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Administrative changes after Revolt of 1857

Study Material > History

The Revolt of 1857 gave a severe jolt to the British administration in India and made its re-organization inevitable. Indian society, The Indian Government and the Indian economy all underwent significant changes in the decades following the Revolt. The Government of India Act of 1858 was passed in the wake of the Revolt of 1857. The act also known as the Act of the Good Government of India. Some of the features of this act are:

  1. Changes in Administration:
    1. In August 1858, the British Parliament passed an Act which put an end to the rule of the company and the control of the British Government in India was transferred to the British Crown.
    2. The Board of Control and the Court of Directors was abolished. It was replaced by the Secretary of State for India, assisted by a council. Thus the system of “Double Government” introduction by Pitts India Act of 1784, finally ended. The council of the Secretary of State was to be advisory and in most cases the initiative and the final decision remained with the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State was a member of the British Cabinet and as such was responsible to Parliament. Charles Wood was the first Secretary of States.
    3. The Governor-General received the title of Viceroy. He became the direct representative of the crown. Lord Canning became the first Viceroy of India. Act of 1858 provided that the Governor-General would have an Executive Council whose members were to act as heads of different departments and as his official advisers. The Council discussed all important matters and decided them by a majority vote; but the Governor –General had the power to override any important decision of the Council. In fact, gradually all power was concentrated in the Governor-General’s hands. The Indian Councils Act of 1861 enlarged the Governor-General’s Council for the purpose of making laws in which capacity it was known as the Imperial Legislative Council. The Imperial Legislative Council possessed no real powers and should not be seen as a sort of elementary or weak parliament. It was merely an advisory body. It could not discuss any important measure, and no financial measures at all, without the previous approval of the Government. It had no control over the budget. It could not discuss any important measure, and no financial measure at all, without the previous approval of the Government. It had no control over the budget. It could not discuss the actions of the administration; the Legislative Council had no control over the executive. Moreover, no bill passed by it could become an act till it was approved by the Governor-General. On top of all this, the Secretary of State could disallow any of its Acts.
    4. Thus the ultimate power over India remained with Parliament. No Indian had a voice in the India Council or the British Cabinet or Parliament. Indians could hardly even approach such distant masters. Under such conditions, Indian opinion had even less impact on government policy than before. On the other hand, British industrialists, merchants, and bankers increased their influence over the Government of India. This made the Indian administration even more reactionary than it was before 1858.
  2. Relations with princely state: After the Revolt of 1857 the British reversed their policy towards the Indian states. Most of the Indian princes had not only remained loyal to the British but had actively aided the latter in suppressing the Revolt. As Lord Canning the Viceroy, put it, they had acted as “breakwaters in the storm”. Their loyalty was now rewarded with the announcement that their right to adopt heirs would be respected and the integrity of their territories guaranteed against future annexation. The experience of the Revolt had convinced the British authorities that the princely states could serve as useful allies and supporters in case of popular opposition or revolt. as firm props of British rule in India. However, the British made it clear that the princes ruled their states merely as agents of the British crown. The princes accepted this subordinate position and willingly became junior partners in the empire because they were assured of their continued existence as rulers of their states. It was, therefore, decided to use the pricely states a firm props of British rule in India
  3. Government attitudes towards the zamindars: After the revolt, the British changed their attitudes towards the zamindars and landlords to use them as a dam against the rise of popular and nationalist movement. The lands of most of the talukdars of Awadh were restored to them. The zamindars and landlords were now hailed as the traditional and ‘natural’ leaders of the Indian people. Their interest and privilege were protected. They were secured in the possession of their land at the cost of the peasants and were utilised as counter weights against the nationalist-minded intelligentsia. and they, in turn, became the firm supporters of British rule in India. The zamindars and landlords in return recognised that their position was closely bound up with the maintenance of British rule and became its only firm supporters.
  4. Attitude towards Muslims: The land and property of Muslims was confiscated on a large scale and they were treated with suspicion and hostility. The British believed that they were responsible for the rebellion in a big way.
  5. Attitude towards Social Reforms: As a part of the policy of alliance with the conservative classes, the British abandoned their previous policy of helping the social reformers. They believed that their measures of social reform, such as the abolition of the custom of Sati and permission to widows to remarry, had been a major cause of the Revolt of 1857. They therefore gradually began to side with orthodox opinion and stopped their support to the reformers. Hence the British decided to respect the customary religious and social practices of the people in India.
  6. Divide and Rule: The unity displayed by Hindus and Muslims during the Revolt of 1857 had disturbed the foreign rulers. Hence they started following divide and rule policy rigorously by turning the princes against the people, province against province, caste against caste, group against groups, and, above all, Hindus against Muslims. Immediately after the revolt their suppressed Muslims, confiscated their lands and property on a large scale, and declared Hindus to be their favorite. After 1870, this policy was reversed and an attempt was made to turn Muslims against the nationalist movement. The Government cleverly used the attraction of government service to create a split along religious lines  among the educated Indians. Because of Industrial and commercial backwardness, the educated Indians depended almost entirely on government service. This led to keen competition among them for the available government posts. The Government utilised this competition to fan provincial and communal rivalry and hatred. The Government promised official favor on a communal basis in return for loyalty and so played the educated Muslims against the educated Hindus.
  7. Official services would be open to all without any discrimination of race or creed. To give expression to this pledge the Indian Civil Services Act of 1861 was passed, which provided for an annual competitive examination to be held in London for recruitment to the covenanted civil service.
  8. Changes in the army: The Indian army was carefully re-organised after 1857 revolt, most of all to prevent the recurrence of another revolt. Firstly, the domination of the army by its European branch was carefully guaranteed. The proportion of Europeans to Indians in the army was raised. The European troops were kept in key geographical and military positions. The crucial branches of artillery, tanks and armored corps were put exclusively in European hands. The Indians were strictly excluded from the higher posts. Till 1814, no Indian could rise higher than the rank of a subedar. Secondly, the organization of the Indian section of the army was based on the policy of “balance and counterpoise” or ‘divide and rule’ so as to prevent its chance of uniting again in an anti-British uprising. Discrimination on the basis of caste, region, and religion was practised in recruitment to the army. A fiction was created that Indians consisted of “martial” and “non-martial” classes. Soldiers from Avadh, Bihar, Central India, and South India, who had first helped the British conquer India but had later taken part in the Revolt of 1857, were declared to be non-martial. On the other hand, the Sikhs, Gurkhas, and Pathans, who had assisted in the suppression of the Revolt, were declared to be martial and were recruited in large numbers.
  9. Change in administrative policies: The British attitudes towards India and consequently, their policies in India changed for the worse after the Revolt of 1857. While before 1857 they had tried, however half heartedly and hesitatingly, to modernize India, they now consciously began to follow reactionary policies which were reflected in many fields.
  10. Government attitudes towards educated Indians: The official used to favor the educated Indians before 1857 but their attitudes changed after the Revolt because some of them have began to use their recently acquired modern knowledge to analyse the imperialistic character of British rule and to put forward demands for Indian participation in administration. The officials became hostile to the educated Indians when the latter began to organise a nationalist movement among the people and founded the Indian National Congress.
  11. Racial Antagonism: The British in India felt themselves to be racially superior. The Revolt of 1857 further widened the gulf between them. The British now began to openly assert the doctrine of racial supremacy and practise racial arrogance. Railway compartments, waiting rooms at railway stations, parks, hotels, swimming pools, clubs etc reserved for “Europeans Only” were visible manifestations of this racialism.

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