Imperial India and the Growth
of National Identity
If the Revolt of 1857–59 was really the beginning of the end of British rule in
India, as some modern historiographers suggest, few people living at the time were
aware of it. To those at the helm of Indian government, the Revolt represented
only a temporary setback in the work of consolidating an empire. The preoccu-
pations of viceroys in subsequent decades, apart from an orderly administration,
were largely with the frontiers and forging there the bastions of India's defense
against threats from other European powers. Plates VIII.A.1 and 2 cover this ulti-
mate phase of British territorial expansion and relate it to the broader context of
imperialism then sweeping across Asia.
Yet the Revolt could not fail to give rise to momentous responses. First among
these chronologically, and among the foremost practically, was the formal substi-
tution in 1858 of the direct rule of the British crown for that of the East India
Company. In consequence of this change, the princes who remained loyal during
the revolt were put into direct feudal relations with the crown. For its part, the
British government, by conceding to the states the right of succession by adoption,
committed itself to perpetuating, outside British India proper, the myriad, gen-
erally conservative polities that accounted for roughly two-fifths of India's total
area and one-fourth of its population. The effect of this was to gel, if not quite
freeze, the political map of India insofar as the princely states were concerned.
Within the larger areas under direct British rule occasional alterations of provin-
cial boundaries were made in line with the alleged exigencies of administrative
efficiency. Among these the most important in its consequences was the short-
lived partition of Bengal (1905–12), which did so much to crystallize the politi-
cal consciousness of many Indians and to imbue that consciousness with a fatefully
communal cast. The internal modifications in the territorial map of South Asia are
portrayed on plates VIII.B.1 and 2.
It may be debated whether the events of 1857–59 had much to do with the sub-
sequent series of gradual constitutional changes, whereby a more responsive and
representative government was fashioned at both the all-India and the provincial
levels. Of the many acts passed between 1858 and 1947, we have graphically and
cartographically depicted three (on plates VIII.B.3 and 4) whose political geo-
graphic consequences were far-reaching: the Indian Councils Act of 1909 (the
Morley-Minto Reforms), the Government of India Act of 1919 (the Montagu-
Chelmsford Reforms), and the Government of India Act of 1935.
In quite another vein, the Revolt imparted to the British a sense of urgency with
respect to the recently begun task of tying India together by a network of railroads
and telegraphs, which were appreciated for their military as well as their economic
and administrative utility. For more efficient organization, the cartographic rep-
resentation of the spread of these and other sinews of empire is provided in sec-
tion XI of this atlas. Many additional economic changes effected by the British or
carried out under their aegis are also depicted in that section (cf. also end cover
chart, "A Chronology of South Asia," column 3).
Apart from the shock, fear, and revulsion caused by the excesses of the British
response to the 1857–59 revolt, a politically significant alteration in the attitudes
of the Indians was slow in coming. Despite the existence of a number of urban-
based political organizations and the establishment in 1885 of the Indian National
Congress, organized political activity for some decades consisted largely in the
formulation of discreetly worded appeals to the British raj for greater measures
of political and social justice. Matters took a different turn, however, after the Brit-
ish partition of Bengal in 1905, the creation of the Muslim League in 1906, and
the split of Congress in 1907 into a radical and a moderate wing. The former stood
for activist nationalism, drew its inspiration largely from India's Hindu heritage,
and openly called for "swaraj" (self-rule).1 Yet it was not until after Gandhi
emerged as a leader of Congress in 1920 that the political concerns of an educated
few became transformed into a movement that galvanized the nation's masses.
Parallel to this slow political awakening was the development of a broad spectrum
1 To the British, "swaraj" translated as "dominion status"; to Indians it soon came to mean
of religious revival and reform movements that were also highly instrumental in
shaping a new national awareness, often investing it with a creative élan expressed
in the term "the Indian Renaissance." Plates VIII.C.1–3, and a part of VIII.C.4
document the growth of this consciousness and its regional expression throughout
India. Related plates in another section of the atlas (X.B.5 and 6) deal with the
growth of higher education and newspapers and other communications media.
The cleavage between India's two principal communities was one the British
could not arrest, even if—as may be doubted—they had any wish to do so; if any-
thing, their granting of separate electorates to the Muslims, in the Act of 1909,
formalized it. The Congress Party, under the leadership of Gandhi and Nehru,
strove to maintain a semblance of national unity in the movement for Indian
independence, and for some years following the "Lucknow Pact" of 1916, Hindu-
Muslim amity was maintained. But the struggle for political power, as the govern-
ment became more and more representative, was increasingly carried out along
what appeared to be communal lines. Perceiving that in a united India Muslims
would forever remain in a disadvantaged minority position, the Muslim League
in 1940 called for the creation of a separate Muslim state or states. Despite the
formulation of a number of proposals for a united, federal India in which Muslim
rights and interests would be guaranteed, the forces of dissension ultimately won
out over those of concord, and on 14 August 1947 the two independent states
of India and Pakistan were born. In various chronologies and maps on plates
VIII.C.2–5 one may trace the complicated train of events of the freedom move-
ment. Events relating to the political development and attainment of freedom in
Ceylon and Burma are also portrayed on the same plates.
India's struggle for freedom was sympathetically regarded in much of the rest
of the world. Its population was too large to be ignored; several of its leading per-
sonalities had attained world stature and respect; and it had made major contri-
butions to the Allied victories in two World Wars. The nation's role in world
affairs in the pre-independence period is depicted on plate VIII.C.6.
Plate VIII.C.7 seeks to convey something of the spirit of the period of British
imperial rule by presenting photographs of some of its prominent architectural
Finally, plate VIII.D.1 provides an administrative map of the Indian Empire
on the eve of independence, with details on the distribution of the major commu-
nities and the princely states according to the religion of their rulers. These dis-
tributions were to play a major role in determining the political events in the
The documentation for the materials presented in atlas section VIII in both
official and nonofficial sources is more than adequate, and no significant question
arises about the reliability of the data presented. Generally, the observations on
sources made in the final paragraph of the introduction to section VII apply also
to this section. What is new, however, throughout the post–1857 period, and par-
ticularly during the 20th century, is the abundance of primary source materials
written by Indians in English and the corresponding neglect of serious writing in
Aitchison, Charles Umpherston, comp. A collection of treaties, engagements, and
sanads relating to India and neighboring countries. 14 vols. 5th rev. ed. Cal-
cutta: Foreign and Political Department, 1929.
Banerjee, Anil C., ed. Indian constitutional documents, 1757–1939. 3 vols. 3d
ed. Calcutta, 1961–65.
Chand, Tara. History of the freedom movement in India. 4 vols. Rev. ed. Delhi,
Dodwell, Henry Herbert, ed. The Indian Empire, 1858–1918. Vol. 6 of Cam-
bridge history of India. Cambridge, 1932.
Dutt, Romesh Chunder. The economic history of India. 2 vols. New York, 1969.
Imperial Gazetteer of India. 26 vols. Rev. ed. Oxford, 1907–9; vol. 26 (Atlas)
reissued in 1931.
India. Memoranda on Indian states. Delhi, various years.