Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy

By Judith M. Brown | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
The Dilemmas of Dominion

The half century between the suppression of revolt in 1857 and the First World War was arguably one of the most decisive in India's history: a time critical for India's emergence as Asia's first democracy, with all its strengths and contradictions. It lacks the drama or towering personalities of the Mutiny or later nationalist movement, for Indian history in these years largely concerns the more mundane experiences of those, rulers and ruled, who lived and worked in the subcontinent. Both faced dilemmas posed by the new dominion. The new rulers faced problems generated by different and often conflicting interest groups among themselves--Whitehall in ambivalent relationship with Calcutta, British industrialists pressurizing the Government of India over its financial policies, expatriate planters and missionaries in uneasy political and social relationship with the civil and military officials who composed the raj's 'establishment'. More fundamental still were the dilemmas of administering India and financing the British structure of control; and, interwoven, the issues of British attitudes to and relations with different groups of Indians. Behind these obvious problems lay questions of India's worth to the British, and their duty to India and its peoples--questions to which answers were more often taken for granted than articulated. Indians also had to adjust their relationships with each other in the new context. Some long-established perceptions of identity, bonds, divisions, and patterns of dominance remained, others were eroded, and some new ones emerged in response to the British presence and its ramifications. Subjects had to react to their rulers: to decide whether to oppose or co-operate with them, to despise or copy them, or adopt different strategies in different areas of life. They also had to come to terms with the new influences and opportunities which accompanied British rule.

Such issues were posed at a time when India was experiencing unprecedented economic and political and, to a lesser extent, social change. Consequently they were not clear cut or static. India's history is therefore difficult to analyse as a whole. Under the surface of policy-making, routine administration, and the emergence of new political groups, interwoven changes were occurring in ideas, institutions, society, and the economy. By 1914-18 the British were consequently engaged in a much changed dominion, and having to fashion very different political strategies compared with

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