British Empire Consolidation

After an aggressive policy of territorial expansion, the British thought about the protection of their newly acquired provinces. British Empire were constantly threatened by the French, the Russians and the Americans. It was now important for them to secure the north-west frontiers of India.

This resulted in two wars with Afghanistan:

  • The First Afghan War (1839-42)
  • The Second Afghan War (1878-80)

As a final result, a permanent British resident was to be stationed at Kabul. The British took control of the Kurrane and Mishni passes, in order to prevent any foreign intervention from this side. The Annexation of Sindh was important for the defence of English territories from the Russians.

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British Empire

After signing some peace – treaties with the Armies of Sindh, and their weak resistance, Sindh was finally taken over in 1843. Burma was also annexed to the Indian empire in 1885. The Gurkhas of Nepal offered tough resistance to the British Empire from 1814-1816, but were forced to sign the Treaty of Sagauli in 1816. They surrendered the districts of Garhwal and Kumaun to the British. A large portion of the Terai area also came under the British control.

Indian Modern History

The Annexation of Punjab

Punjab was now the only large and independent State left out of the British control. It was being ruled by Ranjit Singh who had signed a treaty of Perpetual Friendship with the British Empire. He also maintained an efficient army and employed Europeans in his state.

After Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839, Punjab witnessed political instability. In 1843, Dalip Singh, a minor son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was proclaimed the ruler. The British saw it the right opportunity to forward their plan of annexation of Punjab. After two long wars viz, the First Anglo Sikh War ( 1845-46 ) and the Second Anglo – Sikh War (1848-49).

The Subsidiary Alliance System

Lord Wellesley became the Governor-General of India in 1798. His main target was the expansion of the British dominions in India and subjugation of the Indian states. He was not in favour of peace treaties or the policy of non-intervention. A State under this system, had to surrender its external relations to the care of the Company, Any form of negotiations with other States were to be made through the Company.

The State was to accept a British Resident at its headquarters. The Company, in turn, was to protect the State against any foreign invasions.
The system proved to be beneficial for the British. The Indian princes were now deprived of any opportunity to join hands against the Company. On the pretext of protecting a State, the Company could now maintain a large standing army at the expense of the Indian princes, It gave the company a chance to further expand their territories in India.

The Indian rulers had to face the interference of the British residents in their everyday affairs. The Indian rulers lost their administrative as well as financial independence. The Nizam of Hyderabad, the Ruler of Mysore the Nawab of Oudh, the Peshwa and the Sindhia were the chief rulers who accepted the Subsidiary Alliance System.

British Empire Revenue System

In order to maintain the expenses of both the administrative bodies and the army, it was necessary for the British to increase their financial resources. This was to done by

  • maximising the trade
  • buying raw materials from India at cheaper rates and selling manufactured products of England at higher prices
  • collection of land revenue from the provincial governors
  • Apart from trade, the British now focused their attention on the different sources of revenue.

In 1765, during the governorship of Lord Clive, the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II granted the Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the East India Company. In return, the Company was to make an annual payment of 26 lakh to him. The Company thenceforth, appointed two Deputy Diwans, one for Bengal and the other for Bihar.

The Diwani rights gave the company full authority over the financial resources of the territories under its control. For greater profits, the land revenue was now farmed out annually to the highest bidder. The ill-effects of this system soon came forward as the tax collector was only interested in the collection of more and more revenues, he hardly paid attention to improve the quality of his land.

The poor peasants were exploited. The harshness of revenue collection forced cultivators to either run away to the jungles or become robbers. Thus, agricultural production declined. Simultaneously, trade and commerce also suffered a setback in Bengal. The Indian goods were bought low rates from the workers and sold back in Europe at much higher prices. The weavers of silk and the artisans were compelled to work under harsh conditions.

Thus, the skill of the workers got ruined under oppression. The famine of Bengal in 1770 clearly highlighted the plight of the people, when about 1/3rd of the population died.

The next Governor-General Warren Hastings introduced the Quinquennial Settlement of land revenue in 1772. This was a five-year settlement of land revenue where estates were farmed out to the highest bidder. No preference was given to the Zamindars in the bidding process. Hastings set up six Provincial Councils to supervise the work of Indian Diwans.

The corrupt tax collectors were replaced by Indian Diwans in the districts. A Committee of Revenue was set up in Calcutta. The system too, proved to be a failure. The bidding process was not transparent. The State demand of revenue was fixed much higher than the land could actually produce. The Diwans resorted to harshness in tax collection.

Consequently, Hastings reverted to the old system of open auction to the highest bidder in 1776.

British Empire Civil Administration

In order to ascertain their command over the newly acquired territories, it was necessary for the British to evolve an efficient system of administration. Lord Clive had introduced the Dual System of Administration in Bengal, but it did not yield the desired results from the British point of view. Warren Hastings abolished the Dual System in 1772. The British territories were divided into three Presidencies Bombay, Bengal and Madras.

The Governor-General was to be the supreme head of administration. The provinces were further divided into districts. Each district was under a Collector. It was his duty to maintain peace, law and order in his district, and collect revenues and various taxes. British Empire performed these functions with the help of judges, police officers and local Darogas.

Regulating Act of 1773

In 1773, the Regulating Act was passed by the British Parliament. Its main objective was to regulate the functioning of the East India Company in India. It’s main features were :

  • The Governor of Bengal became the Governor-General of India.
  • A council of four members was constituted to assist the Governor-General.
  • All decisions were to be taken on the basis of the majority of votes.
  • A Supreme Court was established at Calcutta. It comprised a Chief Justice and three other judges.
  • It was strictly laid down that no officer of the Company would accept any form of bribe or gifts directly or indirectly.

Demerits of the Act

  • The Governor-General had an upper hand in all the decisions, but could not exercise control over his council.
  • While the Supreme Court administered the English law, the other courts gave judgements in accordance with already existing laws.
  • The Governor-General could not exercise authority or other presidencies.

Pitt’s India Act (1784)

  • By this act, the number of members in the Governor- General’s council were reduced from four to three.
  • The presidencies of Bombay and Madras were made subordinate to the Governor-General and his council.
  • A Board of Control was set up in London to look after the civil, military and revenue affairs of the Company.

Charter Acts

A series of Charter Acts were also introduced by the British for effective administration and stabilizing their control. The important Acts among them were as follows :

Charter Act of 1793

  • Governor-General was given the power to override the decisions of his council.
  • A Vice – President was to be appointed by the Governor-General in case of his absence from the Council.
  • The members of the company were now to be paid from Indian Revenues.

Charter Act of 1813

  • The Company’s monopoly of trade with India came to an end. Thus, trade-in India was now open to all Englishmen.
  • The company still enjoyed a monopoly of trade with China and trade in tea.
  • A sum of Rs 100,000 was to be spent annually on revival of Indian literature and promotion of scientific knowledge.

British Empire Judicial Administration

In 1772, Warren Hastings introduced judicial reforms in India. Each district was to have a Diwani Adalat ( civil court ) and a Faujdari Adalat (criminal court). The Diwani Adalat was presided over by the Warren Hastings Collector. Hindu and Muslim laws were to be applied for Hindus and Muslims respectively.

The Faujdar Adalat or the Criminal Court was presided over by the Indian officers of the Company. They got assistance from the Qazis and Muftis. In 1833, a Law Commission was appointed. It was given the task of codification of Indian laws.

Consequently, the ‘Indian Penal Code’ was compiled, that laid the ideal of ‘One Law for All’. This meant that one uniform law would be applicable for both the Indians and the English in matters of jurisdiction.

British Empire Army

In order to have a sound system of administration, it was necessary for the British to organise an efficient army. The army was also required to keep a check on foreign invasions and internal revolts of rulers, expansion of territories and peaceful maintenance of trading activities.

The army mainly consisted of Indian soldiers or sepoys. The higher ranks of the army were reserved for the British. An Indian could rise only to the rank of a Subedar.

More attention was given to the infantry regiment of the army. Soldiers were trained in the European methods of warfare and their lives were made more disciplined. The army officers in Bengal were paid more than their counterparts in Bombay and Madras.

British Empire Police

Governor-General Lord Cornwallis is credited to have established a regular police force in India. From 1792, every district was divided into a number of thanas. A Daroga was the head of the thana. He was assisted by policemen in the maintenance of law and order. The zamindars were deprived of their task of maintaining peace in the districts. The Daroga was usually an Indian.

  • The Darogas of various police stations were under the District Superintendent, who was generally a British.
  • The Chaukidars (watchmen) looked after the villages.
  • The Kotwals maintained law and order in the towns.

The police was mainly responsible for

  • Maintenance of internal law and order.
  • Protection from thieves, dacoits and thugs. Ensuring the safety of highways.
  • The police often resorted to violence, corruption and bribery.

Often, it became a distress for the people. It tortured and killed people in the name of maintaining peace. Lack of education, poor salaries and an absence of privileges as compared to the British soldiers, were the main factors responsible for this conduct of the police.

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