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The British Raj                            [1858 AD - 1947 AD]


The Revolt of 1857 severely jolted the British administration in India and forced its reorganisation. By the act of 1858, the governing power was transferred from the East India company to the British crown. This power was to be exercised by the Secretary of State for India (member of the British cabinet and responsible to Parliament) aided by an Indian Council, which had only advisory powers. For administrative purpose India was divided into three presidencies, namely, Bengal,Madras and Bombay Presidency. The interests of the British thus became paramount in the governance of India.

The policies and interests of the British in India were determined by the industrialists, the most powerful section in British society. Indian resources were also utilized to serve the interests of the British empire in other parts of the world and in costly wars.

The British Policy

The queen's proclamations of 1858, promised not to extend British territories in India by annexing Princely states and they were subordinated to the British government. By the act of 1876, Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India. This implied that Britain would protect the Indian states from internal as well as external danger and get the unlimited powers to intervene in the internal affairs of the State. Thus after 1857, India was divided into two parts - British India, directly governed by the British government and the Indian states ruled by Indian princes. Britishers gradually stopped their support to the reforms which resulted in the preservation of social evils. After 1857 mutiny, they followed the Divide and rule policy, in a aim to create a rift between the Indian Hindus and Muslims.

The impact of modern western culture brought into being a few movements which contributed much to the making of modern India. Many Indians realized that the reform of social institutions and religious outlook of people was a necessary pre-condition for the growth of national unity.

The Economic Impact

Indian economy was transferred into a colonial economy whose nature and structure was determined by the needs of the British economy. High revenue demands and rigid manners of collection forced peasants into the clutches of the moneylenders. Expanding population put greater pressure on land as there was no corresponding development of industry. Britain's policy of one-way free trade ruined India's urban and rural industries, which further added to the pressure on land.

Development of Transport and Trade

A cheap and easy system of transport was important for the flow of British ready made goods and the export of raw material to Britain on large scale. Roads were improved and steam ships were introduced. But real improvement came with the railways which started in 1853, between Bombay V.T. and Thane. In her trade with other countries, India usually maintained a favourable balance, which were used for paying off various kinds of dues charged on India by Britain.

Development of Industries

Upto 1914, Industrial development was mainly restricted in the production of export of those goods with the natural advantage (jute, tea etc.) and in those areas where competition with British counterparts was not serious (coarse goods). During the inter-war period of 1914 - 39, it was in the production of consumer goods for mass market within India, mainly due to war tariffs and depression. Finally the last decade of British rule from 1939-47, brought another phase - the production of capital goods for the domestic market.