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Policy of Subordinate Isolation (1813-1857)

Policy of Subordinate Isolation (1813-1857)

The Indian states were supposed to act in subordinate cooperation with the British Government and acknowledge its supremacy. The States surrendered all forms of external sovereignty and retained full sovereignty in internal administration. The British Residents were transformed from diplomatic agents of a foreign power, to executive and controlling officers of a superior government.

In 1833, the Charter Act ended the Company’s commercial functions while it retained political functions. It adopted the practice of insisting on prior approval/sanction for all matters of succession.

In 1834, the Board of Directors issued guidelines to annex states wherever and whenever possible. This policy of annexation culminated in usurpation of six states by Dalhousie including some big states such as Satara and Nagpur.

Policy of Subordinate Union (1857-1935)

The year 1858 saw the assumption of direct responsibility by the Crown. Because of the states’ loyalty during the 1857 revolt and their potential use as breakwaters in political storms of the future, the policy of annexation was abandoned.

The new policy was to punish or depose but not to annex. After 1858, the authority of the Mughal emperor also ended; sanction for all matters of succession was required from the Crown since the Crown stood forth as the unquestioned ruler.

Now the ruler inherited not as a matter of right but as a gift from the paramount power, because the fiction of Indian states standing in a status of equality with the Crown as independent, sovereign states ended with the Queen adopting the title of “Kaiser-i-Hind” (Queen Empress of India).

The paramount supremacy of the Crown presupposed and implied the subordination of states. The British Government exercised the right to interfere in the internal spheres of states—partly in the interest of the princes, partly in the interest of people’s welfare, partly to secure proper conditions for British subjects and foreigners and partly in the interest of the whole of India. The British Government was further helped in this encroachment by modern developments in communication— railways, roads, telegraph, canals, post offices, press and public opinion.

The Government of India exercised complete and undisputed control in international affairs—it could declare war, peace or neutrality for states.

Curzon stretched the interpretation of old treaties to mean that the princes, in their capacity as servants of people, were supposed to work side-by-side with the governor-general in the scheme of Indian Government. He adopted a policy of patronage and “intrusive surveillance”. He thought the relation between the states and Government was neither feudal nor federal, a type not based on a treaty but consisting of a series of relationships having grown under different historical conditions that, in the course of time, gradually conformed to a single line.

The new trend seemed to reduce all states to a single type—uniformly dependent on the British Government and considered as an integral part of Indian political system. The  policy of cordial cooperation began to counter progressive and revolutionary developments in face of large-scale political unrests.

According to the recommendations of the Montford Reforms (1921), a Chamber of Princes (Narendra Mandal) was set up as a consultative and advisory body having no say in the internal affairs of individual states and having no powers to discuss matters concerning existing rights and freedoms.

The question of extent of sovereignty and Paramountcy was still undefined. The Butler Committee (1927) was set up to examine the nature of relationship between the states and Government.

Policy of Equal Federation

The policy of equal federation was introduced in the years 1935. Indian princes had been invited at the Round Table Conference during the years of 1930-32.

In the year 1935, the Indian government proclaimed the federal structure of the Indian state. The Government of India Act was passed in 1935. By this Act, the Indian states were to be allotted 125 out of 375 seats in the Federal Assembly and 104 out of 260 seats in the council of states. The Federation of India was to come into existence only when the rulers of the states representing not less than one-half of the total population of the state.

However the Policy of equal federation did not prove successful. The Federation never came into existence because the requisite number of states was not agreeing to joining it.

The Congress successes in the election of 1937 had effect on the states where the agitation started for civil liberties and responsible government. However, the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 finally shattered the federal scheme.

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