Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 1997
  • Online publication date: October 2009

1 - The making of Indian India


The essential point is to give the States a formal voice of some kind in the government of India before it is too late …

Ganga Singh, maharaja of Bikaner, 1915

Breakwaters in the storm

By the early 1940s the cosy, special relationship between the British crown and the Indian princes which forms the subject of this book had become so much a fact of political life in Delhi and Whitehall that people like Leo Amery, secretary of state in Churchill's wartime coalition government, could speak about it as if it had always existed. In reality, though, the alliance was a twentieth-century creation, a product of circumstance and the fertile imagination of the official mind.

To be sure, the political relationship between the British and the states had deep roots. As early as the 1740s, the East India Company was forging diplomatic ties with Indian kingdoms, and by the second decade of the nineteenth century virtually all the major ‘country powers’ had been linked to the Company by treaty. What is more, the essential elements of British ‘paramountcy’ – the system of ‘residents’ at the princely courts, the regulation of successions, control over the states' foreign affairs – were all laid down in this period. Indeed, by the 1840s, the only big question that still remained to be settled in regard to the states was how many ought to be left intact.