Princely states

The rise and existence of princely states during the British Raj in India is quite interesting.

India had been home to several kingdoms before the arrival of the British.

India has had a very fluid history. The Greeks under Alexander had come to the borders of India and met King Porus in battle, but did not proceed in their attempt to conquer. Other “foreign” rulers from the Central Asian Kushans to the Arabs in Sindh and the Turko-Mongol Mughals had ruled the land.

Nonetheless, in the eighteenth century, there were several kingdoms which the British East India company had to deal with. Eventually, they were overcome and the company came to rule the land.

After the mutiny and war of 1857, company rule gave way to the rule of Queen Victoria.

Towards the late nineteenth century, the attempt of the liberal Lord Ripon to give more rights to Indians, such appointment as judges in cases involving both whites and Indians, failed to pass because of colonial opposition. But this also ignited the hopes of the newly emerging Indian educated class to seek out their interests.

Towards the turn of the twentieth century, the British rulers came to realize that they had to come up with some ideas to somehow legitimize and continue their rule of India.

Tory politicians in Britain came up with the idea of reviving and propping up some local “rulers” of various Indian provinces. Lord Curzon, the Tory viceroy, was glad to hand out titles and money to all such princes. The elaborate scheme of having hierarchical gun salutes was crafted as a way to provide authenticity to these local rulers. Thus a network of proxy rulers were established all over the land whereby the people were convinced by the right of their local kings to rule, while the British pulled the strings in the background.

Thus came about the existence of the princely states. When India gained independence in 1947, the rulers of these princely states were well entrenched. A compromise had to be made to pay them money for having given up “their kingdoms” in the form of a privy purse, a practice which was carried out for over twenty years after independence.