INDIAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT
British India and the Princely States
By the end of the 19th century the whole of India was either directly or indirectly under British control. Back then India consisted of what we now call Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as what is now the Republic of India.
About two-thirds of India was British India. This meant provinces under direct British control. The British Army was there and so were British officials.
Around a third of India was made up of princely states which were under indirect British control. There were over 600 princely states. The princely states were ruled by Indian rulers. There were many different titles for the ‘princes’. They had titles such as rajah, maharajah, gaekwar, khan and nizam. Therefore they were known as ‘princes’ to simplify it. Some princely states were very small: just a couple of square miles. The largest of them was Hyderabad which was the size of France. Most princely states were in between in terms of size. A prince would rule his state. The state would pass from father to son. A prince could do as he wanted within his state so long as he did not cause problems for British India. The prince had to agree to only have foreign relations via the United Kingdom. That means that a princely state could not set up an embassy in China or invite an ambassador from Italy. No, the British would conduct foreign relations on behalf of all the princely states. Princely states were allowed to have their own armies.
At that time India was over 60% Hindu. The Muslims comprised 30% of the population. There were small numbers of Sikhs and Christians. The Muslims were concentrated in the very west of the country (today’s Pakistan) and the very east (today’s Bangladesh).
- 19th century India is which three modern countries?
- What is a princely state?
- What proportion of India was British India in the 19th century?
- What was the second largest religion in India?
- What is the main religion of India?
Poverty and progress
Although India was British ruled of the 200 000 000 people in India at the time only about 200 000 were British. The majority of government were workers were India. But the top ranks were filled by Britons.
There was also an Indian Army. But all the officers were white British. The ordinary soldiers were Indians. Many Indians felt it was unfair that Indians could not even be officers in the Indian Army. Back then British meant ‘white’. These days there are many British citizens of Indian ancestry. There was no British citizenship as such back then. Anyone from anywhere in the British Empire was a British subject. A white Briton, a Nigerian, a Jamaican, an Indian or a New Zealander were all British subjects. Likewise in the Indian Police the ordinary policemen were Indians. The top ranks were reserved for whites. Indians resented this racial discrimination.
By the end of the 19th century the British Empire had reached its zenith. A third of all the land in the world was under British rule. It was said that Britannia ruled the waves because the Royal Navy was bigger than the second largest navy plus the third largest navy put together. The UK was a mighty manufacturing country but it had already been overtaken by the United States and Germany. They were manufacturing more than the UK.
India was very much an agricultural country at the time. There were only a few factories at the time. Most people were farmers. Many people dwelt in grinding poverty. At the time India was growing economically. But little wealth trickled down to the majority of the people.
In the 19th century most people around the world never went to school. Most people were illiterate. Only about 20% of people in India were literate at the time. The UK had only just brought in compulsory schooling in 1870 and the UK had still not achieved full literacy. This compulsory schooling law did not apply to India.
The British Government sent a viceroy to India. The viceroy ruled on behalf of Queen Victoria because she was so far away. The viceroy lived at Kolkata which was then the capital of India. The viceroy was a British aristocrat sent out from the UK to India. He served for a few years and was then replaced. Every few years a new viceroy came out.
In the British Cabinet there was a man who was the Secretary of State for India. He was answerable to the British Parliament for Indian affairs. But India had no representation in the UK Parliament. The Government of the UK could appoint and sack the viceroy of India. The people of India had no say over this.
- What did many Indians find objectionable about the rank structure in the Indian Army?
- Was the British Empire powerful at that time? (Five sentences)
- What was the most common job in 19th century India?
- Why were most people unable to read at the time?
- What was the title of the British official sent to govern India?
- What was the capital of India then?
Conceit and conciliation
Many Indians were impressed by the British who were the world superpower at the time. This did not mean that all Indians liked British rule by any means. It is difficult for the mighty not to be haughty. Some Britishers were arrogant and looked down on Indians. Indians tended to complain about heavy taxation and say the Britons were growing rich due to these taxes.
Indians looking into their own history saw that long before India had been far ahead of Europe in Mathematics and astronomy. Emperor Ashoka had introduced human rights and abolished slavery. But India had fallen behind and been overtaken.
There were famines in India. The British authorities in India said they were trying to improve farming. They set up an Agricultural Department. It was supposed to encourage more modern methods of farming with better use of fertiliser and smarter animal husbandry. Irrigation canals were dug. Stores of grain were set up for distribution in times of failed crops. Famine relief was a responsibility of the British Government of India. But the government was failing in its duty when so many starved. The British authorities urged people to grow non-comestible crops such as cotton and opium. Opium is a very dangerous drug. Under British rule it was legally sold in India, in the UK, China and other places.
In 1885 the viceroy made the fateful decision to establish Congress. Congress was an organisation for Indians to examine how the British authorities were governing India and to provide constructive criticism. At first Congress and the viceroy got along well. Congress was simply giving advice about where it felt the British authorities could do better. The principle of British rule was hardly ever questioned.
Since the 1830s education in India had shifted to the British model. Persian was abandoned as the major language of education and the courts. Instead English was adopted. Many Indians learnt to read and write their vernacular languages such as Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali and so forth. But after learning their mother tongue they started to learn English.
Newspapers were published in India in various languages. A system of telegraph poles transmitted news and personal messages. The mail system established by the British authorities helped to forge a sense of national identity by allowing people to correspond and send gifts. India had been united millennia before. But sometimes a centralised Indian state had fallen apart. It had been reunited and disunited several times. The railways built after 1840 had speeded up travel around the country.
By the 1880s there was a small Indian elite that was fluent in English. Oxford University and Cambridge University admitted non-Christians from the 1870s. A tiny number of Indians attended these universities. Only the super wealthy could afford to sail to the UK and pay the huge fees for these tip top universities. The Indian elite was exposed to British notions of parliamentary government. The UK boasted that its institutions were the envy of the world. By the 1880s most men in Britain had the right to vote. Parliament discussed the problems facing the nation and voted on solutions. Some Indian elitists were attracted by this and wanted to introduce similar institutions in India. The British authorities did not like that idea one bit. Indians looked back in their history and saw that at time India too had had representative institutions. By this time there was a miniscule Indian community in the United Kingdom. They started to enter UK politics.
In 1893 an Indian named Dadabhai Naoroji was elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom as a Liberal. He was hailed in India for his achievement. A few years later another Indian named Mr Bhownagree was elected to the UK Parliament. He was a Conservative. Bhownagree was so enthusiastic for British rule in India that some Indians scornfully called him ‘bow and agree.’
By the 1890s Congress was pressing the viceroy for further reforms. Many Indians were living in poverty and the British authorities were not doing enough about it. Britishers who served as civil servants and soldiers in India invariably retired to the UK. Their pensions were paid by India. This money left India and was spent in the UK. Congress called it ‘the drain’. India’s wealth was being drained away.
- What was ‘the drain’ according to Congress?
- When was Congress founded?
- Why is Dadabhai Naoroj so famous?
- Why did many dislike Bhownagree?
- How was India more advanced that Europe in the ancient times?
- What were the failings of British agricultural policy in India? Five marks.
- What effect did exposure to British institutions like Parliament have on the Indian elite?
Moderation and militancy
In the 19th century Indians emigrated to other British colonies such as South Africa, Uganda, Kenya and Malaysia. One of those who went to South Africa was Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi was a London educated lawyer. Gandhi objected to racist discrimination against Indian in South Africa. His protests got him imprisoned in South Africa. His brave campaigning was reported in Indian newspapers.
By 1900 Congress was becoming an irritant for the viceroy. It was no longer a genteel organisation of a few thousand highly educated rich men. It had several thousand members and was growing rapidly. In 1900 a new viceroy arrived from Great Britain. He was Lord Curzon. Lord Curzon disliked Congress . He saw it as a trouble making organisation and wanted it to dissolve. He dared not ban it because he knew it was popular. It was an important way of allowing Indians to let off steam about their grievances.
The early 20th century saw the rise of militancy. Some Indians rejected British rule totally. They had no time for the polite discussions that Congress had with British officials. Some Indians did not want reform. They wanted revolution. A handful of radicals decided that the British Raj could not be redeemed. It could only be destroyed! These radicals accused the British of killing millions of people through famines.
In Bengal some Indians killed British officials and police officers. Only a very small number of Britishers were killed. But the news was extensively reported. British rule was not seriously threatened by these attacks. Congress said it deplored this use of force against the British. The British authorities denounced those who killed their men as ‘terrorists.’ The aim of killing these British policemen and officials was to drive the British out of India. The radicals believed that British rule was totally bad. Congress still believed that British rule was mostly good but partly bad.
Congress welcomed Indians of all religions and all languages. Some Muslims in Congress said that Muslims were a special community that had particular concerns not shared by other Indians whether Hindu, Sikh or Christian. The Muslims asked whether they could set up a special section of Congress called ‘the Muslim League.’ Congress agreed. The Muslim League was established as an organisation inside Congress.
Bengal was a province which had about equal numbers of Hindus and Muslims. Some of the Muslims wanted the province to be divided into East Bengal with a Muslim majority and West Bengal with a Hindu majority. The British authorities considered the request.
Eventually Lord Curzon agreed that Bengal would be split into two provinces. Most Bengali Hindus were aghast. They considered Bengal to be a nation. They did not want it broken up. Not all Bengali Muslims wanted it divided either. There was a furious row in Congress over whether Bengal should be divided or not. The majority of Congress was against it. However, the Muslim League was in favour. The disagreement was so fierce that the Muslim League broke away from Congress. From that time on Congress and the Muslim League were two rival parties. Congress became an overwhelmingly Hindu organisation. However, Muslims were welcome in Congress and a few remained in Congress. The Muslim League was only for Muslims.
Congress agitated so strenuously against the partition of Bengal that the British authorities changed their mind. They decided that Bengal would not be divided into two provinces after all. The Muslim League was then angry that they had been let down by the British Government of India. It foreshadowed later controversies.
- Who became viceroy in 1900?
- Why did Curzon dislike Congress?
- Why did he not outlaw Congress?
- Why did some Indian radicals shoot British officials and police officers in Bengal? Five marks.
- What was the special section of Congress for Muslims called?
- What happened with the idea of dividing Bengal
The First World War
In 1914 the First World War broke out. The British Empire was a single entity in international law at the time. When the UK declared war that instantly meant that the whole empire was at war.
Up until that time the UK had won all of its wars for decades. The British had not sustained serious casualties in a war for a century. But the First World War was different. The United Kingdom was fighting a country even more industrialised than the UK. The Germans had better military technology. The British were being given a run for their money. The UK was suffering high casualties. Germany had other countries on its side such as Turkey and Austria-Hungary.
Indians had fought in Britain’s overseas war for over a century by 1914. Indians fought alongside the British Army in France, Iraq, Turkey and Palestine.
Some Indians donated money to the British war effort. The princely states usually sent their armies to help the British.
Congress urged Indians to do their bit for the war effort. Gandhi was one of those who called upon his countrymen to support the British war effort. Congress was dissatisfied with the British Raj. Nevertheless they perceived some benefits to being part of the empire. They believed that one good turn deserves another. By helping the British they believed that the the British authorities would agree to major reforms after the war.
Congress looked at the dominions of the British Empire. Canada, Australia and other countries were dominions. A dominion elected a parliament and had a prime minister. A dominion was internally self-governing. It still had diplomatic relations via the United Kingdom. It was part of a military alliance with the rest of the empire and had free trade with the empire. Congress was India to become a dominion. But the British authorities would not say yes to this. Some in Congress muttered that the British were racist. Australians and New Zealanders were allowed to be dominions because most of them were white. Were Indians being denied dominion status because of their colour?
The war dragged on. Over 100 000 Indians were killed. Congress pressed the viceroy to announce serious reforms to be introduced immediately after the war. The British authorities gave non-committal answers. Why would London make clear statements on reform after the war? Congress began to fear that the UK had no intention of introducing proper reforms.
Some people in India grumbled about fighting the First World War. Why should Indians fight Germans? The Germans had done nothing bad to India? Indians were being used as cannon fodder for the good of Britain. Indian Muslims objected to fighting the Turks because the Turks were Muslims too. Taxes were increased to fund the war. Some Indians worked with German agents on a plan to cause an uprising in India and bring about independence. In fact the plan never achieved any success. The Germans did not care about Indian independence. They just wanted to cause problems for the British.
During the First World War Indians were finally allowed to become officers in the Indian Army. Military colleges were opened for them.
- When the UK declared war what effect did this have on India?
- Why was Germany so difficult for Britain and her allies to defeat?
- Why did Congress ask Indians to support the war effort?
- Did the British agree to serious reforms in India during the war?
- Why did some Indians think that they should not support the war effort? Five marks.
- What was a dominion? Five marks.