The most valued colonial possession of the British Empire. The Mughal Empire (1526–1857) had been broken, as a unified political entity to be reckoned with, for competing British and French commercial interests in India by the early eighteenth century. By 1761, moreover, the British had managed to reduce France’s role in India to that of tertiary commercial presence alone, and over the next century the subcontinent came slowly but relentlessly under British commercial and political dominance. Between the 1760s and 1858, nonetheless, the principal vehicle of British power was the East India Company, established in 1600. As the company established a monopoly over the opium trade and salt production, it simultaneously brought more Indian territory under its control by persuading or forcing the small successor states to the Mughal Empire to accept its protection and authority. In the effort, the company fought four wars against the Muslim rulers of Mysore and the Hindu rulers of Maratha. Although the company had pacified most of India by 1818, its appetite for territory had not been sated, so it expanded into Sind between 1838 and 1842 and waged two campaigns against the Sikhs of the Punjab in 1845 and 1849 before it was able to annex the region to its other Indian possessions. Under the direction of James Dalhousie, it built railroads and telegraph networks. As the company slackened its control over missionary activity, however, Hindu traditions such as sati and thugee came under criticism from English custom and legal attack by officials such as Lord William Bentinck and Thomas Babington Macaulay. The company’s hold on India snapped entirely, when indigenous resentment of foreign rule and the destruction of India’s textile industry by the cheaper imports produced by industrializing Britain evolved into the Indian Mutiny of 1857.
   The ultimate defeat of the rebellion also brought with it the overthrow of the last Mughal emperor who had sided with the rebels. In the India Act of 1858, the British Parliament then transferred authority in India from the company to the Crown, thus beginning the ear of the British Rāj , which lasted until India’s independence in 1947. Between the passage of the India Act and the onset of the European crisis in 1914, India became a unified political and administrative entity again, this time endowed with the rudiments of a modern infrastructure. While trade boomed and an Indian posting became one of the most prestigious to which a British civil servant could aspire, a period of rapid progress was accompanied by a succession of famines, claiming tens of millions of lives, as the priority of commercial agriculture for export depleted local food supplies. Thus, the middle class of educated administrators from among the Indian population who ran the day-to-day affairs of British India found themselves in the service, although not in possession, of a fledgling Indian state even as the mass discontentment caused by human catastrophe nurtured a political base for the nationalist cause of independence. The Indian National Congress was founded in 1885 by liberal nationalists who sought progress toward independence within the framework of British rule. In 1907, the Congress split between moderates who sought dominion status and radicals who demanded immediate independence. In the meantime, a separate Muslim League was founded under the leadership of Dr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In 1905, violent protests against the partition of Bengal by the Marquis of Curzon created a tentative unity of Hindu and Muslim nationalists, in large part because the partition was itself viewed as a divide-and-rule response to the independence cause. The extremists overplayed their hand and were imprisoned or driven into exile, which left Congress forces under the control of moderates. They created the All-India Congress Committee as a centralized executive body of elected delegates. The passage of a series of Indian Councils Acts in 1861, 1892, and 1909 introduced and then increased the indirect election of Indians to recommending bodies that provided a generation of nationalists with training in government.
   During World War I, India supplied more than a million men to the British cause and was transformed by the conflict. The war also increased pressure for reform and independence, to which the India Acts of 1919 and 1935 responded but not to the satisfaction of the nationalists. It was remarkable not that Indian independence waited until the conclusion of another world war but rather that the British hold on the country endured, remarkably, until 1947.
   See also <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>.
    Embree, A. T. 1857 in India: Mutiny or War of Independence. Boston: Heath, 1963;
    Gautam, O. P. The Indian National Congress. Delhi: D. K. Publishers, 1984;
    James, Lawrence. Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India. New York: St. Martin’s, 1997;
    Metcalf, T. R. The Aftermath of Revolt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964;
    Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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