(Last Updated on : 10/03/2012)
Indian Princes during British rule were declared as trustworthy military associates, lauded them as natural leaders for their subjects. But the British colonial officials also criticized the Indian Princes as autocrats, rebuked them as extravagant and reckless. They also took adequate advantage of their generous hospitality. During the Indian freedom struggle
, Indian nationalists initially referred to the Indian princes as confirmation of the capability of Indians to administer and rule efficiently. The nationalists seldom required the financial support of the Princes for political organisations and associations during constitutional discussions and negotiations, but finally had labeled them as arbitrary autocrats.
After the independence of India, the Government appointed the various India Princes to different designation that varied from ambassadors to state governors. Moreover, the political parties nominated the previous princes as candidates for the central and state legislatures and selected them as ministers; where as the private entrepreneurs and public corporations endorsed the earlier princely capitals as international and domestic tourist destinations. Furthermore, the media also represented the Indian Princes and the Princely states as an essential element of the culture of India.
Most of the Indian Princes depicted a stability of traditional state formation in India and thus remained as autonomous rulers, who implemented significant power and authority within their respective states until the year 1948. The British imperialists neither formed the princely states as states nor reduce these states to theatre states where ritual was of utmost importance and governmental functions were demoted to imperial surrogates. Certainly the British power steadily restrained sovereign princely authority, particularly in communications, external affairs and defence. The Indian princes followed the British models and implemented their own policies and had complete criminal and civil judicial powers. Moreover they maintained internal law and order at different degrees, taxed their subjects, allocated state revenues, supported traditional and contemporary cultural activities and institutions etc.
During the 1820s, the British East India Company
, while consolidating its territorial possessions, diligently developed a reputedly rationalised list of princely states, which was more diligently pursued after the British officially assumed responsibility for the rule of India in the year 1858. The British classified of indirectly controlled regions as native states which was probably an attempt to understand the history and the present condition of the empire. British administrators were generating a category of Indian princely states that did not correspond to Indian notions of feasible political states. In 1929, a report created by the Indian States Committee mentioned 562 states.
According to various scholars, Indian Princes during British Imperialism had four distinct levels of political organisation, particularly during the 18th century namely the imperial, the secondary states, the regional spheres and the local level. Later this classification was compacted in to 3 basic levels- the imperial, the regional the local or little kingdoms. The Indian princely states which survived after the year 1858 comprised of some features, both colonial and indigenous, of autonomous status. Their superior rank was recognised in the 20th century by their inclusion in a British instituted advisory assembly known as the Chamber of Princes. The British officials expressed their objective of forming an imperial state during the early 19th century. States were classified into 3 major categories, namely
* The Antique States,
* The Successor States, and
* The Warrior or Conquest States.
The main responsibilities of the Indian Princes was to protect and conserve social formations which subsisted before the state, like the rituals, customs, activities, right and other privileges of communities, sects, castes, guilds and status orders. After the British East India Company attained the Diwani right to accumulate the revenues of Bengal
in 1765, they boarded on an extended alteration from trading enterprise to imperial power. First the British devised and then continued a system of indirect rule which facilitated them to appear as the dominant power by the year 1858. They were in control of around four fifths of the population and three fifths of the territory of the Indian subcontinent.
The Indian Princes and the British used each other in order to achieve their own goals with different levels of success. As the British were focused on gaining imperial dominance, the Indian princes looked for better authority over their internal allies and a larger share of local revenues. Even though the British forces were both oppressive and arbitrary, the astute Indian princes centralized their administrations and enhanced their share of local revenues. After 1858, British officials in India established various policies for the princely states which were based on precedents, labelled political practices that were reinforced with convenience. Although annexation of territory did not occur any further, the British administration continued to intervene, mostly in the recognition and deportation of unmanageable princes, but more often in relation to succession and minority administrations and other clashes between a Prince and his relatives.
As the nature of the British imperial power transformed, the Indian Princes themselves and the British officials developed new roles for the princes in India and for the over all progress of the British Empire
. The Indian Princes during British imperialism patronised religious institutions and patronized, sustained colleges that educated about western science and Indian religious learning. They extended munificence to underprivileged classes of people like scholarships for the scheduled castes or untouchables; medical aid for women etc. the princes also developed music, dance and visual arts in their courts and other public spheres. The Indian Princes utilised their autocratic power and religious and social status in order to strengthen their internal political control as their dominance was challenged by nationalism, political reform and communalism.
During the late 1920s, Indian nationalists and Indian princes sought revisions in their associations and affairs with the British imperial structure. From 1930 to 1948, various constitutional negotiations and discussions took place which led to the incorporation of the princely states into India and the newly formed region of Pakistan.