'Men who ruled India' could have gained a bit more of credibility by adding 'for 200 years' to the title. That actually is the problem with the Raj period. It is close to us, it is personal to a lot of people, both British and Indians and some tend to forget that the men who ruled 'India' go way back thousands of years. British Raj was merely a blip.
The idea of India as 'a Nation created by the Raj' was orchestrated by the British to make the occupation comfortable for them. It was a fable. Tra'Men who ruled India' could have gained a bit more of credibility by adding 'for 200 years' to the title. That actually is the problem with the Raj period. It is close to us, it is personal to a lot of people, both British and Indians and some tend to forget that the men who ruled 'India' go way back thousands of years. British Raj was merely a blip.
The idea of India as 'a Nation created by the Raj' was orchestrated by the British to make the occupation comfortable for them. It was a fable. Travels and concerns of Shankaracharya conform to India of today as a Nation a millenium back. You read the old Sanskrit texts, like Mrichhakatikam, and realize that India as a Nation existed more than a thousand years back. Abu Rehan (Al Beruni) confirms that too.
All this is the background against which Mason's book has to be considered and judged. Thus considered, and judged, unfortunately the real review has to be short. Mason is good with details and not so with conclusions. Nevertheless, please do read it for the references, if you are interested in that period of Indian history. ...more
India has a tradition several millennia old, of which the last two centuries wrought more change than all the others combined. A great part of this last period saw the country ruled by the British, who first came here as traders, then accumulated military power for the protection of trade from brigands who arose from the unsettled nature of affairs caused by the political vacuum of post-Mughal era, and who afterwards found it expedient to set their own rules and administer the country. This str India has a tradition several millennia old, of which the last two centuries wrought more change than all the others combined. A great part of this last period saw the country ruled by the British, who first came here as traders, then accumulated military power for the protection of trade from brigands who arose from the unsettled nature of affairs caused by the political vacuum of post-Mughal era, and who afterwards found it expedient to set their own rules and administer the country. This strange combination of factors is unique, as the British were unique in their deals with the conquered. Indian mainland had colonies, albeit very small, of the French and the Portuguese. These colonies were administered as part of metropolitan France or Portugal, but India was always separate from the home country for the Britishers, she was a jewel in the crown – a thing to show off, but then to be safely tucked away from the reaches of a predator. This book is about the founders and administrators who made the empire and ruled it, till at last the educated Indians found their hegemony resentful and the ‘guardians’ left the country for good. Philip Mason (1906 – 1999) was himself an English civil servant who joined the ICS in 1928 and served nearly two decades in India in many administrative capacities. Don’t read this book to know the history, read it only if you already are familiar with it which is essential for understanding the background on which Mason weaves his web of personalities. This book tells the story of the personnel who built up an empire and then dismantled it themselves, right from the arrival of William Hawkins in August 1608 to the departure of the last platoon of the Somerset Light Infantry in February 1948, which has more reason for pride than shame, as the author asserts. This book was first published as two volumes in 1954, titled the Founders and Guardians. This general bifurcation is still visible in the two main parts along which this volume is divided. The book is pleasant to read, but the author’s wit is heartier in the first part. Mason reiterates one fact repeatedly to drive home the point that the British never ruled India with an iron hand. At its most numerous, the Englishmen in India who administered the country numbered around 1200 as against the population of 300 million.
The first two parts of the narrative tells the story of how the English who came as merchants dug themselves in and assumed administrative control of Bengal, the richest province at that time, by the end of 18th century. We also learn about the excessive centralization of power and dispensation of officials at the mere whim of the emperor under Mughal rule. When the English landed at Surat in 1608 and wanted to build a warehouse (called factory in those times), no official in the local administration was competent enough to grant permission. Trade and commerce were incomprehensible entitites for the Mughals. William Hawkins trudged all the way to Agra to get proper sanction from Jehangir, who was too busy with heavy drinking and eating cartloads of opium. The officials, who were entrusted with the task of collecting revenue from villagers called zamindars, performed their duties only at the pleasure of the emperor. When he died, his employer inherited all worldly possessions of his subordinate and if the family had been lucky enough, they might hope to get some meager amount for their maintenance. The English East India Company stepped into this tumultuous state of affairs in the 18th century, when their power began to be felt around the middle of the century in India while the Mughal Empire slowly disintegrated into nothingness. Strange it might seem, but the first positive acquisition of the company was facilitated by the over ambition of Dupleix, the French governor who meddled freely in the internal tussles of Indian kings. Robert Clive led a force against Arcot and settled his nominee, Mohammed Ali, on the throne as Nawab in 1751. This marked the beginning of British dominance in India. When the century ended, we see the company establishing the right to collect taxes and conduct administration in the provinces of Bihar and Bengal and exercising civil and judicial powers. The country lay vulnerable to the forays of Afghans and Marathas, who tried to exploit the state of lawlessness caused by the weakness of Mughal Empire.
Mason’s moral justification for the establishment of British rule in India hinges on the benefits accrued to the populace who were reeling under anarchy, lawlessness or the law of a single man, excess demands of taxation and the inhuman superstitious rituals like Sati and human sacrifices. The British reduced the tax demand after assessing each plot and its crop-bearing capacity, but collected the revenue efficiently. Under the Mughals, the burden was far higher, but the net revenue to the state was less, as the peasants opposed them fervently. The British established the concept of ‘Rule of Law’, whereas the whims of one person controlled the destinities of the poor in earlier times. This was so alien to the Indian psyche that the rulers and the common folk alike could not digest the strange notion that the governor general or the resident who was the most powerful man on the subcontinent or the province couldn’t do what he wished! Attempts to curb the practice of Sati were opposed by Brahmins on the plea that it constituted an affront to Hinduism. This line is familiar to us even today. When reason revolted against a boorish religious ritual, conservatives fight against the intellectuals citing this same argument. Christianity faced this acid test in 18th century Europe, Hinduism did in the 19th and Islam is facing the challenge now. Opposition to light that reveals every dark corner in the religion’s cupboard comes out in the form of armed struggle or terrorist attacks, but it is certain that sooner, rather than later, the cold light of reason shall prevail. It must also be remembered that there were some genuine cases of voluntary immolation by grieving widows, which is mentioned in the text. By setting this glorious picture of an India that turned enlightened to some extent by British rule, Mason is compelled to explain why the people resented their rule, even though it was so magnificently benevolent for them. And his reasoning is far from convincing, because he argues that life became dull, since the law was predictable and brigands were suppressed. This looks as if the people were denied an adventurous life by British administration. Mason goes on to say that people looked at nearby princely states and longingly wished for the unexpected twists and turns of life over there.
The conqueror’s role changed to that of guardians after the Mutiny in 1857 to 1909, when serious reforms were contemplated to hand over ‘some power’ to Indian hands. The Mutiny came as a surprise to the British, though Mason observes symptoms pretty clearly with the benefit of hindsight. For about four months, the British Empire in India teetered on the edge of an abyss. The number of white soldiers in India was much less as compared to the rebels and minuscule when compared to the total native population. After the initial success of the mutineers, their decision to flock to Delhi and accept the overlordship of the last Mughal sultan proved to be their undoing. Indecision and ambivalence made the king to be equivocal. Meanwhile, the British strengthened their positions and greatly augmented their strength by importing soldiers. The siege of Delhi was the critical moment. As soon as the city fell, passive spectators who were keenly watching the state of affairs entered the fray on the side of the British, especially the Punjabi soldiers, whose kingdom was the latest in the long list to be annexed to the Raj. After the Mutiny was over, the distrust was soon overcome and the Indian Civil Service confidently undertook the burden of administration unmolested by considerable reforms. Several famines occurred during this period, particularly in Orissa in 1866, in which a large portion of the population perished, but that of Bihar in 1874 is reported to have dealt with decisive measures that helped to minimize deaths directly attributable to starvation.
It has been the pet fad of patriots in India to ascribe all responsibility of partitioning the country on religious lines on the shoulders of the British. ‘Divide and Rule’, they would say, was the policy of the colonialists. No body stops sufficiently long to examine this fallacious argument in more detail. Hindus and Muslims were two separate communities without any sense of common destiny at the time of partition. Except for a small section of the Muslims who had access to secular, universal education, most of Muslims and also the Hindus were illiterate or subjected to viciously partisan teaching at a local madrassah. Communal riots were common. Mason describes in blood chilling detail some incidents related to the Moplah Rebellion of Kerala in 1921, in which thousands of Hindus were mercilessly butchered in cold blood. Even though there have been attempts by pseudo-secularists to glorify this communal riot in which only one party suffered, as an episode in the freedom struggle, nothing can be farther from the truth in its wanton cruelty and mass conversion of Hindus to Islam. Mason remarks that victims were often skinned alive, and were forced to dig their own graves before they were mowed down (p.288). This was ethnic cleansing on a large scale and was crushed by the British. The stamping down had been so effective that no large scale violence was witnessed again in that area.
As the author subconsciously lets out, the British respected those tribes who were unlawful and uncivilized, but obeyed them after an initial struggle. He has sweet memories of the north eastern tribes who assisted them in the war against the Japanese, or the north western tribes who had a working relationship, though an uneasy one, with the British or even the fanatic Hurs of Sindh. It is said that the British were affectionate with them, but not so with the people of the mainland who never fully digested the strangeness of British rule and rebelled whenever an opportunity presented itself.
The book is graced with numerous colour and monochrome plates of paintings and photographs that are priceless in sharing an informative moment in the lives of the people depicted in them. A comprehensive index adds value to the material, which can’t be compared to the rigour of an academic publication.
a classic that gives a lot of the early English figures - though this is abridged version of his more thorough work. I am taking this one slowly. Enjoyed in the end but not for everyone - Only really of interest in modern Indian History
It's a subject which has intrigued me for some years now, how we're a handful of foreigners able to rule over millions of Indians for so long? Are the Indians inherently pliant and servile by nature? Or did the Indian see some clear benefit from the new master race?
The author starts from 1600, when the East India Company applied for their first warehouse in Surat from a drunken and debauched Emperor Jehangir. One of the first differences to be noted by English ambassador Hawkins was the natureIt's a subject which has intrigued me for some years now, how we're a handful of foreigners able to rule over millions of Indians for so long? Are the Indians inherently pliant and servile by nature? Or did the Indian see some clear benefit from the new master race?
The author starts from 1600, when the East India Company applied for their first warehouse in Surat from a drunken and debauched Emperor Jehangir. One of the first differences to be noted by English ambassador Hawkins was the nature of law in India, Kings word was law and his noble men were noble because they were his favourites, and also that Muslim law ran only when the Emperor wished. But surprisingly, the English started working within the Moghul law like any other local strongmen of the day, the only difference being that their allegiance lay with their parent company based in London.
The book doesn't disappoint for long as a base feature definition of an Englishman in India late 1780's... Proud and tenacious He feels himself a conqueror amongst vanquished people and looks down upon them. Indolent. A cool apathy a listless inattention and improvident carelessness accompanies most of his actions. Secure of today, he thinks not of tomorrow. Ambitious of splendour, he expends freely. Generosity is a feature of character. Minutely just and inflexibly upright even when prone to calumny & distractions. Matchless Integrity.
Another interesting historical cross-roads was the fact that in the early 1800's, a hot debate between colonisation and debate was waging in India. The debate was
whether large number of Englishmen invited to settle in the waste lands of India against the continuance of old education policy to educate the native Indians.
Fascinating that opting the later course changed the course of India instead of direct colonisation which could have resulted in another Africa or South America like India. It also demonstrates that colluding with the master race can have some benefits for the colonised races in the long run as opposed to fighting them incessantly.
I also found it fascinating that around the same time education to the ordinary was about the same standard in England as in India, where the government policy was to teach the people to read and write only, that implies that modern education foundation in India and England was kept around the same time. This clearly explains the huge number of Anglophiles in India, Pakistan, Sri-Lanka and Bangladesh.
This book has to be taken with a pinch of salt though as it harps on about how good the British overlords were for India and Indians only, with little mention of the revenues made from the tax collected directly because of the new developments. For example mentions of great changes and developments are made with great fanfare but any direct reference to benefits to the Company profits is masked slightly. The author squeamish attempt to portray Sepoy Mutiny as merely an army rebellion is a case in point. If the Mutiny was organised by Brahmins than why was the Moghul king in Delhi dishonoured and exiled to Rangoon? Why were all Muslims exiled from their homes for upto a period of three years after the fall of Delhi if the Mutiny was led by high caste Hindus? If the Mutiny was caused by the machinations of the upper cast Hindus than why did these Hindus decide to form a partnership with an almost defunct Mughuls who should have been equally hated by them? As the author slithers and justifies the 'local' nature of Mutiny I could almost feel the brevity of the chapter as he obviously wanted to get it over and done with as quickly as possible.
Mutiny brought the worst atrocities out of gallant English, in one incident alone a certain civil servant Cooper bound and killed around 286 mutinous soldiers in Amritsar. These ex-soldiers all hailing from central India were having first being subdued by local Sikh villagers were killed in batches of ten by an unapologetic Cooper citing that this wanton extermination was necessary as it probably saved the lives of thousands in the long run. Similar argument was later made by Dyer seventy years later.
Met the Titans of Punjab as well, Henry Lawrence, Herbert Edwards (Bannu) , John Nicholson (Rawalpindi), James Abbot (Hazara) , Lumsden (Yusufzai) , Reynel Taylor, George Lawrence, Vans Agnew and Arthur Cocks. Whatever their reason might have been, these select coterie of gentlemen with almost superhuman dedication and infinite amount of valour, were able to make lasting changes in the most arable province of India, affects of which can still be felt in the Punjab of now. The most significant park in Lahore is still Lawrence gardens and a whole city is named after Abbot called Abbotabad, now infamous after the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Bet Abbot sahib never imagined such fate.
By the end the author had made a pretty significant defence of the British takeover of India, and I stand convinced that all of the on e colonised benefited from the 350 year relationship between the two. Yes Britain benefited from the arrangement in trade and commerce but so did the Indians, for the education policy and for breaking g the archaic traditions like sati, daughter killings and human sacrifice. But most of all they learned about nationalism, which helped them attain independence. There is an understanding of sorts between the masters and slaves, that both needs are to me met. The relationship breaks if either one of them is not keeping their part of the bargain.
Also the way India and Pakistan got independence says a lot about different roads taken after independence as well. Hindus/Indians managed to construe a bigger country using democracy than their greatest leader Ashoka while Muslims/Pakistanis got a country by lobbying the British into giving them one. Funny how both countries choose to keep faith in democracy and lobbying even after so many years of independence!...more
A quite detailed expose of the English administrators, soldiers, traders, merchants who made up the British imperial tide washing over India, tracking their progress beginning from the 16th century through the gradual buildup and accumulation of territories by the EIC, the Mutiny and taking over by the Crown and so on till postwar Independence that marked the end of this jewel of the empire. Mason tells brief stories of all sorts of characters involved, from the famous to the lesser known, so itA quite detailed expose of the English administrators, soldiers, traders, merchants who made up the British imperial tide washing over India, tracking their progress beginning from the 16th century through the gradual buildup and accumulation of territories by the EIC, the Mutiny and taking over by the Crown and so on till postwar Independence that marked the end of this jewel of the empire. Mason tells brief stories of all sorts of characters involved, from the famous to the lesser known, so it requires some patience to sift through. The reader is rewarded with frequent broad brushstrokes giving overviews of the situation at various points over the 300+ years, but I would say this book would interest historians who are into specifics, rather than the general reading public looking for succinct insights. Attractive illustrations from the period are peppered throughout the book, bringing some of the themes to life....more
A great book for any Indian who wants to see both sides of a coin. Throughout all known works in India regarding the British rule, they have always been portrayed to be on the negative side.(Though which side they actually belonged to is not the point.) This book gives us an understanding of the British rule from the British perspective. A fine and extensive piece of work which enlightens a lot more than what is typically presumed to have occurred during the British times in India.
A nice look back at how British went into ruling our country, but from a different perspective. Enlightens us about the difficulties they had to face and problems they had to solve, which is often not said anywhere in the stories we hear about the British raj. Also, shows the differences among the different kingdoms that made the sub-continent and how it was advantageous to someone taking over.
Mason was an officer in the Indian Civil Service and his books were written almost to justify the British role in India. They were well written and accurate, and are now fascinating to see how the British felt about themselves in this colonial role
This book gives a clear insight about the British rule in India. An engrossing read put down in admirable style by the author. A must for anyone interested in history and India's past.Revealing, wish i had read it earlier.
From the obituary in The Independent: PHILIP MASON OBE, CIE will be remembered first and foremost as a writer of history, not of the exhaustively researched, academic kind addressed to fellow specialists, but sound, well-reflected, worldly-wise history, beautifully written and effortlessly read, such as appeals to people of experience in every walk of life. Less well-known, but no less important,From the obituary in The Independent: PHILIP MASON OBE, CIE will be remembered first and foremost as a writer of history, not of the exhaustively researched, academic kind addressed to fellow specialists, but sound, well-reflected, worldly-wise history, beautifully written and effortlessly read, such as appeals to people of experience in every walk of life. Less well-known, but no less important, was his career as an outstandingly able member of the Indian Civil Service during the 20 years leading up to Indian independence, and also his pioneering work in promoting the study of racial and minority problems as the founding director of the Institute of Race Relations.
He took a first class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Balliol College, Oxford. He joined the Indian Civil Service in 1928, and served successively as Assistant Magistrate in the United Provinces, Under-Secretary in the War Department, Deputy Commissioner in the Himalayan district of Garhwal - a remote, sub-Himalayan district of more than 5,000 square miles - Deputy Secretary in the Defence and War Department, Secretary to the Chiefs of Statf Committee and finally as Joint Secretary to the War Department, when his highly promising career was ended by Indian independence.
During the war years he had worked closely with Wavell and later with Mountbatten, and there could surely have been a continuing future for him in some other part of the Commonwealth or else in the rapidly expanding field of diplomacy, had he chosen to go that way. Instead, he decided for early retirement with his wife and four children to a smallholding in the west of England, where they hoped, with the help of his ready pen, to make ends meet.
It was a gamble and it did not work. The books came - seven novels and two volumes of The Men Who Ruled India (as The Founders and The Guardians were called when reprinted as one volume in 1985), about the major figures of the Indian Civil Service, all published under the pen name of Philip Woodruff between 1945 and 1954. But the financial return did not meet the needs of a family of six, and in 1952 he found part-time employment at the Royal Institute of International Affairs as Director of Studies in the newly established field of Race Relations.
Nine more books were to follow during the first 15 years of Mason's retirement before blindness drew its curtain on his literary work. They included a short history of the Indian Army, A Matter of Honour (1974), a life of Kipling, The Glass, the Shadow and the Fire (1975), his Bampton lectures published as The Dove in Harness (1976), and two delightful volumes of autobiography, A Shaft of Sunlight (1978) and A Thread of Silk (1984).
The first concerns his Indian years and breathes the romance of empire (at least for those who ruled), with long days in the saddle and long evenings by the camp fire listening to the varied problems of his Indian clients. The second, necessarily less glamorous in content, centres on the world of ideas, institutions, and family.
Both are notable for the frank discussion of the part played in his life by his deep commitment to the Christian religion. For most of it he was an Anglo-Catholic, prepared for adult life by the Cowley Fathers, and with a faith much strengthened during a period of temporary blindness caused by a shooting accident in 1941, when his wife Mary read to him daily from the New Testament and they discussed its contents together....more