THE RAJ ERA (1858–1909)

The Sepoy Rebellion, or Indian Mutiny—the culmination of growing resentment and anger toward the British and their policies—marked a turning point in the subcontinent’s history. In its aftermath the British Crown dissolved the EIC and assumed direct control over Indian territories. This ushered in the era referred to as the Raj. Under colonial rule the British attempted to introduce some forms of democratic institutions while simultaneously denying the people of the subcontinent any meaningful representation in the government. The Raj was also the period when seeds of an independent Pakistan were sown.

Upper-class Muslims were living in economic and political isolation due to British perception of their support for the Sepoy Rebellion. Concurrently nationalist sentiment grew throughout the region and coalesced in 1885 in the foundation of a united independence move-ment led by the Indian National Congress. As the independence movement grew, so did divisions between Hindus and Muslims. A call for a separate Muslim state was heard, along with the rising demand for the subcontinent’s independence from Britain, exemplifi ed by the forma-tion of the Muslim League. In 1909 Muslims gained a greater voice with the Government of India Act, also known as the Morley-Minto Reforms, marking a crucial juncture in Pakistan’s history.

Government of India Act of 1858

In the aftermath of the uprising the British reexamined their policies toward their colonies. The insurrection was blamed on misrule by the EIC, and the British government was now determined to take charge of the EIC’s management and operations. The British parliament passed the Government of India Act of 1858, creating the position of secretary of state for India to whom the governor-general of India would report. Previously, the governor-general was under indirect British government control, which made it easier for EIC directors and agents to ignore the government’s wishes.

Henceforth, the governor general, while retaining this title, was also now known as viceroy, and considered a representa-tive of the British monarch. The act also created councils to draft and pass laws with the viceroy’s approval. The governor-general’s coun-cil was composed of an executive council, which proposed laws for British-held areas, and a legislative council, which enacted them. These councils were mirrored at the provincial level and were to include Indians appointed by the viceroy’s offi ce.

The act vested the British monarch with ultimate authority over the subcontinent’s states and Parliament with responsibility for dictating their policies. But the viceroys exercised a high degree of independence in establishing the tone of their administrations. They would retain their role as the titular heads of the subcontinent until its independence in 1947.

An Agrarian Revolution

In the last quarter of the 19th century agrarian reforms and improve-ments to the infrastructure introduced by the British showed some results. Before this time, much of the Indus Valley was dry and sparsely inhabited. A canal system the Mughals built to irrigate the area had fallen into disrepair. Changes in the course and fl ow of the Indus had added to depopulation. The British undertook large-scale projects to repair and expand the ancient canal system and engineered massive additional irrigation systems that made vast areas of formerly uninhab-ited lands in Punjab arable. An expanding railway system transported grain from Punjab for shipment to England.

After 1879 Lahore and Karachi were linked by rail. By 1883 it was possible to travel from Karachi to the Khyber Pass by rail. During construction of the Lahore-Multan track, engineers discovered the lost city of Harappa. They used the ancient brick they found to build 100 miles (160 km) of the railway’s embankment. Curzon recognized the region’s archaeological importance. The Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, passed during his tenure, made the government responsible for maintaining historic buildings and investigating archaeological sites. Taxila and cities of the long-lost Indus Valley Civilization were fi rst excavated as a result of this act.

From the 1880s onward peasants settled on these newly fertile lands. This set in motion a new political dynamic in the region as agrarian landlords came to accumulate land and power. Peasants were limited to plots of 100 to 150 acres, with landlords receiving a percentage of crops in rent. Sometimes the rents were usurious, and tenant farmers often fell into debt, their plots seized by the landlords. Other peasants lost their lands to moneylenders.

By the late 19th century some of these holdings became mini–feudal states and their owners strong support-ers of the British, whose policies served their interests. The situation was antagonizing many Muslims, who comprised a majority of sepoys in Punjab. To help address the problem of small farmers having their lands repossessed and stem the unrest it was stirring, Parliament passed the Punjab Land Alienation Act in 1900. The act defi ned tribes as either agricultural or nonagricultural and forbade nonagricultural tribes from acquiring the land of agricultural debtors.

Partition of Bengal

Despite the fact that it was the region fi rst exposed to the British pres-ence—or because of it—Bengal, the northeast corner of the subconti-nent, lying east of the Ganges, remained backward and undeveloped. The eastern portion of Bengal was predominantly Muslim, the western portion Hindu. The religious dichotomy had complicated administra-tion of Bengal, as did the large population. To break the administrative bottleneck, in 1905 Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal into two parts: West Bengal encompassed Bihar and Orissa, with Calcutta as its capi-tal, and East Bengal incorporated the province of Assam, with Dacca (modern-day Dhaka) as its capital.

From the start, Hindus objected to the partition, feeling their land was being taken away. The protest was more widespread and sustained than anticipated by the British and increasingly included Hindu nationalist overtones as well as violence. The opposition to the partition also spawned the swadeshi movement, which advocated boycotting British goods, a form of protest that turned out to be surprisingly effective.

Toward Muslim Independence

As viceroy Lord Curzon enjoyed the customary control over the Indian Army’s commander in chief (CIC). But in 1905 the secretary of state for India in England changed the policy, taking direct oversight of the CIC for himself. Lord Curzon resigned in protest. Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, fourth earl of Minto, succeeded Lord Curzon as viceroy (r. 1905–10).

Political change, both peaceful and violent, was in the air. Muslim aspirations were being expressed in Muslim-majority areas, and the concept of self-government for Muslims began to take root. In 1906 the All India Muslim League was founded, a political party that would play a major role in the future of the subcontinent’s Muslims. Formed in Dacca (now Dhaka) at the annual meeting of the Muhammadan Educational Conference, attended by 3,000 delegates, it was created in answer to concerns that Muslims would be oppressed by the Hindu majority if the British ever vacated the subcontinent.

Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III (1877–1957), hereditary leader of a large Shia sect, was appointed fi rst honorary president. The league’s principles were spelled out in its Green Book, though its goals did not initially include a separate state for the subcontinent’s Muslims. Instead of independence, the group’s principles stressed the protection of Muslim liberties and rights, and encouragement of understanding between Muslims and other Indians. Indeed, its initial platform included the goal of promot-ing feelings of loyalty to the British government among Muslims, which caused some of the more militant voices in the community to shun membership.

Despite the appearance of liberalization, heavy-handed British poli-cies had fed rising tension and opposition throughout the subconti-nent. Attempts to placate the population by providing the appearance of increased local political power were failing. The British hoped to mollify the upper classes suffi ciently to win their tacit support for con-tinued British rule. Viceroy Minto worked with the British secretary of state for Indian affairs, John Morley.

First Viscount Morley (1838–1923), to develop a framework that would give Indians more direct control over their government while keeping the ultimate authority in the hands of the British. In 1906 Lord Morley announced the govern-ment’s intent to cede greater legislative power to local rule. Parliament approved the changes as the Government of India Act of 1909, more commonly called the Minto-Morley Reforms. The reforms would be a landmark in the subcontinent’s constitutional history and begin a new chapter in its march to independence.