The Proudest Day: India's Long Road to Independence

By Anthony Read; David Fisher | Go to book overview

4
'The Mildest Form of Government is Despotism'

On I November 1858, Lord Canning, wearing court dress and riding a large black horse, emerged from the fort at Allahabad, leading a procession of civil and military officers in full dress uniforms. An honour guard of scarlet-clad Indians, each carrying a silver wand of office, escorted him to a raised platform shaded by a crimson cloth, where a gilded throne under a canopy of crimson and gold embroidered with the royal arms, awaited him. Field guns thundered a salute as he mounted the platform to read a long proclamation from Queen Victoria. When he had finished, the proclamation was read out again, this time in Urdu, for the benefit of the few Indians present. After another salute, Canning and his staff rode back into the fort, to prepare for a dinner and fireworks later that evening. That same day, the proclamation was read out in every British station in India.

The proclamation was the first official act of the new British Raj — the word raj means simply 'rule' in Hindi, but it was to take on a special connotation, coming to mean the entire British presence in India. The days of company rule were over. The company itself was no more, wound up by the Government of India Act, passed in London on 2 August 1858. India was now ruled by the British crown, through Parliament. The governor-general was given the additional title of viceroy: as the queen's deputy he took precedence over everyone except the sovereign, including other members of the royal family and the prime minister. He was still answerable to London, but the board of control and the company's court of directors were replaced by a secretary of state and his India council — India was and would remain the only colony with its own minister of the crown.

Queen Victoria's proclamation had, of course, been drawn up by the government in London, with the advice of many people, including Lord Canning and his senior civil servants. But the queen, then 38 years old and still happily married to and guided by the progressive Prince Albert, had taken a close personal interest in it. She had rejected the first draft out of hand, telling Lord Derby to

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The Proudest Day: India's Long Road to Independence
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Proudest Day - India's Long Road to Independence *
  • Contents *
  • List of Illustrations *
  • Glossary *
  • Maps *
  • Acknowledgements *
  • Prologue *
  • 1 - In Quiet Trade *
  • 2 *
  • 3 *
  • 4 *
  • 5 *
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  • 30 *
  • Epilogue *
  • Source Notes *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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