The British rule in India for about 200 years left behind it some permanent imprint in the socio-economic, political and cultural life of Indians.
Whatever developments political, administrative economic, social or intellectual-India witnessed during two centuries of British rule here were not planned by the colonial rulers out of any philanthropic mission for the welfare of Indians but were merely outcomes of the imperial rulers’ larger aim of keeping their hold over India and for promoting the political, economic or material interests of their own country.
Jawaharlal Nehru has rightly commented that “Changes came to India because of the impact of the west but these came almost in spite of the British in India.
They succeeded in slowing down the pace of those changes.” He further said that the most obvious fact is the sterility of British rule in India and twirling of Indian life by it.
Scholars expressed divergent views about the legacy of the British Rule to India which was started in 19th century and is still continuing. The British scholars and the Indian scholars hold different views relating to the contribution and legacy of the English to India. The English scholars like Alfred Loyal, J.F. Stephen, and W.W. Hunter opined that the modernization of India, growth of nationalism, efficient administration, modern education, Law and order was the Legacy of the English to the Indians. They even showered lavish praise on the British for converting India into a civilized nation. They did not pay any head to the economic exploitation of the British.
But the Indian Scholars like Dadabhai Nauroji, R.C. Dutta and many others do not accept the views of the British Scholars. They evaluated the Legacy of the British from the nationalistic point of view. They criticized the English as they disturbed the economic life of India. They destroyed the flourishing handicraft, trade and commerce. They put obstacles in the way of modernization by exploiting the rich economic resources of the country. They also spread the feeling of communalism among the Hindus and Muslims which ultimately led to the partition of India.
Of course both of these opinions are not true and the real truth lies between both of them. In fact, without the British rule, the modernization would have been impossible. So the contribution of the British towards the modernization of the country cannot be ignored. The Indian scholars do not accept this theory only because of the economic policy of British, their encouragement to the feeling of communalism and regionalism among the people. So we shall have to pick out some reliable solid facts to trace out the truth.
No doubt, India achieved her political unification under the British rule. Prior to the rule of the British, India was divided into a number of states and there was no unity among the rulers of different states. The rulers always fight against one another in order to establish their power. They lacked political unity which was the chief reason of their defeat against the British.
The British conquered all these states one after another and established an empire in India. The British had introduced a uniform system of administration throughout the country. Furthermore, introduction of the railways, telegraphs and unified postal system promoted mutual contact among the people. Undoubtedly, the British Liberated India from the medieval traditions and laid the foundations of modern administrative system in the country.
The credit of origin of administrative machinery also goes to the British rule. The post mutiny period witnessed the growth and development of this administrative system. The Indian Civil Service, the Indian Police Service, the Indian Audit and Account Service, the Indian Medical Service, the Indian Education Service, the Revenue and Judicial Service created an administrative machinery that not only shouldered the responsibility of the work of Government on a large scale but also dealt with the famine, plague, means of transport and communication, agricultural projects etc.
Credit goes to the British Government for the establishment of popular institutions. The Legislative Council was set up in 1853 and later enlarged in 1861 to induct some nominated members. With the Morley Minto reforms the provincial legislative councils began to reflect popular opinion. The principle of direct election for democracy was introduced in the Montague Chelmsford Act, The Government of India Act of 1935 made Provinces autonomous. Besides this, the local-self Government of Lord Ripon provided training for democratic and self governing institutions in higher level.
The credit of emergence of middle class also goes to the spread of English education during the British rule. Due to the English education, intellectual awakening took place among the middle class people. The intellectual middle class led the national movement and demanded self-rule for India.
The Indian Renaissance and several socio-religious movements of 19th century were the outcome of the reactions against the British rule and their atrocities. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Rama Krishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda worked a lot for the progress of Hindu religion, culture and society. Similarly, the Aligarh movement started by Sir Saiyad Ahmand Khan worked for the good of the Muslims and their progress.
All these movements paved the way for the modernisation of India. Many social evils were eradicated because of these movements European scholars like Max Muller William Jones, James prince and Indian scholars like R.G. Bhandarkar, Haraprasad Shastri, Rajendra Lal Mitra made the Indians conscious about the rich cultural heritage of India and their efforts injected new life and vigour into the benumbed limbs of the Indians thus their efforts also led the nation towards modernisation.
Another notable gift of the British to India is universal peace or freedom from external aggression and internal disorder.’ For the first time India witnessed such type of place which is very valuable for national growth. Thus we conclude that British rule contributed a lot for the progress of the Indians. The impact of western civilization was quite clear in Indian life, thought, dress, food and education etc. In the light of the above discussion, it is clear that British rule is responsible for the modernisation of the Indian civilization.
However, the people of India suffered a great loss in economic field. The economic policies adopted by the British transformed India’s economy into a colonial economy whose nature and structure were determined by the needs of the British economy.
They totally disrupted the basic economic pattern of India, i.e. self sufficient village economy. The economic policy of the British was subservient to their mother land, England. They followed the policy of economic exploitation towards India. With the outbreak of Industrial Revolution in England, the economic exploitation reached its climax.
Different kinds of raw materials were supplied from India to England. Ultimately India became a supplier of raw materials to England and the buyer of manufactured goods of England. It adversely affected the trade and commerce of the country.
The condition of the peasants became miserable. The ruin of rural artisan industries proceeded more rapidly once the railways were built. As D.H. Buchanan writes, “The armour of the isolated self sufficient village was pierced by the steel rail, and its life blood ebbed away.” Agriculture, trade, and industry of India were ruined badly and India became a poor country as at had never been.
Moreover, the British rule created the feeling of communalism, regionalism among the people of India, which led to the partition of the country. Partition of India is one of the worst results of the policy of the English. There is still tug of war between India and Pakistan for supremacy.
Thus, the British rule in India proved both beneficial and harmful in different spheres. In-fact whatever harm the British had done to India was only to safeguard their own interest and whatever advantage the Indians received from the British rule was the outcome of the efforts made by the leaders of national movement.