The Consolidation of Dominion: Illusion and Reality
Earlier historians whose framework of study was imperial history had little difficulty in seeing distinct phases in Indian history and marking clear dividing points in it. Their Eurocentric vision led them to chop up India's experience into segments suggested by British politics, institutions, and decisions: for example, the gaining of empire, 1757-1818, or the subsequent 'Age of Reform' inaugurated by Lord Bentinck's Governor-Generalship. But such clear periodization disappears when the observer shifts his focus to actual practice in India rather than proclaimed policy, whether the issue is the creation of a clear administrative system, the settlement of land rights and revenue obligations, or aspects of social reform. Nor does older periodization help if the historian's main interest lies in the historical experience of India's people in their own right, in Indian society's own dynamics and resources, and in interaction between that society and western influences, rather than in attempting to discern any simple impact of imperial rulers and their policies. Recognition of the interactive nature of this relationship and of its unevenness and diversity is a hallmark of recent historical study of India. It stems from detailed research by scholars exploring particular questions and the varied experiences of different regions, and drawing on Indian source materials unavailable to their predecessors. These reveal more fundamental patterns of stability and change than those discernable from the bare and often superficial record of imperial decisions; and underline the importance of Indian ideas, solidarities, and initiatives in the fashioning of a new regime and a new order.
This chapter will cover nearly a century of this interactive relationship, from 1765 to 1857/8--a century which was in a real sense a unity. These were years in which British political intrusion developed into full-scale imperial dominion: 1857/8 marked a significant challenge to this dominion, which was defeated, and the British position subsequently symbolized by the removal of the last Mogul emperor from his throne in Delhi. In the decades since acquiring the diwani in Bengal an all-India imperial structure had been consolidated. In this process of constructing institutions and networks of allies, the diverse British interest groups had been forced into new relations with each other, and constrained to face the complexities and dilemmas of peace and government rather than trade and war. Priorities