What was the relationship between the British Raj and the Native Princes?
The territories of the Native States are in yellow
The concept of HIndu kingship
The Hindu motion of kingship was a tradition that went back centuries and even though India had undergone successive waves of invaders, the powers, privileges and nature of kingship retained many of their traditional features. Hindu rulers provided protection for their people and in return received a share of the land, cattle, produce and even women. Indian kings were therefore benevolent, paternalistic and autocratic. This was a two way contract with obligations on both sides but with the arrival of the British in the c18th this concept of kingship began to change. As the British control of India expanded, treaties of alliance and subjugation were signed with the kings and gradually the Indian kings began to lose full control of the states. The East India Company began to change from a trading company to a company that controlled vast areas of India but following the Indian Rebellion, and the ending of the East India Company the British Crown assumed responsibility for not just the territories controlled by the Company but the Princely states as well. These native or Indian States occupied 600,000 square miles of territory which was broken up into 565 Indian States who had direct relations with the British government. These States varied enormously in size from the Dominions of the Nizam of Hyderabad and Berar occupying 82,700 square miles with a population of over 14 million in 1930 to minute territories where the smallest were more than small estates of a mile square. in the Kathiawar peninsular there were 282 princely states including Nawanagar which was the size of Surrey and Sussex combined with a population of 350,000.
The system of indirect rule by which the Native states had been run evolved with the crown freezing the borders and giving their rulers security of tenure that the native princes had never previously enjoyed but in return had to accept the sovereign power of the British crown. The British came to enjoy paramountcy and the Native Princes were subject to the ultimate will of the British. Native Princes could exercise power in whatever way they chose so long as they did not abuse that power. They could be dictators but not if it meant repressive and cruel regimes. The British always maintained the right to intervene and frequently exercised their right to do so.
Lord Curzon on the Native States
As part of treaties often signed to formalise this arrangement Native Princes had to accept British Residents, who were the representatives of the Crown, and who provided advice and guidance. On matters of finance and succession this advice was often mandatory. Heirs to Native States had to be ratified by the Governor and the British could insist on financial advisers if the state was heading towards bankruptcy. Native Princes were encouraged to adopt European ideas and familiarise themselves with western culture. To help with this, heirs to native states were often sent to one of the princely schools to educate future Indian princes in the values and knowledge deemed essential for government.
For Lord Curzon the benefit of the system was that the Princes’ keep alive the traditions and customs, they sustain the virility and they save from extinction the picturesqueness of ancient and noble races. They have that indefinable quality , endearing them to the people that arises from their being born of the soil.’
With the British ensuring security of tenure, native Princes often became lazy and disinterested in questions of economic development and reform. Rather than stay in the state capital many princes built themselves extravagant palaces and became quite separate from the people they were meant to be serving. There were princes who did initiate reform and remain true to their people but too many who used the income fo the state to fund their own lavish lifestyle. These princes were in many ways controlled by the British. They came to power with the assent of the British, were kept in power with the forces of the British, were often given grants to shore up their finances yet they remained truly loyal to the British in India and the Empire. Of the Native Princes none illustrates to extent to which they were controlled by the British until they were no longer useful than the most famous cricketer of the late Victorian and Edwardian era than the Indian Ranjitsinhji.
Ranji was Jam Saheb (ruler) of Nawanagar 1907- 1933
Throughout his life Ranjitsinhji (or Ranji as he came to be known) was thoroughly dependant on the British. From the time that he became a provisional heir to the throne (gadi) in 1878 until he died in 1933 his life was influenced, protected and controlled by the British. It is no wonder then that he was more at home in England or Ireland living the life of an English gentleman than as a ruler of an Indian state. He would never have achieved his life objectives had it not been for British support and when the aims of the British in India diverged in the 1920s, Ran began began to feel isolated and betrayed.
When in 1878, at the age of six, Ranji was put forward as a prospective heir to the gadi of Nawangar, he was taken to Rajkot to see the British resident, Lt-Col Lionel Barton, to get his approval. Six years later following the birth of Jaswantsinhji, Vibhaji’s child, the approval of the British was sought for his adoption as heir.
The British tried to dissuade Vibhaji from adopting Jaswantsinhji as heir but Vibhaji was determined and eventually got his way. In this case the British acceded to Vibhaji’s request because of Vibhaji’s loyalty to the British and the stability of his rule. Ranji was no longer heir and he would have to rely on the support of the British if he was ever to become heir again and indeed ruler.
Following Ranji’s adoption as heir in 1878, he was sent to Rajkumar College, a school for prospective princes to be prepared for rule. Rajkumar was one of several such schools who were to ‘fit the young chiefs and nobles of India physically, morally and intellectually for the responsibilities that lay before them’. Such school were to inculcate the values deemed necessary for rule. They were not to become English gentlemen but were to acquire the qualities that the British deemed essential for good rule, and become according to J.A. Mangan, ‘Oriental Englishmen’.
The schools were part of a process of preparing young princes for indirect rule. They would be capable of providing good government for their people but also be absolutely loyal to the British. The reality was that as long as their rule did not descend into one of repression and mismanagement they were left to their own devices. The curriculum at Rajkumar, according to Lord Curzon, was to provide the princes with an understanding of British customs, literature, science, modes of thought, standards of truth and humour, and ….with manly English sports and games’. It was at Rajkumar that Ranji was introduced to cricket.
Dependant on the British for money
From the time that Ranji was adopted as prospective heir in 1878 he was provided with an allowance paid by the British. As he adopted an extravagant lifestyle, so his need for more and more money increased. Whenever he needed more money he had to appeal to the British authorities for more. He was doing this as early as 1894 by which time he was borrowing money and needing an extra allowance to pay off his loans. In September 1894 he wrote to the British Resident in Rajkot, Ollivant, pleading for money, needed according to Ranji to enable him to get called to the Bar and to travel home. ‘The sum I require is £250. I shall get called in November on passing one more paper next month and I hope to be in India in December.’
Four years later in 1898, Ranji returned home following his tour of Australia with MCC, and spent much time during his visit in trying to persuade fellow princes to give him money and also trying to persuade the British to increase his allowance. The administrator of Nawanagar, Lt-Col Kennedy was sympathetic to Ranji’s needs but needed to persuade the Resident in Rajkot, Lt-Col John Hunter, and the India Office in London. Hunter was prepared to double Ranji’s allowance but this was not considered enough by Kennedy.
Kennedy wanted Ranji to have parity with Lakhuba, the grandson of Vibhaji, otherwise Kennedy feared, any future claim to the throne by Ranji might be prejudiced. Eventually it was agreed to increase Ranji’s allowance to RS 11,400 on condition that Ranji agreed never to settle in or around Nawanagar’s capital, Jamnagar. Ranji would not agree and so his allowance remained what it had been and whenever Ranji had debts to meet, the British authorities would take the money out of his allowance. Ranji continued to live his extravagant lifestyle but had to adopt strategies to avoid paying his debts.
In August 1906, Jassaji, the Jam Saheb, died and Ranji was one of three claimants for the throne. To adjudicate between them, the British Resident in Rajkot, now Percy Fitzgerald , prepared a report on the claimants. The fate of the future ruler of Nawanagar depended on this report which was completed in October 1906. It concluded by supporting Ranji’s claim to the throne. The report was then ratified by the Bombay government and eventually by the Viceroy in February 1907. Ranji’s argument was that the situation was as it was before Jassaji became ruler, an argument accepted by Fitzgerald who also wished to see a westernised Indian on the throne, especially a loyal friend of the British government.
The Installation of Ranji as Ruler
At the installation of Ranji as Jam Saheb, Fitzgerald made it quite clear who the senior partner was in the relationship between Ranji and the British, and warned Ranji of the need for good government. Ranji’s reply was suitable humble, ‘I hope to abide loyally by the traditions of this state, in its deep unswerving loyalty to the British throne.’
Pratrap Palace, one of many palaces in Nawanagar
Ranji was back in Britain within a few months of becoming Jam Saheb, using his new source of wealth (Nawanagar had an annual income of £140,000) to continue his extravagant lifestyle. His debtors were now lining up to recoup the money owed by Ranji and on more than one occasion the India Office had to step in to prevent cases going to court.
Ranji had to deal with a number of creditors whilst he was back. There was the ongoing case of the £10,000 he owed to Mansur Khachar. and the case of Mrs Tayler and the miniatures
Mrs Tayler and the miniatures
There was also a case involving a Mrs Tayler who was an artist who painted miniatures. Whilst Ranji was at Shillinglee in April, he invited a Mrs Tayler and also the painter Henry Tuke and his cricketing colleague MacLaren to lunch. After lunch Ranji sat for the two artists, with Ranji producing jewels and decorations for Mrs Tayler to sketch. Afterwards Mrs Tayler and MacLaren, acting as Ranji’s secretary, discussed prices and agreed on 100 guineas for one and 180 guineas or two. Maclaren ordered two with an ivory frame. When Mrs Tayler asked for half the amount in a cheque as part payment, MacLaren left the room and went to seek out Ranji. MacLaren returned to the waiting Mrs Tayler and said that a cheque at that time was not possible but a promise was made to send a cheque by the evening post. Neither the promised nor robes which had been promised to help Mrs Tayler complete the portrait arrived. Subsequent enquiries failed to elicit any money. Despite this Mrs Tayler sent the competed miniatures to Ranji when they were completed after two weeks. Two weeks later Ranji returned the miniatures saying they were not true likenesses, and denied knowing about the arrangements to send a cheque. Ranji claimed that no promise had been given to pay the amount due without the paintings being seen first of all.
A writ issued against Ranji
Mrs Tayler then issued a writ for 180 guineas although when persuaded by a solicitor to transfer the case to a county court, she had to reduce her claim to just £100. When the case came up before the county court Ranji's solicitor claimed that as a living sovereign he was exempt from the jurisdiction of the English court. The magistrate then decided to adjourn the case. Mrs Tayler then found a friend to approach an MP to ask the India Office to intervene.
On 30 July Ranji’s solicitor, Hunt, proposed that if Mrs Tayler dropped the writ, Ranji would reconsider her claim and would be willing to accept arbitration. Nothing happened until Mrs Tayler heard of Maclaren appearing in court for non-payment of rates on a house near the Shillinglee estate. Mrs Tayler then wrote to the India Office highlighting the delaying tactics of Ranji and Maclaren. On 3 November they reached a judgement on the case deciding that Mrs Tayler had been lax in keeping records of her case but that Ranji ought to pay £75. She subsequently received the sum of £35 net.
Lord Winterton, MP for Horsham and the 'Baby of the House'.
Lord Winterton's bill for delapidations
There was the bill for £100 Ranji had received from Lord Winterton for ‘delapidations’ on Shillinglee Park. Winterton was a young MP, the baby of the House, and had powerful friends in Parliament and he was to pursue Ranji through the House of Commons not just for the payment for his bill but Winterton was also to challenge Ranji’s right to be in Britain at all. On 14 September 1909 a colleague of Winterton’s in the House of Commons asked a question in the House about whether a ruling prince needed the permission of the Secretary of State before he entered the country.
He got the answer that Ranji did not need permission but that there was communication when a ruling prince came to Britain. By the end of 1908, Ranji’s reputation was such that he was even losing the support of people like Lord Curzon and Lord Harris. When just before he returned to India, there was a farewell dinner given for him in Cambridge, there were a hundred and fifty guests but also some notable absentees.
The Press attacks Ranji
Ranji needed the support of the aristocracy if he were to enhance his status and position in India but national papers were now reporting on his financial debts. A penny weekly, the John Bull, suggested the Jam Saheb should make sure all his bills were paid before he left the country . This was the first nationwide attack in the press on Ranji. The India Office increased became concerned about the increase in publicity about Ranji and Wylie, the political aide-de-camp to Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for India, arranged a meeting with Ranji only for his solicitor to turn up instead. Consequently, a number of creditors were given a portion of the monies owed to them. On 14 November a further article appeared in John Bull attacking Ranji for flouting the courts and leaving tradespeople penniless, and accusing Ranji of being above the law. On 17 December 1908 Ranji left Shillinglee Park for India. He had been away from Nawanagar for thirteen months, and in his absence little had been done to improve the condition of the state for which he was now responsible.
Ranji at War
In August 1914 Ranji was in Bombay when Britain declared war against Germany on India’s behalf. Most of the native princes supported the British cause as it was in their interests to retain Britain’s support and the security which Britain provided.
Within two days Ranji had offered the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, all the resources of men and materials he could muster. He held a public meeting on 31 August in which he outlined the causes of war and the importance of India’s co-operation. Committees were then set up to arrange for donations of money, provisions and equipment.
His home in Staines used as a hospital for Officers
Ranji made available his newly bought home in Staines for a forty bed hospital for officers whose conversion was part -funded by donations from the Maharajas of Kashmir and Patiala. He also donated six large tents for field hospitals and made available the State Imperial Service Lancers, together with every horse and motor car in Nawanagar.
Efforts were made to improve the state capital, Jamnagar, and improve irrigation. The railway to Dwarka was eventually finished as was the port of Bedi and with the government suspending the customs duties for states in Kathiawar, the income of Nawanagar increased. Ranji though still maintained his extravagant lifestyle. He began the building of a new eighty room palace and every year invited dozens of guests from Britain. In 1911 he took out a loan of £36,000 to enable Nawanagar to be represented at the Durbar that commemorated the crowning of George V as Emperor of India. As a result of his extravagance and concern that he was spending too much time away the British in 1916 insisted on a financial administrator being appointed.
For what was seen as the transformation of Nawanagar and for his contribution to the war effort, Ranji was rewarded with a number of awards. In 1917 he was invested by the Viceroy with the KCSI and the following year was given responsibility for organising a banquet in Delhi for the Indian representatives on the War Cabinet who were returning to India. Then in the New Year’s Honours, Ranji was appointed GBE and promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in the army and given a fifteen gun salute.
He was also made permanent President of the Prince’s Committee, which involved representing the interests of Indian troops overseas. Awards such as these was a way by which the British maintained the support of the Native Princes. Princes competed with each other to see who could provide the best hospitality, in the hope this would buy not just awards but more importantly influence with the Viceroy and the Governors.
Ranji left high and dry
After World War One, the increase in civil disobedience campaigns led the British to initiate a number of reforms which threatened the position of the Princes. Ranji was concerned to persuade the British to guarantee the Princes’ right to paramountcy within their states. This the British would not concede and eventually Ranji found himself isolated and he died just days after chairing a meeting of the Chamber of Princes at which he had tried to argue against the idea of federation but told he was out of order by the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon – a former Sussex cricketer. Ranji lost his battle with the British over paramountcy and the era of the Indian Prince was gradually coming to an end.
Lives of the Indian Princes by C.Allen, 1984
The Maharajas of India by A. Morrow, 1998
Ranji A Genius Rich and Strange by S. Wilde, 1990
PJ Crowhurst, April 2020