Class Sympathy and Colonial State-Building: Evidence from British India, 1849-69

Fahad Sajid, University of Chicago

It is widely acknowledged that without the help of indigenous collaborators, colonialism could hardly have worked. This was nowhere and never more keenly felt than in British India in the immediate aftermath of the Rebellion of 1857, which exposed the shallow foundations of the colonial state and discredited the liberal “civilizing mission” that had shaped policy for the previous thirty years. However, as colonial authorities began reorienting the ship of state back toward a conservative and preservationist mode of rule, a disagreement emerged over which institutions were truly native and which class of Indians actually deserving of the state’s patronage and solicitude. This article explores this contentious debate and the extent to which competing visions of colonial state-building were molded by the class sympathies of the administrators who came to champion either the humble peasantry or the landed aristocracy. Through an analysis of the official record spanning the annexation of the Punjab in 1849 to the consolidation of a propertied elite in Oudh in 1869, it contributes to the literature on the origins of colonial institutions by demonstrating that both camps were driven far more by normative commitments on the question of class than by any objective consideration of precolonial conditions or even pragmatic calculations rooted in political expediency.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 217. State-building in Modern Colonial Empires