This article throws light upon the top ten governor generals of India and their roles during 1823-1856.
1. Lord Amherst, 1823-1828:
During Lord Hastings’ administration the British supremacy had been spread over most of India; yet in the north-west and eastern frontiers there were powers that might be sources of challenge to the British Indian empire.
In the north-west there were the Sikhs, the Sindhis, Baluchis, Pathans and the Afghans, and in the east Assam and Burma. To ensure fullest security to the British Indian empire it was imperative these powers should be subdued or brought into such a relationship that might disarm them against the British empire.
Between Lord Hastings’ departure and arrival of Lord Amherst, Adam functioned as the acting Governor-General. It was during his temporary tenure situation between the English and the Burmese came to such a pass that hardly Lord Amherst reached India when he had to declare war against Burma (1824).
First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826):
The English had trade relations with Burma since the seventeenth century during which there was no question of any armed conflict between the English and Burma, for the former was then busy in finding a solid footing in India. In the last quarter of the eighteenth century the Burmese king Bodowpaya and his son Pogydoa extended the Burmese territories making the borders of the Burmese kingdom touch those of the British empire in India.
This gradually led to frontier clashes. Bodowpaya conquered the Arakan in 1784 and by 1813 occupied Manipur. In order to avoid hostilities with Burma, the English sent as many as six emissaries to Burma between 1795 and 1811, of them Capt. Symes, Capt. Cox and Capt. Canning were noteworthy.
When Lord Hastings had successfully liquidated the Pindary menace, Bodowpaya sent a communication to him claiming from Dacca, Cossimbazar, etc., on the plea that the kingdom of Arakan as overlord used to realize tributes from these places. The communication evoked no response. In the meantime Pogydoa succeed to the Burmese throne.
He occupied Assam and also occupied the island of Shahpuri soon after Lord Amherst had assumed as Governor- General and was preparing to invade Bengal. Lord Amherst initially tried settle the matter with the Burmese Government through negotiations but at that point of time the Burmese officers took away two British officers into Burma. Amherst under compulsion of the circumstances declared war against Burma (Feb. 1824). A strong force was sent by sea under Sir Archibald Campbell and Captain Marryat.
The Burmese troops had in the meantime started attacking villages under British possession from Assam border. Even before the first Anglo-Burmese War had actually started there was a skirmish between the British and the Burmese troops in Sylhet. Naturally with the declaration of war by Lord Amherst fighting on full scale began in the Assam and the Arakans.
The British troops were successful on the Assam front but the British force met with a total defeat at the hands of the Burmese General Bandula near Chittagong In the meantime Archibald Campbell succeeded in occupying Rangoon. Bandula, in the circumstances proceeded to Rangoon to save his country leaving aside his invasion of Bengal. Bandula and his troops were, however, defeated by the British near Rangoon. He next turned to save Donabew from the hands of the British but in the attempt he lost his life.
The death of Bandula a great General, left the Burmese army without any hope. In the meantime Campbell had succeeded in occupying Prome. These defeats and particularly the death of Bandula compelled the Burma king to sign the Treaty of Yandoboo (1826) with the British by the terms of which the Burmese king had to handover Tennasserim and Arakan to the British and pay rupees one crore as compensation. He had also to agree not to interfare in Assam, Cachar, Jantia areas in future. The treaty was supplemented by a commercial pact.
The Burmese King, however, refused to accept a British Resident at his Court but after a few years (1830) he had to agree to this condition. By the first Burmese War English obtained Tennasserim and Arakan Provinces, and Assam, Cachar, Manipur, Jantia came under the British sphere of influence although not under their occupation.
Occupation of Bharatpur:
That the British attempt at conquering Bharatput in 1805 failed has already been mentioned. In 1825 a succession dispute arose on the death of the king of Bharatpur leaving a minor son. Durjansal, a nephew of the deceased king, occupied the throne brushing aside the claim of his minor son. The British Resident David Ochterlony took side of the minor son of the deceased king but as the news reached Lord Amherst, Ochterlony was reprimanded for this intervention.
This was taken as an insult by Ochterlony and he resigned his post as Resident. Charles Metcalfe was appointed Resident at Bharatpur who saw the logic and justifiability of David Ochterlony’s taking side of the dispossessed minor son of the king of Bharatpur and succeeded in changing the opinion of Lord Amherst. An army under the command of Lord Combermere was sent against usurper Durjansal (1826). Combermere easily occupied Bharatpur defeating Durjansal and placed minor son of the deceased king on the throne of Bharatpur which became the protected kingdom of the English.
Mutiny at Barrackpore, 1824:
With the outbreak of the Burmese War (1824), the sepoys of Barrackpore were ordered by the English to get prepared for fighting in Burma. This caused a great stir and resentment among the Barrackpore Sepoys. They were reluctant to go to Burma for fighting in a foreign land and their pay was also extremely low. They appealed to the English authorities about their grievances, the English authorities refused to pay any heed to their appeal. This led to a mutiny among the Sepoys. The British suppressed the mutiny with inhuman torture on the Sepoys and a large number of the Sepoys lost their lives at the hands of the British troops.
Resignation of Lord Amherst:
Lord Amherst was not equal to the task before him. He was also lacking in far-sight to deal with the problems of the time. The Court of Directors was also not much satisfied with his work as Governor-General. Lord Amherst came to know of this feeling of the Court of Directors and he resigned in 1828 and was succeeded by Lord William Bentinck.
2. Lord William Bentinck, 1828-1835:
Lord William Cavendish Bentinck served as the Governor of Madras in his early life from 1803-1807. When the Sepoys of Vellore rose in a mutiny due to certain orders of general Sir John Cradock, with the consent of Lord Bentinck, compelling the Sepoys to wear a particular dress, to shave off beard, etc. the home authorities recalled Lord Bentinck. Lord Bentinck was aggrieved and took up the matter with the home authorities and, in fact, it was because of a sense of guilt that the home authorities appointed William Bentinck Governor-General in 1828.
The administration of Warren Hastings is not noted for any success in war or diplomatic activities. It is noted for peace and reforms. In fact, Bentinck’s administration is memorable in Indian history for his policy of peace and reforms.
Bentinck served under Duke of Wellington in the war against Napoleon. But neither as a soldier nor as a strategist he could make any mark. Lord Macaulay in characterizing Bentinck mentioned his qualities of loyalty and integrity, his kindness and wisdom, his solicitousness for public good.
Bentinck’s reforms were primarily economic, administrative and social. In order to revamp the economic condition of’ the Company Bentinck took three distinct measures, calculated to reduce the Civil and military expenses. First, he abolished half-batta that was allowance to the soldiers which they used to receive even in times of peace.
This led to grave resentment among the army. But Bentinck was a person who did not falter in implementing his order of abolition of half-batta. He also reduced the salary of the Company’s high officials and introduced the system of confidential report about the efficiency and activities of Company’s servants from their higher officers. Needless to say, these measures made Bentinck unpopular with both the military and civil servants of the Company.
Secondly, Bentinck turned his attention to increase the revenue collection of the Company. To this end he fixed revenue of the lands which were not brought under Company’s revenue system because these were surreptitiously shown as rent-free. He also revised the revenue settlement of Agra area and fixed a higher rate of revenue.
By strict economy as well as other methods of increase in revenue Bentinck improved the economic condition of the Company. Better management of the monopoly trade in opium is particularly mentionable as a means of enhancement of the Company’s revenue. As a result of all these means Bentinck converted the deficit of ten lacs annually into fifteen lacs surplus.
Thirdly, the first step in his administrative reforms was improvement of the judiciary. He abolished the system of Circuit Court and appellate courts, thereby eliminating the unnecessary delay in meeting out justice. In Allahabad he set up a Revenue Board. To supervise and superintend the work of the District Magistrate, Bentinck created a new class of senior officials called Commissioners and combined the duties of the Collector and the District Magistrate in the same person.
Under the Cornwallis system no Indian could be appointed to high posts in the judicial department but Bentinck changed this system and enhanced the official status, power of judging more important cases and the salaries of the Indian judges. Formerly, Persian was used as the language of the Court but Bentinck ordered use of local language instead, thereby gave a national character to the judiciary.
It goes without saying that as a result of the administrative reforms of Lord Bentinck the administration of the Company became more efficient, well organised and progressive. Smith observes that “Lord William Bentinck deserves credit for the clear vision which enabled him to construct for the first time a really workable, efficient, administration, offering to the native of the country reasonable opportunities for exercise of their abilities, and capable of expansion still in progress”.
Among varied reforms undertaken by Bentinck the social reforms were decidedly the more important and he is remembered more for these in the history of India. Suttee was one of the most ghastly systems the prevalent in India. On the death of the husband his widow would burn herself in the funeral pyre of her husband.
This system, called Suttee, i.e. self-immolation by the widow of the deceased was more prevalent among the Hindus, although there are some instances of Muslim widows performing the rite of Suttee. According to Smith the “Suttee probably was a Scythian rite introduced from Central Asia”. The system of Suttee in course of time assumed an inhuman, ghastly character, for widows unwilling to become Suttee, i.e., immolate herself in the funeral pyre of the deceased husbands were forcibly thrown into the burning pyre. Enlightened Indian opinion began to express itself against this inhuman rite.
The authorities of the East India Company were in favour of prohibiting Suttee from the time of Lord Cornwallis and directives were issued to look into the matter. Lord Wellesley took some initial steps in this regard. He sought the opinion of the judges of the Sadr Nizamat Adalat who recommended that instead of abolishing or prohibiting the rite of Suttee altogether, some legal restrictions should be put to the performance of the rite. Under Lord Minto this recommendation was acted upon, and it was ordered that no Suttee rite could be performed without the consent of a Magistrate or Police Officer (1813).
When Lord Hastings was the Governor-General the Court of Directors sent advice for abolition of the inhuman rite of Suttee. In the meantime Lord Amherst assumed charge as Governor-General. He did not venture to act according to the directive of the Court of Directors. It was Lord William Bentinck who determined to abolish Suttee. He, however, succeeded in doing so largely because he received active cooperation of the educated Hindu leaders of thought as also of the judges of the Sadr Nizamat Adalat. Among the leaders of the enlightened Bengali opinion, the names of Prince Dwarakanath Tagore and Rammohan Roy deserved special mention. In 1829 Lord William Bentinck ordered the abolition of the rite of Suttee.
Another important social reform of Lord Bentinck was suppression of the marauders called Thugees. The Thugees who infested the highways and would strangulate the passers-by and looted their belongings. The highway robbers, the Thugees, had been a terrible menace to the merchants and -wayfarers ever since the days of the Mughals. Akbar had once got. about five hundred Thugees killed at Etawah. From the French traveller Thevenot we get a description of the depredations of the Thugees during the reign of Aurangzeb. Lord Bentinck commissioned Col. Sleeman to suppress the Thugees and to eliminate the menace altogether Sleeman succeeded in obtaining secret information about the dens of the Thugees from one of the Thugees named Feringhia and suppressed them totally during 1829-30.
By the Charter Act of 1813 the East India Company for the first time was bound to spend a sum of at least one lac annually for the education of the Indians. This amount was at first spent for Sanskrit and Persian education. In 1833 Lord Bentinck proposed to spend the amount for English education. This gave rise to a great controversy.
The British Secretary, H. T. Princep, and the famous historian Wilson were supporters of classical education such as Sanskrit, Persian, etc. Lord Macaulay, Rammohan Roy, and enlightened opinion were in favour of Western education. The Committee of Public Instruction which was it charge of spending the allotted amount of one lac spent it in printing Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian works and maintaining the Sanskrit College and the Madrassa. The missionaries and the liberal Indians set up schools and colleges for education on Western lines and established School Book Society for selling English books. The new ideas made its impact on the Committee of Public Instruction and its members which included Alexander Duff, were divided into two rival groups called the Orientalists and the Anglicists.
While the former held that public funds should be spent for liberal education on Western lines through English medium, the Anglicists believed that although the Western education would reach a limited number of pupils, it would ultimately spread through them to the masses by means of vernacular literature. This is known as the famous Infiltration theory advocated by the Anglicists.
Macaulay who was in favour of Western education made a rather wild remark, obviously because of his ignorance of the richness of the Oriental literature that “A single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”. However, with the active support of Alexander Duff and Thomas Babington Macaulay as also of the enlightened Indian opinion Bentinck took the first step in February, 1835, by establishing the Calcutta Medical College and on 7th March he and his Council decided that henceforth available public funds would be spent on English education. In the same year Elephinstone Institution of Bombay was established.
3. Lord Bentinck’s Foreign Policy:
Lord Bentinck was in favour of following the policy of non-intervention in foreign affairs. But this was not an unalterable, sacrosanct policy, for he was prepared to follow a policy of intervention if the situation would demand. Taking advantage of Bentinck’s policy of peace and non-intervention Gaikwar of Baroda adopted an anti-British policy. In Jaipur and Gwalior there were internal troubles but Bentinck would not intervene in these troubles for his policy was one of non-intervention in the internal affairs of the native States.
But when the people of Jantia in Assam took away a few Englishmen for human sacrifice, Bentinck demanded their immediate release and on refusal of the people of Jantia to do so, Bentinck occupied Jantia. Again, when the internal situation in Mysore took a serious turn he took over the administration in the Company’s hands. In 1881, however, the British government returned Mysore to a descendant of the Mysore royal family.
When the people of Coorg were terrorized and oppressed by their king Bentinck took possession of Coorg. The king of Cachhar died without leaving any heir. On the request of the people of Cachhar Bentinck took over the administration in the Company’s hand. Thus Bentinck’s foreign policy was one of pragmatic nature, intervening when it was found necessary although the main plank of his policy was of non-intervention.
It was from the time of Lord Bentinck that the British Government in England became unnecessarily afraid of Russia. Apprehending that Russia might move towards India through Herat and Kandahar, the British Cabinet instructed Bentinck to turn his special attention towards the security of north-west frontier of India. In 1830-31 the Board of Control advised Bentinck to enlist the friendship of Ranjit Singh as a measure of security of Company’s northwest frontier.
In pursuance of this advice Alexander Burnes was sent as an emissary to Ranjit Singh with lavish presents. Towards the end of 1831 Ranjit Singh was personally met by Lord Bentinck at Ruper on the river Sutlej as a gesture of friendship.
The result was the signing of a treaty of Perpetual Friendship thereby strengthening the Company’s territorial security towards the north-west. Ranjit Singh also agreed to allow, the English merchants to navigate the rivers Indus and Sutlej and to respect the frontiers of the Company’s territories. Bentinck had also entered into friendly alliance with the amirs of Sind thereby strengthening the defence of Company’s north-west frontiers.
Estimate of Lord Bentinck:
Lord William Bentinck occupies a glorious position in the history of India. His achievements have, however, not been universally acclaimed. According to Thornton William Bentinck was, more than anything, mindful of his own name and fame. Lord Macaulay on the other hand has called him an administrator who always kept the public good in the uppermost of his mind.
He did not, even for a moment, forget his duty of serving for the welfare of the people. Removal of superstition, elimination of the invidious distinction between the native and the English servants of the Company, encouragement of education, etc. were the main features of his reforming policy. Macaulay went to the extent of remarking that ‘William Bentinck infused into Oriental despotism, the spirit of British freedom. True that William Bentinck was solicitous of the public good and undertook important social, administrative and educational reform for which he may easily claim the gratitude of the Indians, yet it may be said that Macaulay’s praise of William Bentinck was a little exaggerated and has definitely a sentimental overtone.
But a dispassionate conclusion will be to credit him with the financial management which converted the Company’s annual deficit into an annual surplus, and with administrative, social and educational reforms which had the welfare of the people as their main aim. He rightly deserves a place in the history of India and remembrance by the Indians with gratitude.
4. Charles Metcalfe, 1835-1836:
Lord William Bentinck was succeeded by Sir Charles Metcalfe as Governor-General as a stop gap. But he was later appointed on a permanent basis. He was a liberal Englishman who felt the need of granting freedom of the Press. As he had granted freedom to the Press in India, the Court of Directors roundly condemned his action. Charles Metcalfe’s sense of dignity could not bear this and he resigned and left for England in 1836.
5. Lord Auckland, 1836-42:
Lord Auckland was somewhat of the nature of Lord William Bentinck in his solicitousness of the welfare of the people of India. Soon after his assumption of charge he undertook improvement of the medical and general education and thereby gave proof of his enlightened mind. Previously students other than those reading in English schools or colleges were not eligible for government scholarship. Auckland removed this invidious distinction and ordered that students studying Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian would be equally entitled to government scholarship.
He abolished pilgrimage tax, government supervision of religious endowments or of properties of religious establishments, as also the practice of the Company’s soldiers joining different popular religious functions. It was Lord Auckland again who took initial steps towards implementing agricultural irrigation plan.
It is generally suggested that had Lord Auckland confined his activities to peaceful and public welfare work, he might have left his mark as one of the most successful administrators. But his fear of Russian progress towards India through Afghanistan to alley which he followed a short-highted, unsteady and military inefficient policy. His policy brought his and his government’s name to the mire. In his dealings with the native Princes Lord Auckland could not maintain the dignity of his high office.
In 1837 died the Nawab of Oudh and was succeeded by Nasir-ud-din. The new newab was as ruthless as inefficient. Hardly Nasir-ud-din bad assumed as the nawab of Oudh when the widow Begum (Badshah Begum) of Oudh rebelled against him. It was not difficult for Nasir- ud-din to crush the rebellion, but the internal maladministration which caused the rebellion did not show any sign of improvement.
The weakness and inefficiency of Nasir-ud-din gave an opportunity to Lord Auckland to pressurise him to sign a new agreement with the Company by which the amount of money the nawab had been paying towards the maintenance of the British troops in his kingdom was largely enhanced.
The Court of Directors, however, did not approve of this new agreement. Lord Auckland forgetting the dignity of high post he was holding kept the disapproval of the agreement a secret to the nawab and only informed him that enhanced payment would not be required to be made. Nasir-ud-din construed this remission of enhanced payment as an act of generosity of Lord Auckland towards him.
In 1837-38 a terrible famine stalked the whole of north India and about eight lacs of people fell prey to it. The Government spent thirty-eight lacs to meet the situation which proved too inadequate to bring relief to the famine-stricken people.
When king of Salem, a descendant of Shivaji, opened negotiations with the Portuguese to hatch a conspiracy against the English, he was deposed by Auckland and his brother was placed on the throne (1839). Likewise the nawab of Karnool was removed from his masnad and his country occupied by the Company on the ground of his anti-British conspiracy. The Holkar of Indore was sternly warned against his anti-British move.
First Anglo-Afghan War:
Lord Auckland’s assumption of charge as the Governor-General of India synchronised with the most intractable problem of security of north-west frontier of India. During this period the British Cabinet’s foreign policy had taken a completely anti-Russian turn. This was largely due to Palmerston, the then foreign Secretary, who had an unjustified Russo-phobia.
This was all the more accentuated when during 1837-38 Persia with Russian support attacked the Afghan Province of Herat. Lord Auckland was a blind follower of Lord Palmerston and he also became unnecessarily scared of Russia and in order to prevent Persia from making more headway through Afghanistan he sent a trade mission to Afghanistan under Capt. Alexander Burnes. Ostensibly it was a trade mission but the real intention behind sending of the mission was to obtain political advantages and to negative indirect Russian influence on Afghanistan. Dost Mohammad, Amir of Afghanistan, was also in his predicament very much eager to establish friendly relations with the English.
But he sought to strike a bargain through his friendship with the English, namely, to recover Peshwar from Ranjit Singh of Punjab who had conquered it from Persia. Lord Auckland would not substitute the friendship of Ranjit Singh with that of Dost Mohammad, for he considered the former to be more powerful and dependable than Dost Mohammad. Lord Auckland refused to put pressure on Ranjit Singh for return of Peshwar to Dost Mohammad and the latter also refused to have any friendly relation with the English.
On the contrary he began to show greater inclination towards Russian friendship. Lord Auckland’s refusal to pressurizing Ranjit Singh for the surrender of Peshwar as a condition of Dost Mohammad’s friendship has been criticized by many as unwise, for this would have given him an opportunity to extend English influence of the Khyber Pass.
But Auckland’s Afghan Policy was influenced by his exaggerated fear of Russian advance towards Afghanistan and through it to the Indian border. Auckland did not consider the geographical aspect of the issue for he failed to realize the great distance between the Persian border and that of the Company’s territories towards the north-west. He also did not study the topography of the region which would itself make it rather impossible for the Persian army even with Russian help to cross over Afghanistan to the Indian frontier.
This realization naturally would have made too much dependence on Ranjit Singh’s friendship rather redundant. It is also argued that Auckland should have tried to persuade Ranjit Singh to return Peshwar to Dost Mohammad, a course which he did not try at all. All this showed Auckland’s lack of far-sight and pragmatic outlook.
The failure of the attempt to establish friendly relations with Dost Mohammad and the latter’s increasing friendliness towards Russia very much perturbed Lord Auckland and the only course he thought open to him was to remove Dost Mohammad from his position as Ainir and place a friendly person as Amir instead.
Auckland decided to place Shah Shuja, a descendant of Ahmad Shah Durrani who had taken shelter with the English at Ludhiana in the Punjab after his dethronement from Persia as Amir. Auckland began to espouse the cause of Shah Shuja and to attempt recovery of the Persian throne for the latter. He thought that replacement of Dost Mohammad by Shah Shuja would further the cause of the English in Afghanistan and thereby make Afghanistan a friendly buffer State against Persian progress towards Afghanistan with Russian help and ultimately to the Indian border.
Auckland entered into alliance with Shah Shuja and Ranjit Singh and as soon as the triple alliance had been signed he began preparation for attacking Afghanistan. The British Cabinet also approved of the plan and policy of Auckland towards Afghanistan, but the Court of Directors strongly opposed Auckland’s plan. Considered from moral principle, it must be pointed out that refusal of Dost Mohammad to sign a friendly treaty with the English or his friendliness towards Russia could not themselves be any valid grounds for a war against Afghanistan. For as an independent Amir it was certainly his discretion whether or not he would accept any other Power’s friendship. It, therefore, goes without saying, Auckland’s Afghan policy was totally devoid of any moral principle; it was out and out an expression of superior armed strength, a sort of a brigandage and nothing more.
The situation within Afghanistan at that moment was propitious for Auckland’s plan. The Durranis and Barakzais, two royal families of Afghanistan, were involved in a serious conflict. Dost Mohammad belonged to the Barakzais family. When this internal conflict had torn Afghanistan into two rival groups mutually antagonistic, Auckland took his chance and declared war against Afghanistan. The declaration of war against Afghanistan, as the sequel proved, was the greatest mistake committed by Auckland.
At the very initial stage of the war Dost Mohammad was defeated and deposed by the English. He was taken prisoner and brought to Calcutta and Shah Shuja was placed by the English on the throne of Afghanistan. The abject surrender of his independence to the British by Shah Shuja, and the debauchery of Capt. Burnes soon gave rise to popular hatred of the both. The Afghans rose into open rebellion in Kabul and seized the person of Capt. Burnes and tortured him to death for his haughtiness and debauchery.
Resident Macnaghten was compelled to sign a dishonourable agreement with the Afghans by which Dost Mohammad was to be set free by the British, all British Troops had to be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Need-less to mention that Macnaghten was compelled by circumstances to sign this dishonourable agreement and naturally he had the least intention to abide by its terms.
The Afghans did not take long to realize the intentions of Macnaghten and they killed him. This was followed by a more dishonourable agreement with the Afghans. The British troops had to surrender their arms to the Afghans and leave Afghanistan. While leaving Afghanistan without any arms and ammunition quite a number of the British troops lost their lives at the hands of the Afghans. In Jalalabad and Kandahar the British authority was still maintained but in Kabul no trapes of the British troops or British Residency remained. In this way Lord Auckland met with ignominious failure bringing British prestige to the dust. He resigned and left India thoroughly discredited and disgraced.
Lord Auckland was succeeded by Lord Ellenborough’s as Governor-General. On reaching India Ellenborough’s first task was to bring the First Anglo-Afghan War to a close and to retrieve the lost prestige of the British government. Meanwhile the British troops at Jalalabad had been kept encircled by the Afghans. Ellenborough despatched General Nott to assist General Pollock at Jalalabad. But before General Nott reached Kabul, Pollock had succeeded in freeing the British troops from the siege. General Nott, however, entered Ghazni and reduced the town into shambles, after which the combined forces of Nott and Pollock proceeded towards Kabul.
They entered Kabul practically without any resistance and reduced the city into a heap of debris. The Kabul market was blown up with the help of dynamite. The inhuman torture and wholesale destruction perpetrated by the British troops in order to retrieve the lost prestige with the Afghans, in fact, blackened the name of the British all the more.
Post Mohammad had been set free by the English in the meantime. The Afghans deposed and killed the British stooge Shah Shuja and placed Dost Mohammad on the Afghan throne. Thus ended the First Anglo-Afghan war with the ignominious failure of the British with loss of prestige in the bargain.
Criticism of Auckland’s Afghan Policy:
On a dispassionate consideration of the causes, course and effects of the First Anglo-Afghan war, one is bound to find a lack of far-sight and minimum morality expected of a government of great Britain’s standing. The whole thing was born of Lord Palmerston’s unnecessary and unjustified Russo-phobia which his understudy Lord Auckland shared in full.
There was no mood on the part of Lord Auckland to consider whether the war was at all necessary, whether the situation justified the course adopted. Both Palmerston and Auckland did not betray far-sightedness in rushing into a war with Afghanistan. The policy is also assailable on moral grounds.
Neither Palmerston nor Auckland did possess, it appears, knowledge of the geographical position of India vis-a-vis the Persian or Russian border. Nor had they any idea of the rugged nature of the hilly terrain which would not make it easy for an army to march from Persia through Afghanistan up-to the north-western frontiers of India. Palmerston was advised by some to consult a large map of the area to understand its geographical and topographical position. But both Palmerston and his blind follower Auckland were so overcome by their fear of Russia that they allowed their political ideas and far-sight to be over-clouded.
They failed to realize that between the then north-west frontier of the British empire in India and Russia-influenced Persian border there lay Afghanistan, the Punjab, Sind, Bhawalpur and the extensive Rajputana desert. Auckland did not think it worth-while to persuade a friendly Ranjit Singh to return Peshwar to Dost Mohammad. Even if such persuasion would have failed. Dost Mohammad might have been assured of British friendliness and there would not have been any rift between Afghanistan and the English.
Further, an independent ruler as Dost Mohammad had been, he had certainly the fullest liberty to decide whose friendship he would accept or whose friendship he would reject. Dost Mohammad’s rejection of English friendship and acceptance of the Russian friendship was his own affair and no power could make it a grievance and a cause of war. Auckland’s proceedings in dethroning Dost Mohammad and to that end declaration of war on Afghanistan was, to say the least, morally indefensible and contrary to international morality. From human and moral considerations ‘Auckland’s policy towards Afghanistan is not supportable.
Again, from the political point of view also, the Afghan policy of Auckland cannot be justified, for when Persia with Russian’s support laid siege of Herat, it was the combined forces of the Afghan and British army that compelled Persia to withdraw the siege. Thus the argument that Russia-supported Persia was moving towards Afghanistan made it imperative to bring Afghanistan under British influence does not hold water. On the contrary a friendly Afghanistan would have been a better guarantee of Anglo-Afghan defence against Persia, assisted by Russia. It is, therefore, clear that lack of political wisdom was writ large in Palmerston and Auckland’s Afghan policy.
It has also to be pointed out that Amir Dost Mohammad did nothing that even smacked of enmity towards the British. By turning him into an enemy on the ground of his friendliness towards Russia and waging war against him Auckland blackened the hands of the British. During the course of the war the British army violated, the agreements signed with the Amirs of Sind by marching through their territories and forcibly realizing money from them. The immortality and short-sightedness of Auckland’s policy towards Afghanistan and the Amirs of Sind have been universally condemned by the British Historians.
6. Lord Ellenborough, 1842-44:
Next Governor-General Lord Ellenborough assumed charge as Governor-General only to bring the First Anglo-Afghan war to an ignominious failure. His determination to retrieve the British prestige and to that end the inhuman torture and destruction perpetrated at Kabul and Ghazni only brought the name of the British deeper into the mire. His failure in the war with the Afghans, and the eventual success of the Afghans to place Dost Mohammad on the throne of Afghanistan were not instances of Ellenborough’s success or efficiency.
Conquest of Sind:
During the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth the Amirs of Sind used to owe verbal allegiance to the Amir of Afghanistan. The Amirs of Khairapur, Mirpur, Hyderabad (Sind) were the real rulers of Sind. In 1809 Lord Minto in order to liquidate French influence on Sind entered into friendly alliance with the Amirs of Sind by the terms of which the Amirs were not to allow any French to stay in any part of Sind. The treaty of alliance of 1809 was renewed in 1820. In 1831 Capt. Alexander Burnes as he was proceeding by water route through the river Indus to Lahore noted the immense possibility of British trade in Sind and the strategic importance Sind possessed.
On his report Governor-General Lord William Bentinck entered into a treaty of friendship with the Amir of Hyderabad (Sind) according to the terms of which the British merchants were allowed to carry on trade with Sind both by land and water routes. It was also provided in the treaty that the British would not transport any troops, arms or ammunitions through Sind.
In 1838 the Amir of Hyderabad (Sind) agreed by an agreement with Lord Auckland to receive a British Resident in his durbar. But during the First Afghan war Auckland disregarding the treaty of 1832, sent British troops through Sind. The British troops also forced the Amirs of Sind to pay money to the British.
The Amirs of Sind could easily take revenge for this violation of the treaty of 1832, if they so desired, by attacking the British army after its defeat in the First Anglo-Afghan War. But they desisted from entering into hostilities with the British. Yet Lord Ellenborough sent Sir Charles Napier, an unscrupulous officer, to pick up quarrel with the Amirs of Sind and thereby begin hostilities to occupy Sind. Charles Napier intervented in the succession struggle in the State of Khairapur and ultimately compelled the Amirs of Sind to sign a new agreement with the English by the terms of which Amirs had to surrender a part of their respective States to the Company.
Napier also compelled the Amirs to give up their right to mint coins for their own States. He also razed the fort of Imamgarh to the ground in order to terrorise the Amirs. Not only that his high-handed policy and his harassment of Baluch tribe ultimately compelled the Baluch tribe to revolt and attack the British Residency which gave Charles Napier the much sought for opportunity to declare war. In the battle of Miand and Dabou the Amirs were thoroughly defeated. The whole of Sind came under the British (1843). The Amirs were all banished from their states and for four years that Charles Napier was in charge of Sind he carried on a policy of repression.
The affairs of Sind and its ultimate conquest revealed the base .selfish and immoral nature of the policy of both Ellenborough and Charles Napier. Historians, both contemporary and of the posterity, severally condemned the high-handed, utterly selfish and morally unsupportable policy followed by Lord Ellenborough and Charles Napier in regard to Sind. The Court of Directors also did not approve of the conquest of Sind, yet they did not have that much of broadness of mind to return Sind to its Amirs.
Lord Ellenborough and Gwalior:
In 1843 Janki Scindia died without leaving any heir. This led to a great disorder in Gwalior, the advantage of which was taken by the army which seized the political power of the country. Meanwhile the Sikhs had been practically ready with a large force to begin hostilities with the English. The possibility of the army of Gwalior joining hands with the Sikhs unnerved Lord Ellenborough and he sent a large force under Sir Hugh Gough to the Chambal area.
The Gwalior army suspecting that the English troops would attack Gwalior took initiative in declaring war. The Gwalior army could not cope with the superior tactics and fighting ability of the Company’s army and were defeated in the battle of Maharajpur and Paniar. Ellenborough did not annex Gwalior to the Company’s dominions but placed it under a British Resident and arranged that the administration there would be carried on under instruction of the Resident.
Reform Measures of Ellenborough:
Ellenborough had a few reform measures to his credit. He abolished the system of slavery and prohibited raising of funds for improvement of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay through lottery. He increased the salary scale of the darogas and opened opportunities for their promotion, thereby making some improvement in the Police administration. It was for the first time under Ellenborough that the class of officers called Deputy Magistrates was created.
Ellenborough’s overbearing nature, his lack of regard for the Court of Directors and above all his want of good relationship with the Civil servants led to his recall in 1844.
7. Ranjit Singh:
We know that the Punjab before the rise of Ranjit Singh was divided into a number of Feudal kingdoms which were called Misls, thirteen in number. At the age of twelve he succeeded to the position of the Chief of Sukerchukia Misl (1792). In 1798 when Zaman Shah of Kabul invaded the Punjab, Ranjit Singh opposed him. He could at best harass the camp of Zaman Shah in guerilla fashion repeatedly, for his army was too small compared to that of Zaman Shah. Repeated harassment of his camp ultimately made Zaman Shah seek Ranjit’s friendship.
A treaty of friendship’ was signed between the two and Zaman Shah invested Ranjit Singh with the title of ‘King’. In 1799 when Zaman Shah left Lahore, Ranjit Singh was appointed ruler of Lahore by a Farman issued by Zaman Shah. According to Dr. N. K. Sinha there is no proof of Zaman Shah’s issuing any farman although. Ranjit Singh’s occupation of Lahore had his normal support Zaman Shah looked upon Ranjit Singh as his friend which is evidenced by his refusal to allow Niaz- ud-din Kasur, who was supported by the Bhangis of Amritsar, to occupy whole of the Punjab on condition of payment of an annual tribute of five lacs.
Ranjit Singh now proceeded to an expedition against Jammu. On the way he conquered two places named Meerwal and Narwal. The King of Jammu saved his kingdom by accepting Ranjit, Singh’s over-lordship and agreeing to pay rupees twenty thousand as compensation. In 1805 Ranjit Singh occupied Amritsar which brought the misl of Bhangis under him. This had also enhanced his territory, power and prestige. He then began to conquer the Sikh misls on the western bank of the river Sutlej. His aim was to conquer the misls on the eastern bank of the Sutlej as well, and to weld the Sikhs into a nation and to instil in them a sense of Sikh nationalism.
At that time the leaders of the misls on the eastern bank of the Sutlej, fell out among themselves and some of them invoked Ranjit’s help. Ranjit Singh welcomed the opportunity and occupied Ludhiana. These leaders of the misls who sought Ranjit Singh’s help now realized to their great disappointment that they had invited not a friend but an enemy. Ranjit Singh came as friend but became their lord, they found. In order to save the misls on the eastern bank of the Sutlej, their chiefs appealed to the English. Lord Minto sent Charles Metcalfe to the court of Ranjit Singh for settlement between Ranjit Singh and the leaders of the misls on the eastern bank of the Sutlej.
A prolonged discussion between the English and Ranjit Singh ultimately led to the signing the treaty of Amritsar (1809) by .Which the river Sutlej was settled as the eastern border of Ranjit’s kingdom. Ranjit Singh had also to pledge that he would not interfere in the affairs of the misls on the eastern bank of the Sutlej.
Having been restricted in the east of the Sutlej Ranjit Singh began to conquer the hilly tracts of the Punjab, Kashmir, Multan, Bannu, Tonk, Dera Ismail Khan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Peshwar, etc., towards the north and north-west. He extended the border of his kingdom in the north-west from the Punjab to the Khyber Pass and the borders of Sind. He conquered Attock by defeating the Afghans in the battle of Hidaru. A few years later the Afghans invaded Ranjit Singh’s kingdom but he defeated the Afghans in the battle of Nowshera and thereby kept his authority on the territories on the west of the river Sutlej undiminished. In 1837 Dost Mohammad attacked the forts of Jamrud and Sub Qader but did not succeed in occupying them.
The strategic importance of Ranjit Singh’s kingdom and the power of Ranjit Singh compelled the English to mete out friendly treatment towards Ranjit Singh. They had checked Ranjit Singh from extending his authority over Sindh, they had desisted him from intervening in the misls on the eastern bank of the Sutlej but they now did not venture to displease him because of their fear of Russia and the need for using his kingdom as a buffer state against any possible invasion by Russia. Lord Bentinck personally showed him great respect by visiting his court.
Not only this, the English did not agree to pressurise Ranjit Singh for returning Peshwar to Dost Mohammad who made it a condition for friendly alliance with the English. From all this it may be easily realized that the English set great store by friendship with Ranjit Singh. So long as Ranjit Singh was alive the English maintained a cordial relation with him and even received help from him in placing Shah Shuja on the throne of Afghanistan. Ranjit Singh died in 1839 (27th June).
Ranjit Singh’s Character and Estimate:
Ranjit Singh combined in him the qualities of an intrepid soldier, a born leader of men, and a nationally inspired patriot. Although, not particularly handsome and an attack of small pox damaged his left eye, he was of extremely delightful disposition and most inspiring features. In the words of Cunningham “He was assiduous in his devotions; he honoured men of enlarged charity; he attributed every success to the favour of God, and he styled himself and his people collectively the Khalsa or Common Wealth of Govind.”
Ranjit Singh’s fame chiefly depends on his success in effecting the marvellous transformation of many of the mutually warring Sikh States into a solidified national monarchy, although his aim of welding the entire Sikh community into one nation failed due to the intervention of the English. Sir Lepel Griffin, one of Ranjit Singh’s biographers, remarks “We only succeed in establishing him as a hero, as a ruler of men and as worthy of a pedestal in that innermost shrine where history honours the few human beings to whom may be indisputably assigned the palm of greatness, if we free our minds of prejudice, and discounting conventional virtue, only regard those rare qualities which raise a man supreme above his fellows.” Victor Jaquemont, a French Traveller, called him “an extraordinary man, a Bonaparte in miniature”.
Ranjit Singh realized the need for organising a strong and efficient army and changed the former system of feudal levies and organised the Sikhs into a national army. With the help of army he extended his territories and also kept them secure. His talent was probably best displayed in his moulding of his army into a disciplined and efficient fighting force by getting it trained by European Officers like Allard, Ventura, Antabile, Court etc. some of whom had experience of Napoleonic wars. He kept strict personal control over his army. He developed a very efficient artillery. Ranjit Singh’s army in 1835 stood at 75,000 which included well trained and disciplined troops numbering 35,000.
At a time when personal despotism was almost’ the only form of Government, Ranjit Singh looked upon himself as the servant of the Sikh Commonwealth and also had a Council of Ministers to help him in the administration of his kingdom. For the sake of administrative convenience and efficiency Ranjit Singh divided his kingdom into Provinces and subdivided them into districts each of which was under a Sardar.
The villages were placed under village Panchayats. About his empire and administration, the German traveller Baron Carl von Hugel who visited his court in 1835 remarks that Ranjit has never “imbued his hands in blood. We never have perhaps so large an empire founded by one man with so little criminality”. Despite his absolute control over his government he was not a tyrant obsessed by the idea of over-centralization. According to a contemporary British officer: “In a territory compactly situated, he (Ranjit) has applied himself to those ‘ improvements which spring only from great minds and here we find despotism without its rigour, a despot without cruelty and a system of Government far beyond the native institutions of the East, though far from the civilization of Europe.”
Ranjit Singh’s land revenue system was, however, very severe. The state demand was as high as 33% and 4½ % according to the difference in fertility. Sir L. Griffin remarks that Ranjit Singh squeezed out of the unhappy peasant every rupee that he was made to disgorge”. But Sir Griffin also mentions that he did not, in his severity of exaction of land revenue, “kill the goose that lay the golden egg”.
Justice under him was rough and ready and there was not hierarchy of Courts of Law. He at Lahore used to hear appeals from the judgements of the local officers who decided cases according to local customs. Fines and forfeitures brought a huge income to the State.
Ranjit Singh’s biographer, Sir Griffin, characterized him as the “ideal of a soldier—strong, spare, active, courageous and enduring”. He was indeed one of the most important personalities in the history of modern India He showed great solicitousness for the welfare of his people and kept a vigilant eye on the local officers lest they should oppress the people. He made no distinction between community and community; all his subjects enjoyed equal benefits under his rule. Faqir Aziz-ud-din, a Muslim, was his foreign minister. The peace and tranquility that his efficient administration had ensured made him loved by both the Hindus and the Muslims.
Some English writers have praised Ranjit Singh’s “statesmanship” in recognizing the strength of the Company and his implicit faith in the British promises. But it cannot be gainsaid that Ranjit Singh displayed lack of bold statesmanship and intrepidity in his dealings with the English and his premonition of the future extension of the British dominion all over India, as evidenced by his remark seeing an Indian map the British occupied territories marked in red— sab lal ho jayega—made him follow the path of least resistance and he did nothing to prevent British expansion and therefore stood far below Hyder or Tipu. Ranjit Singh was not a constructive statesman for he did not leave behind any trained successor to step into his shoes and keep the kingdom which he had so assiduously built up from falling into disintegration. His following the path of least resistance to the English only shifted the task of fighting against the English to his weak successors, Yet, it cannot be denied that he occupies a high and worthy place in the history of India.
Successors of Ranjit Singh:
The Sikh Kingdom built on the military exploit and personal ability and efficiency of Ranjit Singh was not destined to last long. The very nature of personal government is such that unless a strong personality is succeeded by equally strong one, the country and its .administration fall into in inevitable disruption.
This was the case with Ranjit Singh’s kingdom. Removal of Ranjit Singh by death in 1839 at, a time when the British imperialism was marching rapidly to extend its supremacy all over India boded ill for the Sikh kingdom. The Sikhs were at their height at the moment of Ranjit Singh’s death but his “disappearing in fierce but fading flames” was a signal for the outbreak of anarchy and confusion within the Sikh dominions.
Ranjit Singh fell sick for some-time before his death during which he put his son Kharak Singh to administer the kingdom. Kharak Singh was neither capable nor possessed of any insight or foresight. The result was that even before the death of Ranjit Singh troubles began to brew up in the Sikh kingdom which took serious proportions after the death of Ranjit Singh.
Kharak Singh died within a year of his succession making the situation worse still. Nauni- hal Singh, son of Kharak Singh, died in an accident on the day following Kharak Singh’s death. Sher Singh, another son of Ranjit Singh, ascended the throne. But he also was assassinated in 1843. Thus within the short span of four years three of Ranjit Singh’s successors died one after another. The natural effect of this unsettled suite of affairs made the prevailing confusion in the Sikh kingdom worse confounded.
In the circumstances the Khalsa—the Sikh army—assumed political power of the state and they became the de facto ruler placing Dalip Singh, the youngest son of Ranjit Singh, a minor, on the throne as a mere show piece. Raja Lai Singh became the Vizier or the Minister and Sardar Tej Singh became the Commander-in-Chief. Queen Mother Jhindan became the regent of Dalip, Singh, unrestrained by any strong authority and conscious of its power, the army became ungovernable. It was about this time that Lord Hardinge assumed charge as Governor-General.
8. Lord Hardinge, 1844-48:
Lord Ellenborough was succeeded by Lord Hardinge in 1844. He had military experience and was by nature a courageous personality. Hardly he had come as the Governor-General and hardly he had understood the situation when he entered into a war with the Sikhs.
First Anglo-Sikh War:
The Khalsa having tasted political power began to flout the Durbar of the State. The army having thus become unruly and furious became the greatest headache of the Durban which in its anxiety to get rid of this incubus devised a plan to induce it to invade the British Territory. For, this would consume the “super abundant energies” of the Sikh army.
This view of the Durbar’s anxiety to get rid of the dreaded Khalsa army was first advanced by P. E. Roberts. He remarks that “Rani Jhindan found her only hope of security in urging it (Khalsa) to challenge the British supremacy. Either it would spend its super-abundant energy in a career of conquest and the sovereignty of Hindustan would pass to the Sikhs, or it would be shattered in the conflict and she could then make her own place with the offended British nation”. P. E. Robert’s view has been shared by many other writers.
But if English attitude towards Punjab as revealed in the contemporary correspondence of the English be taken into consideration then Rani Jhindan’s device to get rid of the ungovernable Khalsa by a suicidal course of provoking the English will be proved not so convincing. In 1838 a few years before Ranjit Singh’s death W. G. Osborne wrote “one course to pursue after Ranjit Singh’s death is the instant occupation of the Punjab by an overwhelming force and establishment of our north-western frontier on the Indus. The East India Co. has swallowed too many camels to strain at this gnat”. Again Lord Auckland in 1840 wrote “With many of our statesmen and with all our soldiers there is a strong impatience for possession of the Punjab.” What delayed action was the Afghan affair. The desirability of crushing the Singhs, macadamizing the Punjab and annexation of Peshwar “was pointed out by him.”
9. Lord Dalhousie (1848-56):
In the history of British India administration of Lord Dalhousie was as important as memorable. Before his appointment as Governor-General he had joined the British Council of Ministers as the President of the Board of Trade. Too much stress of work as the President of the Board of Trade had affected his health and his hectic activities for eight years as the Governor-General of India ruined his health and he died a premature death.
Lord Dalhousie’s period of administration as Governor General was one of the most decisive in the history of British India. “It was period of intense activity, and consolidation, a period of tremors foreshadowing the earthquake of Indian Mutiny.”
Lord Dalhousie is known more for his policy of imperialistic expansionism. But there was no lack of willingness on his part to undertake beneficent reform measures. Although a sunburnt imperialist he was one of the most dutiful and efficient of the Governor Generals.
Lord Dalhousie’s imperialistic policy had three distinct lines of action, namely:
(i) Expansion of British Indian territories by war,
(ii) Occupation of native states by application of the Doctrine of Lapse,
(iii) Taking over of administration of native states on grounds of maladministration.
(i) In 1848 Lord Hardinge had entered into-an agreement with the Sikhs by which the minor king Dalip Singh of Punjab virtually came under the British influence. But within a short time the Sikhs became restive of the British influence and trouble started in Punjab. This began with the murder of British agent at Multan. Lord Dalhousie had to enter into the Second Sikh War.
The Second Sikh War:
Dewan Mulraj was the governor of Multan. Although he was legally subordinate to the Maharaja of Punjab, he virtually ruled as an independent ruler. The British Resident controlled Regency Council at Lahore which was carrying on administration on behalf of Dalip Singh, demanded accounts of income and expenditure from Mulraj. This enraged Mulraj and he offered to resign. A substitute was appointed in his place and was sent by the British Resident at Lahore with an army escort under the leadership of two British officers Vans Agnew and Anderson. As the British officers reached Multan with the newly appointed ruler of Multan, Mulraj got them killed and retained his control over Multan. The Sikhs also became rebellious (April, 1848).
The Afghans also joined this rebellion in order to recover Peshawar from the British Lord Dalhousie declared war against Punjab and sent General Lord Hugh Gough with twenty thousand soldiers and one hundred cannons. A contingent was also requisitioned from Bombay and kept in readiness for reinforcing General Gough’s army if necessary.
In the meantime Lt. Herbert Edwards raised troop of local men and invaded Multan. Mulraj was compelled to take shelter in the fort of Multan. British Resident at Lahore Sir Henry Lawrence sent a contingent under Sher Singh against Mulraj. But Sher Singh joined hands with Mulraj and began to fight against the British.
Lord Gough at first took the field against Sher Singh but could not defeat him in the engagement near Ramnagar. This was followed by the battle of Chilianwala (1849) in which although the British forces fared well to start with were ultimately defeated the hands of the Sikhs. The Sikhs could not, however, maintain their success and the war came to an end almost indecisively. Soon after this, the British troops succeeded in occupying Multan and they were joined by the British troops stationed at Multan.
This was followed by a battle on the river Chenub in the town called Gujarat in which the Sikhs were completely defeated. They left the battlefield and fled towards Afghanistan. Lord Gough avenged the defeat at Chilianwala by his victory at Gujarat. Peshawar was occupied by the British and Sher Singh also surrendered.
Lord Dalhousie did not wait for the opinion of the Court of Directors, nor did he consult his Council in taking steps to occupy whole of Punjab. The minor Maharaja Dalip Singh was deposed and compelled to accept a pension of 50 thousand pounds annually. Sikh Khalsa, that is, the army was disbanded and the Sikhs were totally disarmed. As a result of the annexation of Punjab, the north-western frontiers of the British dominions in India extended to the borders of Afghanistan.
Punjab was placed under a Chief Commissioner and its administration was handed over to experienced and efficient officers like John Lawrence, Herbert Lawrence, Richard Temple, Nicholson etc. A line of fortresses and a number of cantonments were set up along the north-western borders of India for the security of the British Indian Empire. Dalhousie suppressed robberies, slavery etc. and by excavating canals, improving agriculture, constructing new roads and by improving internal administration Dalhousie effected an overall improvement of Punjab.
He also had reformed the judicial system of Punjab, established schools and encouraged the people of Punjab to live a peaceful life. The peace and prosperity that had come to Punjab as a result of the British rule earned the gratitude of the Sikhs and they unhesitatingly helped the British in the Second Anglo-Burmese War and in the suppression of the Revolt of 1857.
The Second Anglo-Burmese War:
After the First Anglo-Burmese War (1826) arrangements were made for the appointment of a British Resident at Burma. The Burmese were habitually anti-British and when they began to show their anti-British attitude openly, the British Resident was ordered to leave Burma in 1840.
But in 1851 some British traders were manhandled by the Burmese and they also suffered in their trade. Lord Dalhousie demanded adequate compensation from the Burmese Government and in demanding the compensation British. Commodore Lambert occupied a vessel belonging to the Burmese government.
The Burmese replied by firing their guns on Lambert’s vessel. This was the beginning of the Second Anglo-Burmese War. In 1852 (April 14) Rangoon was occupied by the British forces. The same year in October General Godwin occupied Prome. As the Burmese king did not agree to come to terms with the British, Dalhousie declared that the whole of Pegu was within the British empire. Thus the entire coastal areas from Chittagong to Singapore came within the British Empire. The Burma’s access to the sea was also closed and she became dependent on the British good-will.
Occupation of a Part of Sikkim:
In 1849 the king of Sikkim, a small kingdom between Nepal and Bhutan, took Dr. Campbell and Dr. Hooker as captives. In retaliation Lord Dalhousie occupied a small part of Sikkim in 1850.
Annexation by Application of the Doctrine of Lapse:
Lord Dalhousie was out and out an imperialist. With him the main policy of the British rule in India was to extend the British empire by means fair or foul. He developed the Doctrine of Lapse to deny the Indian rulers their immemorial right to adopt an heir in the absence of a natural one. In fact, he had extended the British Indian empire most by the application of this doctrine.
The meaning of this doctrine was that Indian States under British or States created by the British would escheat to the British empire if there would be no natural heir. These states would not be permitted to bequeath the inheritance to any adopted son.
It was customary with the British to grant special permission for taking adopted sons by those rulers of the Indian states, who would have no natural heir. Lord Dalhousie denied this immemorial custom to adopt an heir thereby went against the accepted principle and policy of the British for long time. By turn of events, it so happened that during the administration of Lord Dalhousie several rulers of the Indian States died without any heir which gave him opportunity to apply his Doctrine of Lapse and bring their states within the British Empire.
It may be mentioned here that the Doctrine of Lapse was not brain-child of Lord Dalhousie. In 1834 the Court of Directors sent a directive to the Governor General that permission for adoption of heir must not be easily granted to the rulers of the states under the Company. Again in 1841 the Court of Directors sent instruction that the Company must not lose any opportunity to expand British territories in India by any means just and honourable. All this leaves us in no doubt that although the infamous Doctrine of Lapse is associated with the name of Lord Dalhousie, it was already mooted by the Court of Directors and Dalhousie was not its originator. What he did was to develop it.
The Governor Generals who preceded Dalhousie whereas did not think it fit to implement the principle, Dalhousie applied it roundly and widely and got his name associate with it. He did not allow the little least chance to slip and applied and even misapplied the doctrine disregarding the time honoured customs, sentiments and legitimate rights of the Indians.
The first state to be annexed by application of the Doctrine of Lapse was Satara. It was in 1818 that the kingdom of Satara was created by the Company. In 1848 the king of Satara died without a natural heir but he had adopted a son without the permission of the Company. Lord Dalhousie declared the adoption illegal as having been taken without the permission of the Company and annexed Satara to the British Indian empire.
The Court of Directors gave their, fullest support to Dalhousie as it appears from their despatch to the-Governor General. “We are fully satisfied that by the general law’ and custom of India a dependent principality like that of Satara, cannot pass to an adopted heir without the consent of the Paramount Power.”
Next came the turn of Sambalpur. In 1850 the king of Sambalpur died without leaving any heir. Lord Dalhousie occupied Sambalpur and annexed it to the Company’s territories. In 1853 the last ruler of the Bhonsle house died without leaving a natural heir.
This gave Lord Dalhousie an opportunity to annex Nagpur. Nagpur was not a state created by the Company, but as the king had adopted an heir without the permission of the Company, Nagpur was occupied by Lord Dalhousie. Nagpur occupied a strategic position being situated between Calcutta and Bombay, Bombay and Madras. This aspect of the importance of Nagpur was not lost sight of by Dalhousie. Imperialistic expansionism was the underlying policy in annexation of Nagpur by Dalhousie.
In 1853 the king of Jhansi died, but Lord Dalhousie disregarded the claim of the adopted son of the late king and annexed Jhansi. Under similar conditions Bhagat, Udaipur, Jaitpur, Karauli etc. were annexed to the Company’s territories by Lord Dalhousie. Bhagat and Udaipur were, however, later returned to the heirs of the ruling houses by Lord Canning. The annexation of Karauli was also found to be illegal and was returned to the ruling dynasty. Karauli was neither created by the Company nor was under the Company by any agreement. It was a Protected Ally, hence the annexation was declared illegal.
Lord Dalhousie by the application of his Doctrine of Lapse- stopped the allowance of Dhundhupantli, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II. Dhundhu Panth is better known as Nana Shaib. Lord Wellesley annexed Tanjore and Carnatic, but arranged for payment of pension to rulers of these two kingdoms. Lord Dalhousie stopped the pension of the rulers of Tanjore and Carnatic and thereby threw into the four winds the solemn promise of the British government.
Annexation of Native States on Grounds of Maladministration:
The third principle by the application of which Lord Dalhousie annexed native states was the plea of maladministration. In 1856 Lord Dalhousie annexed Oudh on the ground of maladministration. The genesis of maladministration was Wellesley’s application of terms of the Subsidiary Aliance on the Nawab of Oudh.
The Nawab of Oudh could not maintain administrative discipline and efficiency as he had become totally dependent on the British army and was under the control of the British Resident. Yet it was on the plea of maladministration that Lord Dalhousie with the consent of the Court of Directors annexed Oudh to the Company’s territories.
The Nizam of Hyderabad became incapable to paying the arrear of the expenses for the maintenance of the British soldiers in Nizam’s dominions by the Company. Lord Dalhousie compelled the Nizam to hand over Berar to the Company in liquidation of the arrears.
Reforms of Lord Dalhousie:
Lord Dalhousie was a reformer of the Utilitarian mould and did not adhere to any abstract political theory or ideology. He was an active moderniser. He expanded the area of direct British rule. He considered the remaining native states to be anachronistic, and would have been delighted to annex them all. Primarily, however, Dalhousie was determined to transform India into modern state.
(i) He created all-India departments to deal with civil engineering works, railways, telegraphs, post office etc. Utilitarian principles of uniformity of management and unity of, authority were noticed in his reform measures,
(ii) Although it may appear paradoxical, an imperialist of Lord Dalhousie’s stamp, had encouraged transformation of the Legislative Council into a sort of a parliament and advocated the appointment of Indian members to the Council,
(iii) He expropriated lands from the landlords without proper title to their estates. In the Deccan alone some twenty thousand estates were confiscated,
(iv) The school established by Drinkwater Bethune did not receive much support after his death in 1851. Lord Dalhousie financed the institution from his own pocket till 1856 when it was taken over by the government, and became the first institution in India dedicated to female education. Under Dalhousie’s direction the Bengal Council of Education was instructed to encourage female education. Dalhousie sanctioned James Thomason’s plans for an engineering college as Roorki.
(v) Rebuilding of the Grand Trunk Road was begun under Dalhousie, canals were vastly extended and the mighty Ganges canal was finished in 1854.
(vi) The Meriah abomination was extirpated in Dalhousie’s time.
Dalhousie’s Responsibility for the Revolt of 1857:
Impartial historians have held Lord Dalhousie largely responsible for the Revolt of 1857. He was an uncompromising imperialist and expanded the areas of British rule in India and would have been delighted to bring all native states under the British. In his policy of imperialistic expansionism, he did not care for any moral principle or political farsightedness.
The Doctrine of lapse was mooted by the Court of Directors, but the Governor Generals preceding Dalhousie did not venture to disregard the time-honoured Indian custom of adoption of heir by numbers where was no natural one. They were also guided by their own judgement and sense of morality and justice.
They therefore did not implement the Doctrine of Lapse despite directives from the Court of Directors. But Lord Dalhousie did not hesitate to disregard the Hindu customs of time immemorial with regard to adoption nor did he care for the Indian sentiments. He believed that the larger the number of the native states brought under the British the greater would be the number of the subjects of the native rulers who would enjoy the benefit of the British rule.
He occupied Satara, Nagpur and stopped the allowance of Nana Sahib, thus putting an end to three of the five Maratha states. He also discontinued the allowance of the ruling houses of Tanjore and Carnatie. He annexed Oudh on the plea of maladministration. The narrow selfishness and unnecessary repression demonstrated by the British at the time of occupation of Nagpur and Oudh roused the universal hatred towards the British.
The British had carried away not only gems and furniture from the Nagpur palace but also the cows, horses, elephants etc. of the ruling house of Nagpur. Despite the protest of the octogenarian Queen mother of Nagpur the British did not hesitate to take away the furniture from the royal palace.
This depredation roused a feeling of hatred in the neghbouring kingdoms of Nagpur. The same kind of barbarous conduct was repeated at the time of the occupation of Oudh. The members of the Nawab family were thrown out into the streets and the door of the roval treasury was forced open and all treasures taken away. This conduct while damaged the prestige of the Nawab of Oudh to his own people. It tarnished the name of the British government and the British people.
Above activities of Lord Dalhousie created a sense of fear among the native princes and the British intention of friendliness towards them became suspect. They naturally revolved in their minds the question that if the British could behave as they did with loyal dependent states like Nagpur and Oudh, what would happen to other states?
Dalhousie made Nana Sahib and the Rani of Jhansi inveterate enemies or the British and thereby prepared the path for the Revolt Of 1857 by stopping the allowance of the former and annexing the kingdom of the latter. True that the Revolt of 1857 did not breakout before Dalhousie had left India, but the stage was set for the Revolt by his policy of imperialistic expansionism disregarding the age long customs of the people and by carrying of depredations on the royal palaces of Nagpur and Oudh. Dalhousie cannot escape sharing in a large measure the responsibility for the Revolt of 1857.
10. Lord Canning (1856-62):
Lord Canning assumed charge as Governor General early in 1856. He was the son of the former British Prime Minister Lord Canning. Before coming to India as Governor General he was for some time a member of the British Parliament as well as of the British Council of Ministers in which capacities he had opportunities to acquire political experience. The greatest event of the period of his administration was the Revolt of 1857.
The year in which Lord Canning reached India (1856) the Crimean War began. In this war England took the side of Turkey in order to save her from the grab of Russia. In 1857, the haughty temperament of the British merchants and their high-handedness in China gave rise to the Anglo-Chinese War. Lord Palmerston was terribly afraid of Russian expansion towards India and Lord Canning allowed his north-western frontier policy to be influenced by Lord Palmerston’s Russo-phobia.
In 1856 Persia occupied Herat. This made the British government very much unnerved. It was thought that Persia would eventually occupy whole of Afghanistan and might threaten the security of India. The British government sent instruction to Canning to send a military expedition to the Persian Gulf.
This expedition was highly successful and the expeditionary force succeeded in occupying Bushire. Having been defeated in several engagements, the Persian forces were compelled to leave Herat and pledged not to follow any policy of invasion against Afghanistan. Soon after this the British empire in India was shaken to its foundation as a result of the Revolt of 1857.