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India Under British Rule Essay Format

The history of the British Raj refers to the period of British rule on the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947 The system of governance was instituted in 1858 when the rule of the East India Company was transferred to the Crown in the person of Queen Victoria (who in 1876 was proclaimed Empress of India). It lasted until 1947, when the British provinces of India were partitioned into two sovereign dominion states: the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan, leaving the princely states to choose between them. The two new dominions later became the Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (the eastern half of which, still later, became the People's Republic of Bangladesh). The province of Burma in the eastern region of the Indian Empire had been made a separate colony in 1937 and became independent in 1948.


For the earlier history of India, see Company rule in India and Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Effects on the economy[edit]

In the latter half of the 19th century, both the direct administration of India by the British crown and the technological change ushered in by the industrial revolution, had the effect of closely intertwining the economies of India and Great Britain.[1] In fact many of the major changes in transport and communications (that are typically associated with Crown Rule of India) had already begun before the Mutiny. Since Dalhousie had embraced the technological change then rampant in Great Britain, India too saw rapid development of all those technologies. Railways, roads, canals, and bridges were rapidly built in India and telegraph links equally rapidly established in order that raw materials, such as cotton, from India's hinterland could be transported more efficiently to ports, such as Bombay, for subsequent export to England.[2] Likewise, finished goods from England were transported back just as efficiently, for sale in the rising(burgeoning) Indian markets.[3] However, unlike Britain itself, where the market risks for the infrastructure development were borne by private investors, in India, it was the taxpayers—primarily farmers and farm-labourers—who endured the risks, which, in the end, amounted to £50 million.[4] In spite of these costs, very little skilled employment was created for Indians. By 1920, with a history of 60 years of its construction, only ten per cent of the "superior posts" in the railways were held by Indians.[5]

The rush of technology was also changing the agricultural economy in India: by the last decade of the 19th century, a large fraction of some raw materials—not only cotton, but also some food-grains—were being exported to faraway markets.[6] Consequently, many small farmers, dependent on the whims of those markets, lost land, animals, and equipment to money-lenders.[6] More tellingly, the latter half of the 19th century also saw an increase in the number of large-scale famines in India. Although famines were not new to the subcontinent, these were particularly severe, with tens of millions dying,[7] and with many critics, both British and Indian, laying the blame at the doorsteps of the lumbering colonial administrations.[6]

  • Lord Ripon, the Liberal Viceroy of India, who instituted the Famine Code

  • The Agra canal (c. 1873), a year away from completion. The canal was closed to navigation in 1904 to increase irrigation and aid in famine-prevention.

  • Railway map of India in 1909. Railway construction in India had begun in 1853.

  • A 1903 stereographic image of Victoria Terminus, Bombay, by Underwood and Underwood. The station was completed in 1888.

Beginnings of self-government[edit]

The first steps were taken toward self-government in British India in the late 19th century with the appointment of Indian counsellors to advise the British viceroy and the establishment of provincial councils with Indian members; the British subsequently widened participation in legislative councils with the Indian Councils Act 1892. Municipal Corporations and District Boards were created for local administration; they included elected Indian members.

The Indian Councils Act 1909 – also known as the Morley-Minto Reforms (John Morley was the secretary of state for India, and Gilbert Elliot, fourth earl of Minto, was viceroy) – gave Indians limited roles in the central and provincial legislatures, known as legislative councils. Indians had previously been appointed to legislative councils, but after the reforms some were elected to them. At the centre, the majority of council members continued to be government-appointed officials, and the viceroy was in no way responsible to the legislature. At the provincial level, the elected members, together with unofficial appointees, outnumbered the appointed officials, but responsibility of the governor to the legislature was not contemplated. Morley made it clear in introducing the legislation to the British Parliament that parliamentary self-government was not the goal of the British government.

The Morley-Minto Reforms were a milestone. Step by step, the elective principle was introduced for membership in Indian legislative councils. The "electorate" was limited, however, to a small group of upper-class Indians. These elected members increasingly became an "opposition" to the "official government". The Communal electorates were later extended to other communities and made a political factor of the Indian tendency toward group identification through religion.

World War I and its causes[edit]

World War I would prove to be a watershed in the imperial relationship between Britain and India. 1.4 million Indian and British soldiers of the British Indian Army would take part in the war and their participation would have a wider cultural fallout: news of Indian soldiers fighting and dying with British soldiers, as well as soldiers from dominions like Canada and Australia, would travel to distant corners of the world both in newsprint and by the new medium of the radio.[8] India's international profile would thereby rise and would continue to rise during the 1920s.[8] It was to lead, among other things, to India, under its own name, becoming a founding member of the League of Nations in 1920 and participating, under the name, "Les Indes Anglaises" (The British Indies), in the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp.[9] Back in India, especially among the leaders of the Indian National Congress, it would lead to calls for greater self-government for Indians.[8]

In 1916, in the face of new strength demonstrated by the nationalists with the signing of the Lucknow Pact and the founding of the Home Rule leagues, and the realisation, after the disaster in the Mesopotamian campaign, that the war would likely last longer, the new Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, cautioned that the Government of India needed to be more responsive to Indian opinion.[10] Towards the end of the year, after discussions with the government in London, he suggested that the British demonstrate their good faith – in light of the Indian war role – through a number of public actions, including awards of titles and honours to princes, granting of commissions in the army to Indians, and removal of the much-reviled cotton excise duty, but most importantly, an announcement of Britain's future plans for India and an indication of some concrete steps.[10] After more discussion, in August 1917, the new Liberal Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, announced the British aim of "increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration, and the gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire."[10] This envisioned reposing confidence in the educated Indians, so far disdained as an unrepresentative minority, who were described by Montague as "Intellectually our children".[11] The pace of the reforms where to be determined by Britain as and when the Indians were seen to have earned it.[11] However, although the plan envisioned limited self-government at first only in the provinces – with India emphatically within the British Empire – it represented the first British proposal for any form of representative government in a non-white colony.

Earlier, at the onset of World War I, the reassignment of most of the British army in India to Europe and Mesopotamia had led the previous Viceroy, Lord Harding, to worry about the "risks involved in denuding India of troops."[8]Revolutionary violence had already been a concern in British India; consequently in 1915, to strengthen its powers during what it saw was a time of increased vulnerability, the Government of India passed the Defence of India Act, which allowed it to intern politically dangerous dissidents without due process and added to the power it already had – under the 1910 Press Act – both to imprison journalists without trial and to censor the press.[12] Now, as constitutional reform began to be discussed in earnest, the British began to consider how new moderate Indians could be brought into the fold of constitutional politics and simultaneously, how the hand of established constitutionalists could be strengthened.[12] However, since the reform plan was devised during a time when extremist violence had ebbed as a result of increased war-time governmental control and it now feared a revival of revolutionary violence,[11] the government also began to consider how some of its war-time powers could be extended into peace time.[12][12]

Consequently, in 1917, even as Edwin Montagu announced the new constitutional reforms, a sedition committee chaired by a British judge, Mr. S. A. T. Rowlatt, was tasked with investigating war-time revolutionary conspiracies and the German and Bolshevik links to the violence in India,[13][14][15] with the unstated goal of extending the government's war-time powers.[10] The Rowlatt committee presented its report in July 1918 and identified three regions of conspiratorial insurgency: Bengal, the Bombay presidency, and the Punjab.[10] To combat subversive acts in these regions, the committee recommended that the government use emergency powers akin to its war-time authority, which included the ability to try cases of sedition by a panel of three judges and without juries, exaction of securities from suspects, governmental overseeing of residences of suspects,[10] and the power for provincial governments to arrest and detain suspects in short-term detention facilities and without trial.[16]

With the end of World War I, there was also a change in the economic climate. By year's end 1919, 1.5 million Indians had served in the armed services in either combatant or non-combatant roles, and India had provided £146 million in revenue for the war.[17] The increased taxes coupled with disruptions in both domestic and international trade had the effect of approximately doubling the index of overall prices in India between 1914 and 1920.[17] Returning war veterans, especially in the Punjab, created a growing unemployment crisis[18] and post-war inflation led to food riots in Bombay, Madras, and Bengal provinces,[18] a situation that was made only worse by the failure of the 1918–19 monsoon and by profiteering and speculation.[17] The global influenza epidemic and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 added to the general jitters; the former among the population already experiencing economic woes,[18] and the latter among government officials, fearing a similar revolution in India.[19]

To combat what it saw as a coming crisis, the government now drafted the Rowlatt committee's recommendations into two Rowlatt Bills.[16] Although the bills were authorised for legislative consideration by Edwin Montagu, they were done so unwillingly, with the accompanying declaration, "I loathe the suggestion at first sight of preserving the Defence of India Act in peace time to such an extent as Rowlatt and his friends think necessary."[10] In the ensuing discussion and vote in the Imperial Legislative Council, all Indian members voiced opposition to the bills. The Government of India was nevertheless able to use of its "official majority" to ensure passage of the bills early in 1919.[10] However, what it passed, in deference to the Indian opposition, was a lesser version of the first bill, which now allowed extrajudicial powers, but for a period of exactly three years and for the prosecution solely of "anarchical and revolutionary movements," dropping entirely the second bill involving modification of the Indian Penal Code.[10] Even so, when it was passed the new Rowlatt Act aroused widespread indignation throughout India and brought Mohandas Gandhi to the forefront of the nationalist movement.[16]

Montagu-Chelmsford Report 1919[edit]

Meanwhile, Montagu and Chelmsford themselves finally presented their report in July 1918 after a long fact-finding trip through India the previous winter.[20] After more discussion by the government and parliament in Britain, and another tour by the Franchise and Functions Committee for the purpose of identifying who among the Indian population could vote in future elections, the Government of India Act 1919 (also known as the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms) was passed in December 1919.[20] The new Act enlarged the provincial councils and converted the Imperial Legislative Council into an enlarged Central Legislative Assembly. It also repealed the Government of India's recourse to the "official majority" in unfavourable votes.[20] Although departments like defence, foreign affairs, criminal law, communications and income-tax were retained by the Viceroy and the central government in New Delhi, other departments like public health, education, land-revenue and local self-government were transferred to the provinces.[20] The provinces themselves were now to be administered under a new dyarchical system, whereby some areas like education, agriculture, infrastructure development, and local self-government became the preserve of Indian ministers and legislatures, and ultimately the Indian electorates, while others like irrigation, land-revenue, police, prisons, and control of media remained within the purview of the British governor and his executive council.[20] The new Act also made it easier for Indians to be admitted into the civil service and the army officer corps.

A greater number of Indians were now enfranchised, although, for voting at the national level, they constituted only 10% of the total adult male population, many of whom were still illiterate.[20] In the provincial legislatures, the British continued to exercise some control by setting aside seats for special interests they considered cooperative or useful. In particular, rural candidates, generally sympathetic to British rule and less confrontational, were assigned more seats than their urban counterparts.[20] Seats were also reserved for non-Brahmins, landowners, businessmen, and college graduates. The principal of "communal representation", an integral part of the Minto-Morley Reforms, and more recently of the Congress-Muslim League Lucknow Pact, was reaffirmed, with seats being reserved for Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, and domiciled Europeans, in both provincial and Imperial legislative councils.[20] The Montagu-Chelmsford reforms offered Indians the most significant opportunity yet for exercising legislative power, especially at the provincial level; however, that opportunity was also restricted by the still limited number of eligible voters, by the small budgets available to provincial legislatures, and by the presence of rural and special interest seats that were seen as instruments of British control.[20]

Round Table Conferences 1930-31-32[edit]

The three Round Table Conferences of 1930–32 were a series of conferences organised by the British Government to discuss constitutional reforms in India. They were conducted according to the recommendation of Muslim leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah to the Viceroy Lord Irwin and the Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald,[21][22] and by the report submitted by the Simon Commission in May 1930. Demands for swaraj, or self-rule, in India had been growing increasingly strong. By the 1930s, many British politicians believed that India needed to move towards dominion status. However, there were significant disagreements between the Indian and the British leaders that the Conferences could not resolve.[23]

Willingdon imprisons leaders of Congress[edit]

In 1932 the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, after the failure of the three Round Table Conferences (India) in London, now confronted Gandhi's Congress in action. The India Office told Willingdon that he should conciliate only those elements of Indian opinion that were willing to work with the Raj. That did not include Gandhi and the Indian National Congress, which launched its Civil Disobedience Movement on 4 January 1932. Therefore, Willingdon took decisive action.[24] He imprisoned Gandhi. He outlawed the Congress; he rounded up all members of the Working Committee and the Provincial Committees and imprisoned them; and he banned Congress youth organisations. In total he imprisoned 80,000 Indian activists. Without most of their leaders, protests were uneven and disorganised, boycotts were ineffective, illegal youth organisations proliferated but were ineffective, more women became involved, and there was terrorism, especially in the North-West Frontier Province. Gandhi remained in prison until 1933.[25][26] Willingdon relied on his military secretary, Hastings Ismay, for his personal safety.[27]

Communal Award: 1932[edit]

MacDonald, trying to resolve the critical issue of how Indians would be represented, on 4 August 1932 granting separate electorates for Muslims, Sikhs, and Europeans in India and increased the number of provinces that offered separate electorates to Anglo-Indians and Indian Christians. Untouchables (now known as the Dalits) obtained a separate electorate. That outraged Gandhi because he firmly believed they had to be treated as Hindus. He and Congress rejected the peoposal, but it went into effect anyway.[28]

Government of India Act (1935)[edit]

In 1935, after the failure of the Round Table Conferences, the British Parliament approved the Government of India Act 1935, which authorized the establishment of independent legislative assemblies in all provinces of British India, the creation of a central government incorporating both the British provinces and the princely states, and the protection of Muslim minorities.[3] The future Constitution of independent India would owe a great deal to the text of this act.[29] The act also provided for a bicameral national parliament and an executive branch under the purview of the British government. Although the national federation was never realized, nationwide elections for provincial assemblies were held in 1937. Despite initial hesitation, the Congress took part in the elections and won victories in seven of the eleven provinces of British India,[30] and Congress governments, with wide powers, were formed in these provinces. In Great Britain, these victories were to later turn the tide for the idea of Indian independence.[30]

World War II[edit]

Main article: India in World War II

India played a major role in the Allied war effort against both Japan and Germany. It provided over 2 million soldiers, who fought numerous campaigns in the Middle East, and in the India-Burma front and also supplied billions of pounds to the British war effort. The Muslim and Sikh populations were strongly supportive of the British war effort, but the Hindu population was divided. Congress opposed the war, and tens of thousands of its leaders were imprisoned in 1942–45.[31][32][33] A major famine in eastern India led to hundreds of thousands of deaths by starvation, and remains a highly controversial issue regarding Churchill's reluctance to provide emergency food relief.[34]

With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, declared war on India's behalf without consulting Indian leaders, leading the Congress provincial ministries to resign in protest. The Muslim League, in contrast, supported Britain in the war effort; however, it now took the view that Muslims would be unfairly treated in an independent India dominated by the Congress. Hindus not affiliated with the Congress typically supported the war. The two major Sikh factions, the Unionists and the Akali Dal, supported Britain and successfully urged large numbers of Sikhs to volunteer for the army.[35]

Quit India movement or the Bharat Chodo Andolan[edit]

The British sent a high level Cripps' mission in 1942 to secure Indian nationalists' co-operation in the war effort in exchange for postwar independence and dominion status. Congress demanded immediate independence and the mission failed. Gandhi then launched the "Quit India" movement in August 1942, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the British from India or face nationwide civil disobedience. Along with thousands of other Congress leaders, Gandhi was immediately imprisoned, and the country erupted in violent local episodes led by students and later by peasant political groups, especially in Eastern United Provinces, Bihar, and western Bengal. According to John F. Riddick, from 9 August 1942 to 21 September 1942, the Quit India movement:

attacked 550 post offices, 250 railway stations, damaged many rail lines, destroyed 70 police stations, and burned or damaged 85 other government buildings. There were about 2,500 instances of telegraph wires being cut....The Government of India deployed 57 battalions of British troops to restore order.[36]

The police and Army crushed the resistance in a little more than six weeks; nationalist leaders were imprisoned for the duration.[37]

Bose and the Indian National Army (INA)[edit]

With Congress leaders in jail, attention also turned to Subhas Chandra Bose, who had been ousted from the Congress in 1939 following differences with the more conservative high command;[38] Bose now turned to Germany and Japan for help with liberating India by force.[39] With Japanese support, he organised the Indian National Army, composed largely of Indian soldiers of the British Indian army who had been captured at Singapore by the Japanese, including many Sikhs as well as Hindus and Muslims. Japan secret service had promoted unrest in South east Asia to destabilise the British War effort,[40] and came to support a number of puppet and provisional governments in the captured regions, including those in Burma, the Philippines and Vietnam, the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (Free India), presided by Bose.[41] Bose's effort, however, was short lived; after the reverses of 1944, the reinforced British Indian Army in 1945 first halted and then reversed the Japanese U Go offensive, beginning the successful part of the Burma Campaign. Bose's Indian National Army surrendered with the recapture of Singapore; Bose died in a plane crash soon thereafter. The British demanded trials for INA officers, but public opinion—including Congress and even the Indian Army—saw the IRA as fighting for Indian independence and demanded a termination. Yasmin Khan says, "The INA became the real heroes of the war in India." After a wave of unrest and nationalist violence the trials were stopped.[42][43][44][45]


Britain borrowed everywhere it could and made heavy purchases of munitions and supplies in India during the war.[46] Previously India owed Britain large sums; now it was reversed.[47] Britain's sterling balances around the world amounted to £3.4 billion in 1945; India's share was £1.3 billion (equivalent to $US 74 billion in 2016 dollars.)[48][49] In this way the Raj treasury accumulated very large sterling reserves of British pounds that was owed to it by the British treasury. However, Britain treated this as a long-term loan with no interest and no specified repayment date. Just when the money would be made available by London was an issue, for the British treasury was nearly empty by 1945. India's balances totalled to Rs. 17.24 billion in March 1946; of that sum Rs. 15.12 billion [£1.134 billion] was split between India and Pakistan when they became independent in August 1947. They finally got the money and India spent all its share by 1957.[50]

Transfer of Power[edit]

In January 1946, a number of mutinies broke out in the armed services, starting with that of RAF servicemen frustrated with their slow repatriation to Britain.[51] The mutinies came to a head with mutiny of the Royal Indian Navy in Bombay in February 1946, followed by others in Calcutta, Madras, and Karachi. Although the mutinies were rapidly suppressed, they found much public support in India and had the effect of spurring the new Labour government in Britain to action, and leading to the Cabinet Mission to India led by the Secretary of State for India, Lord Pethick Lawrence, and including Sir Stafford Cripps, who had visited four years before.[51]

Also in early 1946, new elections were called in India in which the Congress won electoral victories in eight of the eleven provinces.[52] The negotiations between the Congress and the Muslim League, however, stumbled over the issue of the partition. Jinnah proclaimed 16 August 1946, Direct Action Day, with the stated goal of highlighting, peacefully, the demand for a Muslim homeland in British India. The following day Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in Calcutta and quickly spread throughout India. Although the Government of India and the Congress were both shaken by the course of events, in September, a Congress-led interim government was installed, with Jawaharlal Nehru as united India's prime minister.

Later that year, the Labour government in Britain, its exchequer exhausted by the recently concluded World War II, decided to end British rule of India, and in early 1947 Britain announced its intention of transferring power no later than June 1948.

As independence approached, the violence between Hindus and Muslims in the provinces of Punjab and Bengal continued unabated. With the British army unprepared for the potential for increased violence, the new viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, advanced the date for the transfer of power, allowing less than six months for a mutually agreed plan for independence. In June 1947, the nationalist leaders, including Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad on behalf of the Congress, Jinnah representing the Muslim League, B. R. Ambedkar representing the Untouchable community, and Master Tara Singh representing the Sikhs, agreed to a partition of the country along religious lines. The predominantly Hindu and Sikh areas were assigned to the new India and predominantly Muslim areas to the new nation of Pakistan; the plan included a partition of the Muslim-majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal.

Many millions of Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu refugees trekked across the newly drawn borders. In Punjab, where the new border lines divided the Sikh regions in half, massive bloodshed followed; in Bengal and Bihar, where Gandhi's presence assuaged communal tempers, the violence was more limited. In all, anywhere between 250,000 and 500,000 people on both sides of the new borders died in the violence.[53] On 14 August 1947, the new Dominion of Pakistan came into being, with Muhammad Ali Jinnah sworn in as its first Governor General in Karachi. The following day, 15 August 1947, India, now a smaller Union of India, became an independent country with official ceremonies taking place in New Delhi, and with Jawaharlal Nehru assuming the office of the prime minister, and the viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, staying on as its first Governor General.

See also[edit]


  1. ^(Stein 2001, p. 259), (Oldenburg 2007)
  2. ^(Oldenburg 2007), (Stein 2001, p. 258)
  3. ^ ab(Oldenburg 2007)
  4. ^(Stein 2001, p. 258)
  5. ^(Stein 2001, p. 159)
  6. ^ abc(Stein 2001, p. 260)
  7. ^(Bose & Jalal 2003, p. 117)
  8. ^ abcdBrown 1994, pp. 197–198
  9. ^Olympic Games Antwerp 1920: Official ReportArchived 5 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine., Nombre de bations representees, p. 168. Quote: "31 Nations avaient accepté l'invitation du Comité Olympique Belge: ... la Grèce – la Hollande Les Indes Anglaises – l'Italie – le Japon ..."
  10. ^ abcdefghiBrown 1994, pp. 203–204
  11. ^ abcMetcalf & Metcalf 2006, p. 166
  12. ^ abcdBrown 1994, pp. 201–203
  13. ^Lovett 1920, pp. 94, 187–191
  14. ^Sarkar 1921, p. 137
  15. ^Tinker 1968, p. 92
  16. ^ abcSpear 1990, p. 190
  17. ^ abcBrown 1994, pp. 195–196
  18. ^ abcStein 2001, p. 304
  19. ^Ludden 2002, p. 208
  20. ^ abcdefghiBrown 1994, pp. 205–207
  21. ^Wolpert, Stanley (2013). Jinnah of Pakistan (15 ed.). Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-19-577389-7. 
  22. ^Wolpert, Stanley (2012). Shameful Flight (1st ed.). Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-19-906606-3. 
  23. ^Students' Britannica India. 2000. p. 309. 
  24. ^John F. Riddick (2006). The History of British India: A Chronology. Greenwood. p. 110. 
  25. ^Brian Roger Tomlinson, The Indian National Congress and the Raj, 1929–1942: the penultimate phase (Springer, 1976).
  26. ^Rosemary Rees. India 1900–47 (Heineman, 2006) p 122
  27. ^Ismay, Hastings (1960). The Memoirs of General Lord Ismay. New York: Viking Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-8371-6280-5. 
  28. ^Helen M. Nugent, "The communal award: The process of decision‐making." South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 2#1–2 (1979): 112–129.
  29. ^(Low 1993, pp. 40, 156)
  30. ^ ab(Low 1993, p. 154)
  31. ^Srinath Raghavan, India's War: World War II and the Making of Modern South Asia (2016).
  32. ^Yasmin Khan, India At War: The Subcontinent and the Second World War (2015).
  33. ^Lawrence James, Raj: the making and remaking of British India (1997) pp 545–85
  34. ^Madhusree Mukerjee, Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II (2010).
  35. ^Robin Jeffrey (2016). What's Happening to India?: Punjab, Ethnic Conflict, and the Test for Federalism. Springer. pp. 68–69. 
  36. ^John F. Riddick, The History of British India: A Chronology (2006) p 115
  37. ^Srinath Raghavan, India's War: World War II and the Making of Modern South Asia (2016) pp 233–75.
  38. ^Nehru 1942, p. 424
  39. ^(Low 1993, pp. 31–31)
  40. ^Lebra 1977, p. 23
  41. ^Lebra 1977, p. 31, (Low 1993, pp. 31–31)
  42. ^Khan, Raj at War pp 304–5.
  43. ^Chaudhuri 1953, p. 349
  44. ^Sarkar 1983, p. 411
  45. ^Hyam 2007, p. 115
  46. ^Dharma Kumar, ed., The Cambridge Economic History of India: Volume 2, c.1751–c.1970 Edited by Dharma Kumar, The Cambridge Economic History of India The Cambridge Economic History of India Volume 2, c. 1751–c. 1970 (1983) pp 640–42, 942–44.
  47. ^Srinath Raghavan, India's War: World War II and the Making of Modern South Asia (2016) pp 339–47 .
  48. ^See "Pounds Sterling to Dollars: Historical Conversion of Currency"
  49. ^Marcelo de Paiva Abreu, "India as a creditor: sterling balances, 1940–1953." (Department of Economics, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, 2015) online
  50. ^Uma Kapila (2005). Indian Economy. Academic Foundation. p. 23. 
  51. ^ ab(Judd 2004, pp. 172–173)
  52. ^(Judd 2004, p. 172)
  53. ^(Khosla 2001, p. 299)


Surveys and reference books[edit]

  • Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004), From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India, New Delhi and London: Orient Longmans. Pp. xx, 548., ISBN 81-250-2596-0 .
  • Bose, Sugata; Jalal, Ayesha (2003), Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy, London and New York: Routledge, 2nd edition. Pp. xiii, 304, ISBN 0-415-30787-2 .
  • Brown, Judith M. (1994), Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. xiii, 474, ISBN 0-19-873113-2 .
  • Buckland, C.E. Dictionary of Indian Biography (1906) 495pp full text
  • Copland, Ian (2001), India 1885–1947: The Unmaking of an Empire (Seminar Studies in History Series), Harlow and London: Pearson Longmans. Pp. 160, ISBN 0-582-38173-8 .
  • Judd, Dennis (2004), The Lion and the Tiger: The Rise and Fall of the British Raj, 1600–1947, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. xiii, 280, ISBN 0-19-280358-1 .
  • Kulke, Hermann; Rothermund, Dietmar (2004), A History of India, 4th edition. Routledge, Pp. xii, 448, ISBN 0-415-32920-5 .
  • Ludden, David (2002), India And South Asia: A Short History, Oxford: Oneworld Publications. Pp. xii, 306, ISBN 1-85168-237-6 
  • Markovits, Claude (ed) (2005), A History of Modern India 1480–1950 (Anthem South Asian Studies), Anthem Press. Pp. 607, ISBN 1-84331-152-6
British Prime Minister MacDonald to the right of Gandhi at the Second Round Table Conference in London, October 1931.
A cartoon from 1932 depicting Viscount Willingdon on a hunger strike against Gandhi
1909 Prevailing Religions, Map of British Indian Empire, 1909, showing the prevailing majority religions of the population for different districts.

1858: Beginning of the Raj

In 1858, British Crown rule was established in India, ending a century of control by the East India Company. The life and death struggle that preceded this formalisation of British control lasted nearly two years, cost £36 million, and is variously referred to as the 'Great Rebellion', the 'Indian Mutiny' or the 'First War of Indian Independence'.

Inevitably, the consequences of this bloody rupture marked the nature of political, social and economic rule that the British established in its wake.

It is important to note that the Raj (in Hindi meaning 'to rule' or 'kingdom') never encompassed the entire land mass of the sub-continent.

Two-fifths of the sub-continent continued to be independently governed by over 560 large and small principalities, some of whose rulers had fought the British during the 'Great Rebellion', but with whom the Raj now entered into treaties of mutual cooperation.

Indeed the conservative elites of princely India and big landholders were to prove increasingly useful allies, who would lend critical monetary and military support during the two World Wars.

Hyderabad for example was the size of England and Wales combined, and its ruler, the Nizam, was the richest man in the world.

They would also serve as political bulwarks in the nationalist storms that gathered momentum from the late 19th century and broke with insistent ferocity over the first half of the 20th century.

But the 'Great Rebellion' did more to create a racial chasm between ordinary Indians and Britons. This was a social segregation which would endure until the end of the Raj, graphically captured in EM Forster's 'A Passage to India'.

While the British criticised the divisions of the Hindu caste system, they themselves lived a life ruled by precedence and class, deeply divided within itself. Rudyard Kipling reflected this position in his novels. His books also exposed the gulf between the 'white' community and the 'Anglo-Indians', whose mixed race caused them to be considered racially 'impure'.


Government in India

While there was a consensus that Indian policy was above party politics, in practice it became embroiled in the vicissitudes of Westminster.

Successive viceroys in India and secretaries of state in London were appointed on a party basis, having little or no direct experience of Indian conditions and they strove to serve two masters. Edwin Montagu was the first serving secretary of state to visit India on a fact-finding mission in 1917-1918.

Broadly speaking, the Government of India combined a policy of co-operation and conciliation of different strata of Indian society with a policy of coercion and force.

The empire was nothing if not an engine of economic gain. Pragmatism dictated that to govern efficiently and remuneratively, 1,200 Indian civil servants could not rule 300 to 350 million Indians without the assistance of indigenous 'collaborators'.

However, in true British tradition, they also chose to elaborate sophisticated and intellectual arguments to justify and explain their rule.

On the one hand, Whigs and Liberals expounded sentiments most iconically expressed by TB Macaulay in 1833: 'that... by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government, that, having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future age, demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. ... Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English history.'

On the other hand, James Fitzjames Stephen, writing in the 1880s, contended that empire had to be absolute because 'its great and characteristic task is that of imposing on Indian ways of life and modes of thought which the population regards without sympathy, though they are essential to its personal well-being and to the credit of its rulers.'

What was less ambiguous was that it was the economic interests of Britain that were paramount, though as the 20th century progressed, the government in India was successful in imposing safeguards. For instance, tariff walls were raised to protect the Indian cotton industry against cheap British imports.


The Indian National Congress

The foundation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 as an all India, secular political party, is widely regarded as a key turning point in formalising opposition to the Raj.

It developed from its elite intellectual middle-class confines, and a moderate, loyalist agenda, to become by the inter-war years, a mass organisation.

It was an organisation which, despite the tremendous diversity of the sub-continent, was remarkable in achieving broad consensus over the decades.

Yet it was not a homogenous organisation and was often dominated by factionalism and opposing political strategies. This was exemplified by its splintering in 1907 into the so-called 'moderate' and 'extremist' wings, which reunited 10 years later.

Another example were the 'pro-changers' (who believed working the constitutional structures to weaken it from within) and 'no-changers' (who wanted to distance themselves from the Raj) during the 1920s.

There was also a split within Congress between those who believed that violence was a justifiable weapon in the fight against imperial oppression (whose most iconic figure was Subhas Chandra Bose, who went on to form the Indian National Army), and those who stressed non-violence.

The towering figure in this latter group was Mahatma Gandhi, who introduced a seismic new idiom of opposition in the shape of non-violent non-cooperation or 'satyagraha' (meaning 'truth' or 'soul' force').

Gandhi oversaw three major nationwide movements which achieved varying degrees of success in 1920-1922, 1930-1934 and in 1942. These mobilised the masses on the one hand, while provoking the authorities into draconian repression. Much to Gandhi's distress, self-restraint among supporters often gave way to violence.


Reasons for independence

The British Raj unravelled quickly in the 1940s, perhaps surprising after the empire in the east had so recently survived its greatest challenge in the shape of Japanese expansionism.

The reasons for independence were multifaceted and the result of both long and short term factors.

The pressure from the rising tide of nationalism made running the empire politically and economically very challenging and increasingly not cost effective. This pressure was embodied as much in the activities of large pan-national organisations like the Congress as in pressure from below - from the 'subalterns' through the acts of peasant and tribal resistance and revolt, trade union strikes and individual acts of subversion and violence.

There were further symptoms of the disengagement from empire. European capital investment declined in the inter-war years and India went from a debtor country in World War One to a creditor in World War Two. Applications to the Indian Civil Service (ICS) declined dramatically from the end of the Great War.

Britain's strategy of a gradual devolution of power, its representation to Indians through successive constitutional acts and a deliberate 'Indianisation' of the administration, gathered a momentum of its own. As a result, India moved inexorably towards self-government.

The actual timing of independence owed a great deal to World War Two and the demands it put on the British government and people.

The Labour party had a tradition of supporting Indian claims for self-rule, and was elected to power in 1945 after a debilitating war which had reduced Britain to her knees.

Furthermore, with US foreign policy pressurising the end of western subjugation and imperialism, it seemed only a matter of time before India gained its freedom.


Partition and religion

The growth of Muslim separatism from the late 19th century and the rise of communal violence from the 1920s to the virulent outbreaks of 1946-1947, were major contributory factors in the timing and shape of independence.

However, it was only from the late 1930s that it became inevitable that independence could only be achieved if accompanied by a partition. This partition would take place along the subcontinent's north-western and north-eastern boundaries, creating two sovereign nations of India and Pakistan.

Muslims, as a religious community, comprised only 20% of the population and represented great diversity in economic, social and political terms.

From the late 19th century, some of its political elites in northern India felt increasingly threatened by British devolution of power, which by the logic of numbers would mean the dominance of the majority Hindu community.

Seeking power and a political voice in the imperial structure, they organised themselves into a party to represent their interests, founding the Muslim League in 1906.

They achieved something of a coup by persuading the British that they needed to safeguard the interests of the minorities, a demand that fed into British strategies of divide and rule. The inclusion of separate electorates along communal lines in the 1909 Act, subsequently enlarged in every successive constitutional act, enshrined a form of constitutional separatism.

While there is no denying that Islam and Hinduism were and are very different faiths, Muslims and Hindus continued to co-exist peaceably. There were, however, occasional violent outbursts which were driven more often than not by economic inequities.

Even politically, the Congress and the League cooperated successfully during the Khilafat and Non Cooperation movements in 1920-1922. And Muhammad Ali Jinnah (the eventual father of the Pakistani nation) was a Congress member till 1920.

Although Congress strove to stress its secular credentials with prominent Muslim members - for example, Maulana Azad served as its president through World War Two - it is criticised for failing to sufficiently recognise the importance of a conciliatory position towards the League in the inter-war years, and for its triumphant response to Congress's 1937 election victory.

The Muslim League advocated the idea of Pakistan in its annual session in 1930, yet the idea did not achieve any political reality at the time. Furthermore, the League failed to achieve the confidence of the majority of the Muslim population in the elections of 1937.


Hasty transfer of power

The lack of confidence in the Muslim League among the Muslim population was to be dramatically reversed in the 1946 elections.

The intervening years saw the rise of Jinnah and the League to political prominence through the successful exploitation of the wartime insecurities of the British, and the political vacuum created when the Congress ministries (which had unanimously come to power in 1937) resigned en masse to protest at the government's unilateral decision to enter India into the war without consultation.

The rejuvenated League skilfully exploited the communal card. At its Lahore session in 1940, Jinnah made the demand for Pakistan into its rallying cry. The ensuing communal violence, especially after Jinnah declared 'Direct Action Day' in August 1946, put pressure on the British government and Congress to accede to his demands for a separate homeland for Muslims.

The arrival of Lord Louis Mountbatten as India's last viceroy in March 1947, brought with it an agenda to transfer power as quickly and efficiently as possible. The resulting negotiations saw the deadline for British withdrawal brought forward from June 1948 to August 1947.

Contemporaries and subsequent historians have criticised this haste as a major contributory factor in the chaos that accompanied partition. Mass migration occurred across the new boundaries as well as an estimated loss of a million lives in the communal bloodbaths involving Hindus, Muslims and also Sikhs in the Punjab.

The final irony must remain that the creation of Pakistan as a land for Muslims nevertheless left a sizeable number of Muslims in an independent India making it the largest minority in a non-Muslim state.


Find out more


Inventing Boundaries: gender, politics and the Partition of India edited by Mushirul Hasan (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000)

Pakistan as a peasant utopia: the communalization of class politics in East Bengal, 1920-1947 by Taj ul-Islam Hashmi (Boulder, Colorado; Oxford: Westview, 1992)

The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the demand for Pakistan by Ayesha Jalal (Cambridge University Press, 1985)

The Partitions of Memory: the afterlife of the division of India edited by S. Kaul (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001)

Borders & boundaries: women in India's partition by Menon, Ritu & Bhasin, Kamla (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1998)

Remembering Partition: violence, nationalism and history in India by Gyanendra Pandey (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

'Reviews: The high politics of India's Partition: the revisionist perspective' by Asim Roy (Modern Asian Studies, 24, 2 (1990), pp. 385-415)