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India History

Princely States and Provinces

The British ruled India with two administrative systems. One was ‘Provinces’ and the other ‘Princely States’. About 60% of the Indian sub-continent's territory were Provinces and 40% were Princely States. Provinces were British territories completely under British control. Princely States were states in British India with local ruler or king with honorary titles like Maharaja, Raja, Maharana, Rana, Nizam, Badshah and other such titles meaning king or ruler in different Indian languages. These rulers were subjected to the British Empire. These two types of administrative systems were the result of the British East India Company's attempt to annex the whole of Indian sub-continent and make it into a British territory.

The British East India Company arrived in India in 1600. They arrived in India for spice trade. India was then world famous for its spices. Some European rulers gave their country citizens charter to trade with the Indian sub-continent. A group of British businessmen got the charter from the British crown to trade with India. These businessmen named their trading company, 'East India Company'. When the representatives of the British East India Company arrived in India, representatives of other Europeans regimes were already trading with the Indian sub-continent. The Portuguese, who arrived in India in 1498 had strong business ties in the spice trade with different rulers in India. The Dutch also had strong business ties with different Indian rulers.

The Indian sub-continent was always a bunch of different entities ruling different parts in India. During the arrival of the British in India, the most dominant empire in the Indian sub-continent was the Moghul Empire. Their capitals were centered in the Delhi-Agra region. The Moghul Empire acted as patrons to many smaller kingdoms all over India. With the collapse of the Moghul Empire, which began in the 18th century, the different rulers became semi-independent and they began searching for other patrons. The British East India Company began playing this status in many ways. The British East India Company, which arrived in India for spice trade found out that the Portuguese and the Dutch had strong holds in the spice trade. They therefore began searching for other trading options in India. They offered the different ruling families in India sophisticated agreements, which gave the British control over the management of the kingdoms, while the Indian rulers were rulers in official titles and spent most of their time having an extravagant life. According to one of the articles in the agreement between the East India Company and the Indian rulers, if the king did not have a son to inherit from him then the kingdom was transferred to the East India Company. The Company saw in the cheap Indian labor force an important factor to control India. Slowly the British began annexing Indian land and making it, East India Company's property. The British also established factories and began using the cheap Indian work force to enrich themselves.

Not all Indian rulers were happy with the British annexation process. Some of the Indian rulers began fighting the British East India Company. Among them were the Marathas in west India, the rulers of Mysore in south India and the Sikhs in north India. The British won in these wars against the local rulers and gave different status to the occupied land. A large part of the land captured from the Marathas by 1803 became part of province named Bombay. The East India Company directly ruled this province through a British representative. While in Mysore, in south India, the East India Company defeated and executed the ruler Tipu Sultan in 1799 and replaced him with another Indian ruling family which became popular among the local Indians. But in general the East India Company's policy was annexation of Indian territories and turning them into British property.

In 1857 a mutiny against the British arose in which, different rulers in India collaborated to defeat the British East India Company. This mutiny did not succeed and the British defeated their unorganized Indian rivals. After this mutiny the British crown took back the charter from the East India Company and began ruling India directly through a Viceroy. The British also stopped the process of annexing Indian territories and came to agreement with different ruling families in the Indian sub-continent which made these families rulers of their kingdoms. These kingdoms were called Princely States. In these Princely States the rulers were responsible for the interior administration of their kingdoms but they were subjected to British general policy. If necessary the British were entitled to interfere in the interior matters of these states. The different Princely States had different agreements with the British. Some even had their own state coins. Some Hindu rulers were titled as Rajas, Maharajas, Ranas etc. The Muslim rulers were titled as Nawab, Nizam and other titles.

When the British gave the Indian sub-continent independence in 1947 there were 562 Princely States. Some of them like Kashmir, Mysore and Hyderabad were as large as England. There were also smaller Princely states like Junagad, Udaipur, Janjira, Aundh and Cochin.

Along with the Princely States there were also 11 Provinces in British India. These Provinces were under direct British control. These Provinces were formerly Indian entities, which the British annexed from the Indian rulers, attached them together and turned them into British Provinces. Among these Provinces were Bombay, Madras, Bengal, Assam and United Provinces.


©Aharon Daniel

1999-2000

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