The British in India: the Role of the Viceroy

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the changes brought about due to the revolt of 1857 had considerably settled down. The country was now not in the hands of the East India Company but rather the British government ruled the subcontinent.

Even though it was the government ruling the subcontinent, the rule was only in theory. The main power lay with the Viceroy of India and the Secretary of Sate. The post-1858 developments had given more than adequate power to the Viceroy.

The Indian Council’s Act of 1861 strengthened the authority of the Viceroy over his Executive Council. According to the same Act though, local and legislative councils were set up. These contained a few non-official Indians as well. But there power was merely on paper.

They were entirely nominated bodies only till the year 1892. Thus they lacked even the basic minimum power and authority of putting questions or discussing budgets.

The political structure, as it came to be in the Indian subcontinent, gave enormous power instead to the Viceroy and the Secretary of State. This fact has up till now only been discussed by very few historians.

There was a time in colonial historiography, when the history of India was equivalent to the various Viceroys it was under. This was done to aggrandise the Viceroys at the expense of the real course of history. Yet, these history of viceregal divisions has thankfully been abandon in order to study history from below. But there still needs to be in my opinion a history of the power exuded by those at the centre of it – in this case the Viceroy and the Secretary of State.