Administrative changes after 1858

Administrative changes after 1858

The Revolt of 1857 gave a severe jolt to the British administration in India and made its re-organization inevitable. The Government of India’s structure and policies underwent significant changes in the decades following the Revolt.

Changes in Administration

By the Act of Parliament of 1858, the power to govern India was transferred from the East India Company to the British Crown. The authority over India, wielded by the Directors of the Company and the Board of Control, was now to be exercised by a Secretary of State for India aided by a Council.

Under the Act, the government was to be carried on as before by the Governor-General who was given the title of Viceroy or Queen’s personal representative. The 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 Indian Council Act of 1861 enlarged the Governor’s Council for the purpose of making laws, which was known as the Imperial Legislative Council. The Governor-General was authorized to add to his Executive Council between six and twelve members of whom at least half had to be non-officials who could be Indian or English. The Imperial Council possessed no real powers. In other words, it had no control over the executive. Though non-official Indian members were added to the Council, they were thoroughly unrepresentative of the Indian people or of the growing nationalist opinion.

Provincial Administration

The British had divided India for administrative convenience into provinces, three of which- Bengal. Bombay and Madras- were known as Presidencies. The Presidencies were administered by a Governor and his Executive Council of three, who were appointed by the Crown. The other provinces were administered by Lieutenant Governor and Chief Commissioners appointed by the Governor-General.

After 1883, the administration was strictly centralized. But the extreme centralization proved to be harmful for the Government especially in the field of finance. The first step in the direction of separating central and provincial finances was taken in 1870 by Lord Mayo. The provincial governments were granted fixed sums out of central revenues for the administration of certain services like police, jails, education, medical services and roads and were asked to administer them as they wished. In 1877, Lord Lytton transferred, to the provinces, certain other heads of expenditure like Land Revenue, Excise, General Administration and Law and Justice. In 1882, all sources of revenue were divided into three- general, provincial, and those to be divided between the Centre and the provinces.

Local Bodies

Financial difficulties led the Government to further decentralize administration by promoting local government through municipalities and district boards. Local bodies like education, health, sanitation and water supply were transferred to local bodies that would finance them through local taxes. The local bodies consisted of elected non official members, presided over by an elected non-official chairman. However, the local bodies functioned just like departments of the government as the Government retained the right to exercise strict control over the activities of the local bodies.

Changes in the army

The Indian army was carefully re-organised after 1858, 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 ‘divide and rule’ so as to prevent its chance of uniting again in an anti-British uprising. A new section of army like Punjabis, Gurkhas and Pathans were recruited in large numbers.

Public Services

The Indians were excluded from the bureaucracy. All positions of power and responsibility in the administration were occupied by the members of the Indian Civil Service who were recruited through an annual competitive examination held in London. But the members of the Indians to join the coveted ranks of the I.C.S were negligible compared with that of the English entrants. The Indians suffered from numerous handicaps. The competitive examination was held in far away London. It was conducted through the medium of the alien English language. It was based on classical Greek and Latin learning. The maximum age for entry into the Civil Service was gradually reduced from 23 in 1859 to 19 in 1878. In other departments of administration the superior and highly paid posts were likewise reserved for British citizens. Under Indians pressure the different administrative services were gradually Indianised after 1918, but the positions of control and authority were still kept in British hands.

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.

Divide and Rule

After the Revolt of 1857 the British increasingly continued to follow their policy of divide and rule by turning the princes against the people, province against, 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 government service to create a split between the educated Hindus and Muslims. The Government promised official favor on a communal basis in return for loyalty and so played the educated Muslims against the educated Hindus.

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.


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