Administrative Changes After 1858


  • An Act of Parliament in 1858 transferred the power to govern from the East India Company to the British Crown.
  • While authority over India had previously been wielded by the Directors of the Company and the Board of Control, now this power was to be exercised by a Secretary of State for India aided by a Council.
  • The Secretary of State was a member of the British Cabinet and as such was responsible to Parliament. Thus the ultimate power over India remained with British Parliament.
  • By 1869, the Council was completely subordinated to the Secretary of State. Most of the members of the India Council were retired British-Indian officials.
  • Under the Act, a government was to be carried on as before by the Governor-General who was also given the title of Viceroy or Crown’s personal representative.
  • Viceroy was paid two and a half lakhs of rupees a year in addition to his other allowances.
  • With the passage of time, the Viceroy was increasingly reduced to a subordinate status in relation to the British Government in matters of policy as well as the execution of policy.
  • As a result of the Regulating Act, Pitt’s India Act, and the later Charter Acts the Government of India was being effectively controlled from London.
  • Instructions from London took a few weeks to arrive and the Government of India had often to take important policy decisions in a hurry. Control by the authorities in London was therefore often more in the nature of post factoevaluation and criticism than of actual direction.
  • By 1870, a submarine cable had been laid through the Red Sea between England and India. Orders from London could now reach India in a matter of hours.
  • The Secretary of State could now control the minutest details of administration and do so constantly every hour of the day.
  • No Indian had a voice in the India Council or the British Cabinet or Parliament. Indians could hardly even approach such distant masters.
  • In a given condition, Indian opinion had even less impact on government policy than before. On the other hand, British industrialists, merchants, and bankers increased their Influence over the Government of India.
  • In India, the Act of 1858 provided that the Governor-General would have an Executive Council whose members were to act as heads of different departments and as his official advisers.
  • The position of the members of the Council was similar to that of Cabinet ministers. Originally there were five members of this Council but by 1918, there were six ordinary members, apart from the Commander-in-Chief who headed the Army Department.
  • The Council discussed all important matters and decided them by a majority vote; but the Governor-General had the power to override any important decision of the Council. In fact, gradually all power was concentrated in the Governor-General’s hands.
  • The Indian Councils Act of 1861 enlarged the Governor-General’s Council for the purpose of making laws in which capacity it was known as the Imperial Legislative Council.
  • The Governor-General was authorized to add to his Executive Council between six and twelve members of whom at least half had to be non-officials who could be Indian or English.
  • The Imperial Legislative Council possessed no real powers and should not be seen as a sort of elementary or weak parliament. It was merely an advisory body. It could not discuss any important measure, and no financial measures at all, without the previous approval of the Government
  • The Imperial Legislative Council had no control over the budget. It could not discuss the notions of the administration; the members could not even ask questions about them. The Legislative Council had no control over the executive.
  • No bill passed by Legislative Council could become an Act until it was approved by the Governor-General.
  • The Secretary of State could disallow any of its Acts. Thus, the only important function of the Legislative Council was to ditto official measures and give them the appearance of having been passed by a legislative body.
  • The Indian members of the Legislative Council were few in number and were not elected by the Indian people, but rather were nominated by the GovernorGeneral whose choice invariably fell on princes and their ministers, big zamindars, big merchants, or retired senior government officials.

Provincial Administration

  • For the administrative convenience, the British had divided India into provinces; three of which — Bengal, Madras, and Bombay were known as Presidencies.
  • The Presidencies were administered by a Governor and his three Executive Councils, who were appointed by the Crown.
  • The Presidency Governments possessed more rights and powers than other provinces. Other provinces were administered by Lieutenant Governors and Chief Commissioners appointed by the Governor-General.
  • The Act of 1861 marked the turning of the tide of centralization. It laid down that legislative councils similar to that of the center should be established first in Bombay, Madras, and Bengal and then in other provinces.
  • The provincial legislative councils also were mere advisory bodies consisting of officials and four to eight non-official Indians and Englishmen. They also lacked the powers or a democratic parliament.
  • The evil of extreme centralization was most obvious in the field of finance. The revenues from all over the country and from different sources were gathered at the center and then distributed by it to the provincial governments.
  • The Central Government exercised authoritarian control over the smallest details of provincial expenditure. But this system proved quite wasteful in practice. It was not possible for the Central Government to supervise the efficient collection of revenues by a provincial government or to keep adequate check over its expenditure.
  • The two governments constantly quarreled over minute details of administration and expenditure, and, on the other, a provincial government had no motive to be economical. The authorities therefore decided to decentralize public finance.
  • In 1870, Lord Mayo had taken the first step in the direction of separating central and provincial finances. The provincial governments were granted fixed sums out of central revenues for the administration of certain services like Police, Jails, Education, Medical Services, and Roads and were asked to administer them as they wished.
  • Lord Mayo’s scheme was enlarged in 1877 by Lord Lytton who transferred to the provinces certain other heads of expenditure such as Land Revenue, Excise, General Administration, and Law and Justice.
  • To meet the additional expenditure, a provincial government was to get a fixed share of the income realized from that province from certain sources like Stamps, Excise Taxes, and Income Tax.
  • In 1882, Lord Ripon had brought some changes. The system of giving fixed grants to the provinces was ended and, instead, a province was to get the entire income within it from certain sources of revenue and a fixed share of the income.
  • Thus all sources of the revenue were now divided into three heads as −
    • General,
    • Provincial, and
    • Those to be divided between the center and the provinces.
  • The financial arrangements between the center and the provinces were to be reviewed every five years.

Local Bodies

  • Financial difficulties led the Government to further decentralize administration by promoting local government through municipalities and district hoards.
  • Local bodies were first formed between 1864 and 1868, but almost in every case, they consisted of nominated members and were presided over by the District Magistrates.
  • The local bodies did not represent local self-government at all nor did the intelligent Indians accept them as such. The Indians looked upon them as instruments for the extraction of additional taxes from the people.
  • In 1882, Lord Ripon Government laid down the policy of administering local affairs largely through rural and urban local bodies, a majority of whose members would be non-officials.
  • The non-official members would be elected by the people wherever and whenever officials felt that it was possible to introduce elections.
  • The resolution also permitted the election of a non-official as Chairman of a local body.
  • The provincial acts were passed to implement this resolution. But the elected members were in a minority in all the district boards and in many of the municipalities.
  • Elected members were, moreover, elected by a small number of voters since the right to vote was severely restricted.
  • District officials continued to act as presidents of district boards though nonofficials gradually became chairmen of municipal committees.
  • The Government also retained the right to exercise strict control over the activities of the local bodies and to suspend and supersede them at its own discretion.
  • The local bodies functioned just like departments of the Government and were in no way good examples of local self-government.

Change in Army

  • The Indian army was carefully reorganized after 1858. Some changes were made necessary by the transfer of power to the Crown.
  • The East India Company’s European forces were merged with the Crown troops. But the army was reorganized most of all to prevent the recurrence of another revolt.
  • The rulers had seen that their bayonets were the only secure foundation of their rule. Several following steps were taken to minimize, if not completely eliminate, the capacity of Indian soldiers to revolt −
    • The domination of the army by its European branch was carefully guaranteed.
    • The proportion of Europeans to Indians in the army was raised and fixed at one to two in the Bengal Army and two to five in the Madras and Bombay armies.
    • The European troops were kept in key geographical and military positions. The crucial branches of the army like artillery and, later in the 20th century, tanks, and armored corps were put exclusively in European hands.
    • The older policy of excluding Indians from the officer corps was strictly maintained. Till 1914, no Indian could rise higher than the rank of a subedar.
    • The organization of the Indian section of the army was based on the policy of “balance and counterpoise” or “divide and rule” so as to prevent its chances of uniting again in an anti-British uprising.
    • Discrimination on the basis of caste, region, and religion was practiced, in recruitment to the army.
    • A fiction was created that Indians consisted of “martial” and “non-martial” classes.
    • Soldiers from Avadh, Bihar, Central India, and South India who had first helped the British conquer India but had later taken part in the Revolt of 1857, were declared to be non-martial. They were no longer taken in the army on a large scale.
    • The Sikhs, Gurkhas, and Pathans, who had assisted in the suppression of the Revolt, were declared to be martial and were recruited in large numbers.
    • The Indian regiments were made a mixture of various castes’ and groups’ which were so placed as to balance each other.
    • Communal, caste, tribal, and regional loyalties were encouraged among the soldiers, so that the sentiment of nationalism would not grow among them.
    • It was isolated from nationalist ideas by every possible means. Newspapers, journals, and nationalist publications were prevented from reaching the soldiers.
  • Later, all such efforts failed in the long run and sections of the Indian army played an important role in our struggle for freedom.

Public Service

  • All positions of power and responsibility in the administration were occupied by the members of the Indian Civil Service who were recruited through an annual open competitive examination held in London.
  • Indians also could sit in this examination. Satyendranath Tagore, brother of Rabindranath Tagore, was the first Indian civil servant.
  • Almost every year, thereafter, one or two Indians joined the coveted ranks of the Civil Service, but their number was negligible compared to the English entrants.
  • In practice, the doors of the Civil Service remained barred to Indians because −
    • The competitive examination was held in faraway London;
    • It was conducted through the medium of the alien English language;
    • It was based on Classical Greek and Latin learning, which could be acquired only after a prolonged and costly course of studies in England; and
    • The maximum age for entry into the Civil Service was gradually reduced from twenty-three in 1859 to nineteen in 1878.
  • In other departments of administration such as: Police, Public Works Department, and Railways the superior and highly paid posts were reserved for British citizens.
  • The rulers of India believed it to be an essential condition for the maintenance of British supremacy in India.
  • The Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne, stressed “the absolute necessity of keeping the government of this widespread Empire in European hands, if that Empire is to be maintained.”
  • The Indians, in the civil services, functioned as agents of British rule and loyally served Britain’s imperial purposes.
  • Under Indian pressure, the different administrative services were gradually Indianised after 1918, but the positions of control and authority were still kept in British hands. Moreover, the people soon discovered that Indianisation of these services had not put any part of political power in their hands.

Relations with Princely States

  • Before 1857, British had availed themselves of every opportunity to annex princely states. The Revolt of 1857 led the British to reverse their policy towards the Indian States.
  • Most of the Indian princes had not only remained loyal to the British but had actively assisted in suppressing the Revolt.
  • Canning declared in 1862 that “the Crown of England stood forward, the unquestioned Ruler and Paramount Power in all India.” Princes were made to acknowledge Britain as the paramount power.
  • In 1876, Queen Victoria assumed the title of the ‘Empress of India’to emphasize British sovereignty over the entire Indian subcontinent.
  • Lord Curzon later made it clear that the princes ruled their states merely as agents of the British Crown. The princes accepted this subordinate position and willingly became junior partners in the Empire because they were assured of their continued existence as rulers of their states.
  • As the paramount power, the British claimed the right to supervise the internal government of the princely states. They not only interfered in the day to day administration through the Residents but insisted on appointing and dismissing ministers and other high officials.
  • After 1868, the Government recognized the adopted heir of the old ruler and in 1881, the state was fully restored to the young Maharajah.
  • In 1874, the ruler of Baroda, Malhar Rao Gaekwad, was accused of misrule and of trying to poison the British Resident and was deposed after a brief trial.

Administrative Policies

  • The British attitude towards India and, consequently, their policies in India changed for the worse after the revolt of 1857, they now consciously began to follow reactionary policies.
  • The view was now openly put forward that the Indians were unfit to rule themselves and that they must be ruled by Britain for an indefinite period. This reactionary policy was reflected in many fields.

Divide and Rule Policy

  • The British had conquered India by taking advantage of the disunity among the Indian powers and by playing them against one another.
  • After 1858, the British continued to follow the policy of divide and rule by turning the princes against the people, province against province, caste against caste, group against group, and, above all, Hindus against Muslims.
  • The unity displayed by Hindus and Muslims during the Revolt of 1857 had disturbed the foreign rulers. They were determined to break this unity so as to weaken the rising nationalist movement.
  • Immediately after the Revolt, the British repressed Muslims, confiscated their lands and property on a large scale, and declared Hindus to be their favorites. However, after 1870, this policy was reversed and an attempt was made to turn upper class and middle class Muslims against the nationalist movement.
  • Because of industrial and commercial backwardness and the near absence of social services, the educated Indians depended almost entirely on government service. This led to keen competition among them for the available government posts.
  • The Government utilized this competition to foment provincial and communal rivalry and hatred. It promised official favors on a communal basis in return for loyalty and so played the educated Muslims against the educated Hindus.

Hostility to Educated Indians

  • The Government of India had actively encouraged modern education after 1833.
  • The Universities of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras were started in 1857 and higher education spread rapidly thereafter.
  • Many British officials commended the refusal by educated Indians to participate in the Revolt of 1857. But this favorable official attitude towards the educated Indians soon changed because some of them had begun to use their recently acquired modern knowledge to analyze the imperialistic character of British rule and to put forward demands for Indian participation in administration.
  • The officials became actively hostile to higher education and to the educated Indians when the latter began to organize a nationalist movement among the people and founded the Indian National Congress in 1885.
  • The officials took active steps to curtail higher education. They sneered at the educated Indians whom they commonly referred to as ‘babus.’
  • Thus the British turned against that group of Indians who had imbibed modern Western knowledge and who stood for progress along modern lines. Such progress was, however, opposed to the basic interests and policies of British imperialism in India.
  • The official opposition to the educated Indians and higher education shows that British rule in India had already exhausted whatever potentialities for progress it originally possessed.

Attitude towards Zamindars

  • The British now offered friendship to the most reactionary group of Indians, the princes, the zamindars, and the landlords.
  • The zamindars and landlords too were placated in the same manner. For example, the lands of most of the talukdars of Avadh were restored to them.
  • The zamindars and landlords were now hailed as the traditional and ‘natural’ leaders of the Indian people. Their interests and privileges were protected. They were secured in the possession of their land at the cost of the peasants and were utilized as counter weights against the nationalist-minded intelligentsia.
  • The zamindars and landlords in return recognized that their position was closely bound up with the maintenance of British rule and became its only firm supporters.

Attitude towards Social Reforms

  • As a part of the policy of alliance with the conservative classes, the British abandoned their previous policy of helping the social reformers.
  • The British believed that their measures of social reform, such as the abolition of the custom of Sati and permission to widows to remarry, had been a major cause of the Revolt of 1857.
  • Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has put it in his book “The Discovery of India,” Because of this natural alliance of the British power with the reactionaries in India, it became the guardian and upholder of many an evil custom and practice, which it otherwise condemned.”
  • It may, however, be noted that the British did not always remain neutral on social questions. By supporting the status quo they indirectly gave protection to existing social evils.
  • By encouraging casteism and communalism for political purposes, British actively encouraged the social reaction.

Restrictions on the Press

  • The British had introduced the printing press in India and thus initiated the development of the modern press.
  • The educated Indians had immediately recognized that the press could play a great role in educating public opinion and in influencing the government policies through criticism and censure.
  • Ram Mohan Roy, Vdyasagar, Dadabhai Naoroji, Justice Ranade, Surendranath Banerjea, Lokmanya Tilak, G. Subramaniya Iyer, C. Karhnakara Menon, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal, and other Indian leaders played an important part in starting newspapers and making them a powerful political force.
  • The Indian press was freed of restrictions by Charles Metcalfe in I835. This step had been welcomed enthusiastically by the educated Indians. It was one of the reasons why they had for some time supported British rule in India.
  • The nationalists gradually began to use the press to arouse national consciousness among the people and to sharply criticize the reactionary policies of the Government. This turned the officials against the Indian press and they decided to curb its freedom. This was attempted by passing the Vernacular Press Act in 1878.
  • The Press Act put serious restrictions on the freedom of the Indian language newspapers. Indian public opinion was now fully aroused and it protested loudly against the passage of this Act.
  • The protest had immediate effect and the Act was repealed in 1882. For nearly 25 years thereafter, the Indian press enjoyed considerable freedom. But the rise of the militant Swadeshi and Boycott movement after 1905 once again led to the enactment of the repressive press laws in 1908 and 1910.

Racial Antagonism

  • The British in India had always held aloof from the Indians and felt themselves be racially superior.
  • The Revolt of 1857 and the atrocities committed by both sides had further widened the gulf between the Indians and the British who now began to openly assert the doctrine of racial supremacy and practice racial arrogance.
  • Railway compartments, waiting rooms at railway stations, parks, hotels, swimming pools, clubs, etc. reserved for “Europeans only” were visible manifestations of this racialism.

Extreme Backwardness of Social Services

  • The Government of India spent most of its income on the army and wars and the administrative services and starved the social services.
  • In 1886, of its total net revenue of nearly Rs. 47 crores, the Governmental India spent nearly 19.41 crores on the army and 17 crores on civil administration but less than 2 crores on education, medicine, and public health and only 65 lakhs on irrigation.
  • The few halting steps that were taken in the direction of providing services like sanitation, water supply, and public health were usually confined to urban areas, and that too to the so called civil lines of British or modern parts of the cities.

Labor Legislation

  • In the 19th century, the condition of workers in modem factories and plantations was miserable. They had to work between 12 and 16 hours a day and there was no weekly day of rest.
  • Women and children worked the same long hours as men. The wages were extremely low, ranging from Rs. 4 to 20 per month.
  • The factories were over-crowded, badly lighted and aired, and completely unhygienic. Work on machines was hazardous, and accidents very common.
  • The Government of India, which was generally pro-capitalist, took some half-hearted and ‘totally inadequate steps to mitigate the sorry state of affairs in the modern factories; many of the factories were owned by the Indians.
  • The manufacturers of Britain put constant pressure on it to pass factory laws. They were afraid that cheap labor would enable Indian manufacturers to outsell them in the Indian market.
  • The first Indian Factory Act was passed in l881. The Act dealt primarily with the problem of child labor.
  • The Factory Act of 1881 laid down that the child below 7 could not work in factories, while the children between 7 and 12 would not work for more than 9 hours a day. Children would also get four holidays in a month.
  • The Act also provided for the proper fencing around the dangerous machinery.
  • The second Indian Factory Act was passed in 1891, it provided for a weekly holiday for all workers.
  • Working hours for women were fixed at 11 per day while daily hours of work for children were reduced to 7. Hours of work for men were still left unregulated.
  • Neither of the two Acts applied to British-owned tea and coffee plantations. On the contrary, the Government gave every help to the foreign planters to exploit their workers in a most ruthless manner.
  • The Government of India gave planters full help and passed penal laws in 1863, 1865, 1870, 1873, and 1882 to enable them to do so.
  • Once a laborer had signed a contract to go and work in a plantation, he could not refuse to do so. Any breach of contract by a laborer was a criminal offence, the planter also having the power to arrest him.
  • Better labor laws were, however, passed in the 20th century under the pressure of the rising trade union movement. Still, the condition of the Indian working class remained extremely depressed and deplorable.