leading colonial officials believed indirect rule was more adaptive and culturally sensitive, far superior to direct rule, in that indirect rule allowed for social development through gradual change from within rather than shattering the social fabric, producing opposition from the local populace.[16] Indirect rule is less confrontational and more collaborative, therefore a better means for domination.[16]

The colonial administration recognised around 600 semi-autonomous princely states, nominally advised by a British resident; the states possessed one quarter of the country’s population.[17] British administrators also employed tax collectors and landlords even in the more "directly" ruled regions of the country and paid for the landlord’s loyalty with large tracts of land and some power to collect taxes for personal use.[17]

When they didn’t need to resort to martial strength, the East India Company, and later the British Foreign Office, Indian Civil Service or military resorted to bribery and tributes to woo local rulers. In the early 1800s they presented the ruler of the Punjab, Ranjit Singh, with five English dray horses, which would have been larger than any horse he had seen before, horses being one of his many loves.[18] When the state of Punjab eventually became aggressive in 1843, the British conquered it, taking Kashmir and putting it under a ruler more amenable to the British.[19] The Punjab was official annexed in 1849.[20]

Proxies[edit]

In the areas north of India, it was dangerous for a European to travel the British military often used Indian trained cartographers and intelligence officers called pundits to scout for them.[21] These pundits often posed as Muslim or Buddhist holy men, with their map making tools disguised as prayer beads and a prayer wheel.[22] Political intelligence was passed to the Foreign Office through these pundits gathering topographical intelligence, and by British frontier officers.[23]

Religion as a tool of power[edit]

Religion was used as a front group for subversive elements of the Foreign Office. British Foreign Office agents operated in Uzbekistan under the cover of the British and Foreign Bible Society, changing its name to the Russian Bible Society in 1814. Its goal was to engage in espionage against their Russian opponents in the local courts of Khiva and Bokhara.[24]

The Company banned some Hindu practices like sati and thuggee, which they found particularly abhorrent, and began to allow Hindu widows to remarry in 1856.[25] Governor-General Dalhousie had begun to allow Christian converts to inherit ancestral property starting in 1850.[20] Though overall, the East India Company men were not "eager to anglicise India, fearing to offend the educated class on whose support they depended, and arouse religious antagonism."[26] In 1813, though they had been forced to admit Christian missionaries, the Company tried to avoid being seen as a proponent of the missions.[26] A publication during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 states that the East India Company even manifested disfavour towards Christianity to obtain the confidence of Hindus.[27]

Examining religion from a more political aspect, the Company codified Muslim and Hindu law to take the flexibility out of the law’s traditional practice, to strengthen the Company’s indirect rule and entrench the local elites.[28] Initially, the British in the East India Company favoured the Hindus over the Muslims as government agents because the Hindus were generally less hostile to their presence; the Company systematically removed Muslims from positions of power over its tenure in India.[29] However, by 1893 Hindu power in the Indian National Congress was growing at rate disquieting to the British, so they reversed their traditional policies and began encouraging Muslims to enter the political process to make the body less effective.[30]

Subversion[edit]

Despite the seemingly divided government of British India and the semi-autonomous princely states, each of the feudal states had a British resident responsible for keeping the local ruler in line with Company and British policy.[31] "One of the chief duties of the British residents at these courts was to bribe and corrupt the ministers and other officials. Their spy system was perfect says a historian. They had complete information of the courts and armies of their adversaries, while those adversaries lived in ignorance... the fifth column of the British functioned continuously, and in moments of crisis and in the heat of war there would be defections in their favor which made a great difference."[32] One defection occurred when Scindhia of Gwalior brought his entire force to the British side at the moment of battle and was rewarded with a new state carved out of the lands of those he had betrayed.[32]

For much of the 18th and 19th centuries, political warfare and subversion were used by the Russians to destabilise British rule in India, as well as by the British to retain a hold on those conquered subjects. This political contest, largely using proxies, is called The Great Game. The term was coined by British officer Captain Arthur Conolly in the early 19th century and made famous by Rudyard Kipling’s book Kim. The Game took place from the Caucuses to Tibet and south to India, with the wealth and control of India as the ultimate goal.[33]

In the 1857–58 Indian Mutiny of native soldiers serving in the armed forces of the East India Company, many British suspected Russian or Persian agents of having a hand in spreading rumours that sparked the conflict; the core of the rumours were that the British had smeared pig and cow fat on the ammo cartridges used by the sepoys.[34] The fat on the cartridges, which would have to be opened by mouth prior to being loaded into a rifle, would have spiritually desecrated the Muslim or Hindu soldiers.[20]

In reaction to the Mutiny, the British government took over control of India from the East India Company, absorbing the native regiments and putting artillery under European control.[35] British MP David Urquhart was a vocal critic of Russia and its alleged role in the Indian Mutiny: “It was desirable for Russia that the power of England be shaken; it was not desirable for Russia that it should be overthrown...by concerting it Russia has the means of paralyzing it...were the English dominion simply to cease, independent dominions would arise... by the prolongation of the contest she [Russia] mutually exhausts the native populations of India and Great Britain; she arouses the hatred on their part,” effectively tying up English resources and focus in India and loosening British power in Europe.[36]

Propaganda[edit]

In 1876, a Russian colonel, M.A. Terentiev published Russia and England in the Struggle for the Markets of Central Asia. It was widely circulated in Europe and India and was intensely Anglophobic, claiming that the Mutiny failed because the Indians lacked outside support. He also claimed they suffered from misrule and exploitation and if given aid, would start a countrywide rebellion that would throw off British rule.[37] This Russian book was in response to British Sir Henry Rawlinson’s 1876 publication claiming the Russians were likely to persuade Afghanis to invade northern India, rather than march there themselves.[37] Both books represented works by men of the "forward school" or aggressive imperial expansionist camp of men from their respective countries and had effect on their policy-making circles.[38] Terentiev’s book emphasised Russian twin-policy strategy in Europe. The message from St. Petersburg was official and conciliatory, while the other message, locally, was unofficial, aggressive and yet could easily be repudiated if necessary.[39]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cain, Peter (2001). British Imperialism: 1688–2000. 2nd ed. Longman. p. 94. 
  2. ^ Kelly, Duncan (2009). Lineages of Empire: The Historical Roots of British Imperial Thought. Oxford University Press, USA. pp. 144–55. 
  3. ^ Kelly, Duncan (2009). Lineages of Empire: The Historical Roots of British Imperial Thought. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 157. 
  4. ^ Cain, Peter (2001). British Imperialism: 1688–2000. 2nd ed. Longman. p. 285. 
  5. ^ Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj, P50
  6. ^ Peter, Cain (2001). British Imperialism: 1688–2000. 2nd ed. Longman. pp. 286–88. 
  7. ^ Stockwell, Sarah (2008). The British Empire: Themes and Perspectives. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 141. 
  8. ^ a b Stockwell, Sarah (2008). The British Empire: Themes and Perspectives. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 12. 
  9. ^ Smith, Simon (1998). British Imperialism 1750–1970. Cambridge University Press. p. 56. 
  10. ^ Keay, John. India: A History. Grove Press Books, distributed by Publishers Group West. United States: 2000 ISBN 0-8021-3797-0, p. 433.
  11. ^ Lange, Matthew (2009). Lineages of Despotism and Development: British Colonialism and State Power. University of Chicago Press. p. 24. 
  12. ^ Cain, Peter (2001). British Imperialism: 1688–2000. 2nd ed. Longman. pp. 287–88. 
  13. ^ Lewis, Martin Deming (1965). The British in India: Imperialism or Trusteeship?. D.C. Heath and Company. p. 73. 
  14. ^ Smith, Simon (1998). British Imperialism 1750–1970. Cambridge University Press. p. 55. 
  15. ^ a b c Lange, Matthew (2009). Lineages of Despotism and Development: British Colonialism and State Power. University of Chicago Press. p. 4. 
  16. ^ a b Lange, Matthew (2009). Lineages of Despotism and Development: British Colonialism and State Power. University of Chicago Press. p. 5. 
  17. ^ a b Lange, Matthew (2009). Lineages of Despotism and Development: British Colonialism and State Power. University of Chicago Press. p. 177. 
  18. ^ Hopkirk, Peter (1992). The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International. p. 133. 
  19. ^ Hopkirk, Peter (1992). The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International. p. 282. 
  20. ^ a b c Smith, Simon (1998). British Imperialism 1750–1970. Cambridge University Press. p. 53. 
  21. ^ Hopkirk, Peter (1992). The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International. p. 5. 
  22. ^ Hopkirk, Peter (1992). The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International. p. 330. 
  23. ^ Hopkirk, Peter (1992). The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International. p. 422. 
  24. ^ Hopkirk, Peter (1992). The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International. p. 228. 
  25. ^ Smith, Simon (1998). British Imperialism 1750–1970. Cambridge University Press. p. 51. 
  26. ^ a b Stockwell, Sarah (2008). The British Empire: Themes and Perspectives. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 6. 
  27. ^ Embree, Ainslie (1963). 1857 in India Mutiny or War of Independence?. D.C. Heath and Company. p. 25. 
  28. ^ Stockwell, Sarah (2008). The British Empire: Themes and Perspectives. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 138. 
  29. ^ Lewis, Martin Deming (1965). The British in India: Imperialism or Trusteeship?. D.C. Heath and Company. p. 81. 
  30. ^ Lewis, Martin Deming (1965). The British in India: Imperialism or Trusteeship?. D.C Heath and Company. p. 83. 
  31. ^ Stockwell, Sarah (2008). The British Empire: Themes and Perspectives. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 11. 
  32. ^ a b Lewis, Martin Deming (1965). The British in India: Imperialism or Trusteeship?. D.C. Heath and Company. p. 13. 
  33. ^ Hopkirk, Peter (1992). The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International. pp. 1–2. 
  34. ^ Hopkirk, Peter (1992). The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International. pp. 289–92. 
  35. ^ Hopkirk, Peter (1992). The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International. p. 292. 
  36. ^ Embree, Ainslie (1963). 1857 in India Mutiny or War of Independence?. D.C. Heath and Company. p. 22. 
  37. ^ a b Hopkirk, Peter (1992). The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International. p. 363. 
  38. ^ Hopkirk, Peter (1992). The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International. pp. 362–64. 
  39. ^ Hopkirk, Peter (1992). The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International. p. 364.