Sindias and the Raj is a study of the Sindia state of Gwalior during the colonial period. It traces the history of one the leading princely states of the British Indian empire, from its first major military encounter with the British at the beginning of the century, to the eve of the Revolt of 1857. In doing so the book explores the fascinating factional conflicts at the Gwalior durbar and the connections these had with the politics of the powerful Sindia army. It argues that the colonial subjugation of Gwalior was long-drawn process spread over nearly five decades and was not sufficiently achieved until the late 1850s-certainly not in 1818, as is often assumed by standard histories of the state. This resistance was largely due to the very strong tradition, in the Gwalior territories, of opposition to colonial intervention, as seen in a series of popular uprisings during the first half of the century culminating in the events of 1857l8. The tradition was reinforced by the assertiveness, vis-à-vis the East India Company, of the dominant section of its ruling which drew strength from a formidable fighting force comprising soldiers who upheld the legacy of the fierce turn-of-the-century Anglo-Maratha military conflict and which was sustained by a resilient economy that profited immensely from opium ‘smuggling’. These are all linkages that have hitherto remained unexplored.
Sindias and the Raj also examines the political economy of princely Gwalior, while paying close attention to the responses of various classes in the state to colonial intervention-responses ranging from outright collaboration to armed conflict. It also attempts a reappraisal of several facets of the history of Malwa in the colonial period, including the history of the Pindaris, and the trade in Malwa opium.
Amar Farooqui is Professor in the Department of History, University of Delhi. He taught history for many years at Hans Raj College, Delhi; and had been Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library , New Delhi. His publications include Early Social Formations (2002); Smuggling as Subversion: Colonialism, Indian Merchants and the Politics of Opium, 1790-1843 (new edition, 2005); Opium City: The Making of Early Victorian Bombay (2006); and Remembering Dr Gangadhar Adhikari: Life, Writing, Reminiscences (edited, 2000).
One of the Leading princely states of the British Indian empire, Gwalior belonged (along with Hyderabad, Kashmir, Mysore and Baroda) to the exclusive club of the ‘big five’ entitled to a twenty-one gum salute. This honour was a recognition its size (it was among the largest princely state by area) and strategic location, its historical importance as the principal Maratha state at the beginning of the nineteenth century when the Anglo-Maratha struggle entered its final stage, and-what was a crucial consideration in the post-Revolt period-the loyalty of the of the ruling family in 1857.
The making of princely Gwalior was a historical process whereby the state became an integral part of the British Indian empire under an arrangement known loosely as ‘indirect rule’. It gradually acquired the state of a ‘native state’ within the empire in the early nineteenth century. The term ‘princely state’ (hence, the somewhat incongruous ‘princely Gwalior’) is used in preference to ‘native state’ in the hope that the inferiority connoted by the colonial label ‘native’ might be avoided. Be that as it may, there was no ready-made formula for converting an independent political entity of the subcontinent into a ‘native state of India’. The imperial relationship with princely state was sought to be fixed. The Delhi Durbar of 1877 organized by Lord Lytton, which was an assemblage of princely rulers both big and small, became an occasion for systematizing the relationship between the princely state and the British-in fact, one of the earliest attempts to do so. William Lee-Warner’s the Native State of India, published in 1910, articulated the colonial interpretation of the constitutional position thus:
In other words, the fluid nature of the relationship was conceded even at the beginning of the twentieth century. By this time colonial officials had been trying for nearly half a century to work out a coherent conceptual framework within which the more than 500 princely states, covering about 40 per cent of the area of the subcontinent, could be placed and understood. The colonial state exhibited two contradictory tendencies in its approach to the princely state. On the one hand, it retried to and standardize the rules governing the relationship and on the other, it continuously adjusted its policies by modifying its conception of ‘indirect’ rule. Barbara Ramusack’s comprehensive study of princely state in colonial India underlines the constantly shifting strategies of British imperialism vis-à-vis the princes in response to changing situations.
As part of the long-term objective of depriving the princely rules any room for manoeuvre, a large amount easily accessible published material was placed at the disposal of colonial official to facilitate their dealings with the states. This included gazetteers; treatises such as Lee Warner’s volume on the ‘native’ state (obviously compulsory reading for officials of the political service assigned to princely state); and C.U Aitcison’s A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and Sanads, first published in 1862 and constantly updated until the end of the century. The act of placing these texts in the public domain itself significantly reduced element of fluidity in the relationship between the British and the princely states, rendering as hegemonic the colonial discourse on ‘paramountcy’. Paramountcy denoted British superiority in the relationship with princely states. The notion of paramountcy was designed to day agency to these states. All action emanated from the crown, or its representatives, so even the limited autonomy enjoyed by princely states was seen to be granted to them from outside. Placing a territory a territory under indirect rule was an option exercised by the paramount power without any reference to the concerned state.
Such an understanding of indirect rule, which informs much of the earlier histories writing on princely states, reflects, as Hira Singh has observed, ‘the tendency in historical analysis to privilege the metropolis’. According to him, ‘The problematic assumption is that the agency of doing, or not doing, anything in India … rested exclusively with European political economy’. Such a perspective can only give us a ‘one-sided view of the colonial encounter in which the Indian subjects are represented as mere objects of manipulation by the colonial –capitalist forces…’ . In his forceful critique of the concept of indirect rule, Singh notes that the tern suggests a one-way process in which the princely states (their rules and subjects) played no role whatsoever. Any meaningful analysis of the place of princely state in the British Indian empire has to take into account both resistance and collaboration by indigenous ruling elites of these state, which, in turn, were determined by the balance of class forces within the states. The states were, after all, also sites of contestation between the people and the indigenous elite. Some of the writings on princely states published in the last decade have explored the histories of these states in terms of their specific socio-economic structure, and the internal dynamics of their political histories.
This study of princely Gwalior looks at the state from within. It views its history in the first half of the nineteenth century from the perspective of class contradictions in the state and also at the contradictions between British imperialism and various sections of Gwalior society. Gwalior was no theatre state in Nicholas Dirks’ of ‘little kingdoms’ in colonial India as concerned entirely with empty rituals of royalty. It had a complex relationship with colonial power that involved conflict and collaboration, the struggles of the people, and constant improvisation in the political and economic spheres.
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