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The Delhi Durbar

The Delhi Durbar

The last 'battle' the East India Company fought to retain its control on India was in England. Soon after the general elections of 1857 in Britain, the Prime Minister announced the decision to bring India under the direct authority of the Crown. The chairman of the Company protested against the decision. The Company submitted a petition to Parliament pleading for the continuation of Company rule in India. However, the petition was brushed aside and on August 2, 1858 the Queen gave her assent to what was called 'An Act for the Better Government of India' and India was brought under the direct rule of the Crown. A month later the board of directors of the Company while transferring power to the Crown said, "Let her Majesty appreciate the gift…" India was certainly a gift as Britain did not have to spend even a penny to acquire it.
The draft of the speech announcing the take-over by the Crown did not meet with the approval of the Queen. She returned it to Prime Minister Lord Derby with instructions to rewrite it, "bearing in mind that it is a female sovereign who speaks to more than a hundred millions of eastern people." The Queen wanted the proclamation to breathe 'feelings of generosity, benevolence and religious toleration'.
The proclamation redrafted and approved by the Queen was publicly read out on 1 November 1858 in all districts and towns of India. For nearly half a century this proclamation was seen by Indians as a charter of their rights.
In 1876, the British parliament passed the Royal Titles Bill and the following year at a durbar held in Delhi Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India.


It was at the glittering durbar which was attended by Viceroy Lytton, maharajas and nawabs and intellectuals, that a man in 'homespun spotless white khadi' rose to read a citation on behalf of the Pune Sarvajanik Sabha. Ganesh Vasudev Joshi put forth a demand couched in very polite language: "We beg of Her Majesty to grant to India the same political and social status as is enjoyed by her British subjects." With this demand, it can be said that the campaign for a free India was formally launched at the very durbar where the Queen of England was proclaimed the Empress of India.

Her Majesty's Government

Though a series of acts passed by the British Parliament made the East India Company accountable to Parliament for its administration of its Indian territories, Parliament shied away from direct involvement in Indian affairs for "the company had legally no such 'possessions' being technically a mere zamindar for the Mughal Emperor." With the removal of the Mughal Emperor from the scene in 1857, the Crown assumed direct control of India.
The British Parliament did not generally take any interest in Indian affairs. It took note of what was happening only when British interests were involved. The man who wielded enormous power over Indian affairs was the Secretary of State for India in London.
The Governor-General of India was the chief executive officer. He was also called the personal representative of the Crown in India.
As provided by the Indian Council Act of 1801, the Governor-General was assisted by an Executive Council consisting of five members, all British, none Indian.
For legislative purposes there was a Central Legislative Council with members not exceeding twenty-four, including the members of the Executive Council. Six to twelve members were nominated by the Governor-General; none were elected.
The Provinces were under the rule of a Governor, Lieutenant-Governor or Chief Commissioner. Bombay, Madras, Bengal, North Western Provinces and the Punjab were provided with Legislative Councils with some members being Indians.
The Legislative Councils established under the Act of 1861, were merely "committees for the purpose of making laws", and these laws were in reality the orders of the government. The nomination of Indian members no doubt met the long standing demands of Indians, like Sir Syed Ahmed, that 'the people should have a voice in the Council'. However, with a few exceptions, the Indian members of this period were magnificent non-entities.
A raja of the North West provinces who could not speak a word of English was appointed a member of the Legislative Council. When asked how he managed to function he was reported to have said, "At first I found it very difficult but then there was the Governor-General who elected me. When he raised his hand I raised mine and when he put his hand down, I put down mine."
Describing members of legislative councils of those days Sir Henry Cotton wrote, "the present members of the Council are little more than puppets."
The English-educated young Indians were impatient with these 'puppets' who represented them and they demanded representative councils to which councillors would be elected and not nominated by the Governor or Governor-General.

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