The British annexed the province of Punjab in 1849 after a series of battles with the then incumbent Sikh regime. Punjab always held a strategic, economic, political and militaristic significance for the established empires in Delhi. It was due to the key location, arable lands and populace of the area that every empire wanted to subdue the Punjabis and have control over them. Punjab was “a province covering 133,741 sq miles and carrying a population of 20 million” (Roseberry 115) held enormous importance for the colonial government. Therefore, the primary concern and interest of the British was to substantiate their control over it. Thus, for this purpose they formulated an effective system of governance keeping in mind the distinct ground realities and characteristics of the province. They introduced the paternalistic idea of governance coupled with an intricate system of bureaucratic, judicial and administrative structure with an overlying emphasis on the patronage of the elite and construction of communications and irrigation mechanism.
Firstly, the idea of paternalistic governance was introduced by the Henry Lawrence who was made in charge of the establishment of administration in Punjab by the Governor General of the East India Company, with a board of administrators, in 1849. Henry’s younger brother John Lawrence was made the chief revenue officer and was given the task of implementing the Governor General Dalhousie’s vision and policies on land surveys and land revenue collection mechanism. The third member of the board of administrator was Charles G. Mansel. The two brothers agreed “that a district officer could and should be omniscient and omnipresent” (Roseberry 111). The Lawrence brothers were always accessible, even in their bedrooms. They believed in getting acquainted with their surroundings and environment. Riding on a horse back and surveying the areas, under their control, was their routine. They did not rely on secondary information about their subjects but instead they kept themselves in the picture by interacting with the locals.
Governor General Dalhousie’s vision regarding Punjab was “to establish a non- Regulation commissioner based system of administration that would ensure rapid, energetic and financially sound development consistent with his utilitarian ideals” (Lee 254). On the contrary Henry Lawrence was yesterday’s man, in Dalhousie’s view, “who was an impediment in the implementation of his ideals” (Lee 254). Henry was an exponent of a paternalistic rule that Dalhousie wished to eliminate from Punjab (Lee 254). Henry started to have differences with John Lawrence on the matters such as division of labor in the board. Secondly, Henry propagated a paternalistic style of spending on his subjects but John differed as he believed that he was being too profligate in his approach. The two brothers also differed on the issue of local administrators at the sub district and district level. Lastly there was also a conflict between Dalhousie and Henry on the issue of Henry’s continuous absenteeism from Lahore, the capital of Punjab. Thus this rivalry culminated with the resignation of Henry Lawrence in 1853. Consequently, John Lawrence was made the Chief Commissioner in February 1853. Then, on 1st January, 1858 he was appointed as Lieutenant Governor after the territories of North Western Province including Delhi were amalgamated in the province of Punjab.
Punjab’s administration evolved from being administered by a board of governors to being ruled by a Lieutenant General in a time span of ten years. Initially, The British divided Punjab into 27 districts, which were then further grouped into 7 divisions. Then after the inclusion of Delhi and exclusion of NWFP in 1901 the number of districts was increased to 29 but the number of divisions were reduced to five namely, Ambala, Jullundur, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Lahore. In addition to these there were 43 Native States (Imperial Gazetteer 2 of India). The most able of the officers were screened to serve in the province that was soon to become the most prestigious place, to serve in As described by Ian Talbot, in his book ‘Punjab under Colonialism’, Lieutenant General controlled the province directly by a secretariat which comprised of a chief secretary, a secretary, and two under-secretaries, which hailed from the Indian Civil Service. Other principal heads of various departments included the Financial Commissioner, the Director of Public Instruction, and three Inspectors General for Prisons, Police and Hospitals, respectively. Other heads were the Sanitary Commissioner, the conservator of Forests, the Accountant General, and the Postmaster-General. Two other ex-officio secretaries to the state were the heads of Irrigation and Roads and Buildings. The heads of Police and Education were officers of the rank of undersecretary in their respective fields. The Financial department had most number of officers with a Commissioner as head and a senior, a junior and an assistant secretary, he also controlled the Commissioner of Excise, the Director of Agriculture, the Director of Land Records and the Conservator of Forests, and he was also the court of Wards for the Province. The administration was carried by a body of officers known as the Punjab Commission; the officers were recruited from the Indian Civil Service exclusively. This Commission was supplemented by Provincial Civil Service. It was a body of officers belonging to the Punjabi origin only and they were recruited either by an examination or nomination (Talbot). The higher appointments were usually held by the Punjab Commission whereas the secondary posts were given to the members belonging to Provincial Civil Service.
The civilian bureaucratic hierarchy then narrowed down to the Divisional tier. The five divisions of Punjab were administered by Commissioners. The districts were presided over by Deputy Commissioners. The District Commissioner (D.C.) was the lynchpin of the entire steel structure of civilian bureaucracy, and even had the privilege of bearing the Union Jack on his vehicle. He was the most important officer who enjoyed autonomous powers for the functions of “Revenue Collector, Magistrate (Chief of Police), and Civil and Criminal Judge” (Roseberry 148). All such powers were divested in one officer because it was believed that Western style of division of power was unsuitable for Punjab because of its unique culture, norms requirements. It was believed by the state that the head revenue authority in any district was responsible for the prosperity and development of the area and the security of life and property plus the maintenance of law and order in the area. Therefore the D.C. needed physical force to coerce and chasten the deviants to check law and order and collect revenue. “The D.C. office staff comprised of superintendents, readers, a record keeper, revenue accountant and departmental clerks” (Roseberry 115). The D.C. trespassed in the daily lives of the people quite deeply, every activity of the people was monitored and intelligence reports were formulated in bulk to ensure that no dissent disseminated from his district.
The districts were further divided into sub-collectorates called tehsils. Each district comprised of 3 to 7 tehsils, each of which was administered by a tehsildar with a naib (deputy) tehsildar. Subordinate district officials were divided into two broad categories of gazetted (appoint able and removable by the provincial governments) and non- gazetted officers (appoint able and removable by Commissioners or Deputy Commissioners). The tehsildars were given the powers of revenue, criminal and revenue collection. The naib tehsildars were given the criminal and revenue powers. “The tehsildars had three to five kanungos, each of whom supervised twenty to thirty patwaris or revenue accountants who were in charge of the revenue collection records of group of villages. Each village then had a headman (lambardar) who was responsible to collect the revenue and then deposit in the state’s coffers. Villages were grouped into circles or zails, in many districts. Each zail was placed under a zaildar whose job was to provide general assistance to the government officials” (Imperial Gazetteer 2 of India). Thus, by introducing such an effective bureaucratic structure the British ensured a smooth and transparent administration of the province which helped them strengthen their rule and fulfill the purpose of revenue generation with establishing political and social harmony.
Another distinct key feature of British administration in Punjab was the patronage of the elite by the state. The feudal lords (Jagirdars) or local chieftains (Waderas or Nawabs) were considered a natural ally as they were to perform the vital link of indigenous intermediaries between the state and the local population. They had the key importance of controlling the masses by deriving their authority from the British state. Although Governor General Dalhousie suspected the utility of patronizing the local Jagirdars, initially, however after the mutiny of 1857 the entire colonial state structure was unanimous in supporting these local elites. The change in his view came after the events of 1857 which vindicated Henry Lawrence’s policy of supporting the local elite. The elites were given remuneration for their military services in the Revolt of 1857. This helped in keeping the province of Punjab quiescent whereas the rest of India was up in arms against the Raj. The jagirdars and waderas on the other hand assisted the British government in tackling the mutineers in rest of the provinces by supplying them with soldiers. They also suppressed any signs of mutiny in their own Jagirs and fiefdoms. In the book ‘Khizer Tiwana’, Ian Talbot writes that “Malik Sahib Khan's forces defeated the sepoys of the Bengal Army in battles at Jhelum and Ajnala during the course of July. In one episode they captured 200 'rebels' without firing a shot” (Talbot 88). Therefore, such loyalty from the Jagirdars convinced the British to form a local aristocracy as a bulwark against any future uprisings. Jagirdars on the other hand benefitted a lot with their cooperation with the British. They were even given the magistrate powers in some districts to do away with the magistrate courts, in the latter half of the 19th century.
Thus the Jagirdars were bestowed upon with cash, land and honorary grants. For instance, “ Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi received Rs1750 , Ghulam Mustafa Khan Khakwani received Rs 1000 and Sadiq Mohammad Khan Badokzai received Rs 1036, per annum” (Roseberry 193). They were also granted Jagirs in rendering their services to the crown. Furthermore, the British created Jagirdars in places where none had existed, to perpetuate their hold over the local population. Lastly, to augment the grandeur and aura of the local aristocracy they were bestowed with honorary titles such as ‘Sir’, ‘Khan’, ‘Sardar’, ‘Nawab’, ‘wadera’, etc. Local rulers on the other hand gained a lot from their partnership with the British. They not only gained prestige and honor but mustered huge fortunes for themselves. In addition to this, they were able to cultivate their land with more resources and stability of control thus yielding great profits from their lands.
Punjab on the basis of its loyalty was believed to be a reliable recruitment base for the colonial army. The inhabitants of Punjab were thus both physically and morally fit for the military service. They were labeled as the “Martial Races” of India (Bose, Jalal 79). Eventually, the Muslims of West Punjab and Northern Punjab, the Jat Sikhs of Central Punjab and Hindu Jats of the Ambala Division and East Punjab formed the lion’s share of the colonial army. At one point in time half of the colonial army was comprised of Punjabis. “In August 1918 the governor of Punjab reported proudly that in one district, Gujranwala, the ratio of soldiers to the adult male population had risen from 1:150 to 1:44 over the course of just one year” (Bose, Jalal 102). On the other hand, the locals felt pride in joining the army because of high pay allowances and social status that came with the service.
The British government also paid special attention to the needs and requirements of the farmers of the Punjab. The state formed a policy which amalgamated the economic and political prospects of agro development. Thus the term “canal colony was coined” (Ali 8). The process of “agricultural colonization started off in the West Punjab in 1885” (Ali 8), with the construction of an intricate irrigation system in the area. Not only huge tracts of barren land were thus converted into cultivable lands by the help of irrigation but the existing rain fed (barani) areas could now cultivate a variety of crops with enhanced reliability. The benefits of canal irrigation were mutual, as Imran Ali writes that “canal colonization enabled the state to make viable and profitable land grants for which the capital outlay was made not by those rewarded but by the public treasury… The transfer of resources to those aligned with the state structure made the canal colonies of immense political benefit to imperialism” (Ali 17).
The British establishment in Punjab was benevolent, albeit less exploitative as compared to other provinces. Furthermore, the state also disseminated the notion that whoever joined the British would benefit hugely. Punjabis also realized that their prosperity hinged upon their cooperation with the British government, as those who joined the British cause got succored both politically and economically. Thus instead of resisting the British rule, the Punjabis joined in the lucrative business. In addition to this, the policy of building up of a powerful and potent state bureaucracy coupled with elite patronage was pertinent to the ground realities of Punjab as Punjabis had an inherent psychology of being ruled by a master. It was not only quite successful in fulfilling the desired purposes. The Punjabis were subdued by strong arm of the state, i.e. civilian bureaucracy and police. Another success of the system was that there were not as many revolts and resistance movements in Punjab, as is other provinces of Colonial India, till the mid 20th century. This was due to the fact that both the state structure and feudal lords worked in harmony and assisted each other in stifling any such movements. However, the rise of communalism was a consequence of the implementation of the above mentioned policies; nonetheless it was the most suitable and befitting system of governance by Punjab could be ruled over.