Dalhousie, Lord

Lord Dalhousie


Dalhousie, Lord (1812-1860) Governor General of India from 1848 to 1856. Born on 22 April 1812 he was educated at Harrow and Christ Church, Oxford. He was a Privy Councilor and President of the board of trade before assuming the office of the Governor General of India on 12 January 1848. A strong believer of western supremacy in every sense, his administration marked the expansion of British Indian territories and the introduction of reforms and constructive activities. Dalhousie fought the second Sikh War (1848-49) and took over the Punjab. He annexed a portion of Sikim in 1850 and towards the end of 1852 his army fought the Second Burmese War and conquered lower Burma.

He believed that British rule was more beneficial to the Indians than the rule of their own princes. It is said about him that his predecessors had acted on the principle of avoiding annexation but Dalhousie acted on the general principle of annexing if he could do so legitimately. So he introduced the Doctrine of Lapse by which the sovereignty of independent states lapsed to British Indian government when such a state lacked a natural heir and right of adoption was declared invalid.By this measure he annexed the states of Satara, Sambalpur, Udaipur, Jhasni and Nagpur. Dalhousie abolished the titular sovereignties of the Carnatic and Tanjore as he regarded them obsolete and refused, on the death of the ex-Peshwa Baji Rao II, pension of Nana Shaheb, adopted son of the peshwa. In the end he also annexed Oudh in 1856 on the ground of misgovernment.

He wished to abolish the imperial title of the Mughal emperor and withdraw the royal family from the palace in Delhi and deprive Bahadur Shah's son of the imperial name. It is rightly said about the application of Dalhousie's doctrine of lapse that when heirs were lacking he abolished titles; when they were plentiful he made abolition a condition of recognition of family headship against rival claimants. Dalhousie, thus, changed the political map of the subcontinent within eight years of his rule.

A great deal of reforms was, however, introduced in Dalhousie's time. He reorganised Calcutta Secretariat and appointed a Lieutenant Governor for Bengal to relieve the administrative burden of the Governor General. He laid down the main lines of development of railway system in India. Telegraphs were setup and the postal system was reformed. He founded the public works department through which works programme like construction of roads, bridges and other public utility works including extension of irrigation projects were undertaken. A department of public instruction was setup and gradual stages of education were planned. He, through law, legalised re-marriage of Hindu widows and removed the disability of a convert to Christianity to inherit paternal property. In 1853 the east india company's Charter was renewed and under the new condition the Indian civil service was thrown open to Indians. There was hardly a branch of administration from the conservation of forests to the improvement of jails where Dalhousie had not tried his reforming hand. It is, therefore, said that of the British administrators of India some were conquerors, some were builders, while others were reformers, but Lord Dalhousie was all in one.

Dalhousie's vision was to create a westernized India and probably for that he went 'too far and too fast'. Though he left behind a contented Punjab, provided the benefits of railways, roads and telegraphs but he ignored completely the feelings of those who were affected by his policy of territorial expansion and of creative reforms. For these the British had to pay the penalty of the sepoy revolt of 1857. He retired on 29 February 1856, left India with a shattered health and died in 1860. [KM Mohsin]